Today in the Austin American Statesman we have an editorial from none other than the state’s chair of the board of education–Don McLeroy! Recall that McLeroy is himself anti-evolution, though he has continued to claim for years that he has no intention of promoting the teaching of creationism and/or intelligent design in science classes (though his actions have always said otherwise).
According to McLeroy’s editorial today, the blame for this controversy lies at the feet of the proponents of evolution:
The controversy exists because evolutionists, led by academia’s far-left, along with the secular elite opinion-makers, have decreed that questioning of evolution is not allowed, that it is only an attempt to inject religion or creationism into the classroom. Even Texas’ 20-year-old requirement to teach the scientific strengths and weaknesses of hypotheses and theories has come under attack. Words that were uncontroversial and perfectly acceptable for nearly two decades are now considered “code words” for intelligent design and are deemed unscientific. The elite fear that “unscientific” weaknesses of evolution will be inserted into the textbooks, leaving students without a good science education and unprepared for the future, compelling businesses to shun “illiterate” Texas.
McLeroy makes several misleading statements here. First, acceptance of the validity of evolution is not restricted to academia’s “far-left”. Even if that were true, proponents of evolution are not against questioning of the theory, or any theory. Questioning the world around us is part of the scientific method. Furthermore, there are plenty of real controversies about the theory of evolution that are currently being questioned and examined by scientists around the globe.
What educators and scientists ARE concerned about is the attempt to confuse students about the theory. Anti-evolutionists are trying, as they have been for years, to make it appear as if evolution is a theory in crisis, when it certainly is not. By making it appear thus, this opens the door for creationists and intelligent design proponents to say, “Look, students. Here is the alternative.” Such teachings may be acceptable at home, at church, or in a religion or philosophy class, but these ideas of origins are unscientific. Being unscientific, they do not belong in a science class.
Now, others might point out that having the phrase “strengths and weaknesses” in the standards does not mean that teachers will be tossing ideas about creationism around willy-nilly. True. However, having the phrase “strengths and weaknesses” in the science TEKS is dangerous regardless. This phrase itself is unscientific and gives students false ideas about the very nature of science. McLeroy points out that this phrase has been part of the standards for several years and was uncontroversial until recently. That’s not really the case. There have been many people who have wanted that phrase removed for YEARS. (Recall that several months ago state board of education member Barbara Cargill wrote an editorial in which she stated that the phrase had served Texas students well for years. When I emailed and asked her to explain this statement, she never replied.)
McLeroy points out that the new standards focus on contructing “testable explanations”–a phrase he says should be satisfactory to both sides of the issue. He states that, “The debate can now shift from “Is it science?” to “Is it testable?”” Fair enough. The issue of something being testable is, of course, very important to the scientific method. McLeroy claims that one of the new controversial science standards is simply following through with this idea of “testability”:
A new curriculum standard asks Texas students to look into this question. It states: “The student is expected to analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record.” It should not raise any objections from those who say evolution has no weaknesses; they claim it is unquestionably true.
The question I have for McLeroy and others on the board who support these changes is…why are you singling out evolution? If you truly feel that the “strengths and weaknesses” of theories need to be addressed, why are you particularly singling out this one theory? Why aren’t there any standards being drafted to address the strengths and weaknesses of the germ theory of disease, for example?
In his concluding paragraph, McLeroy states:
If we are to train our students, engage their minds and, frankly, be honest with them, why oppose these standards?
McLeroy himself is clearly being dishonest. By singling out evolutionary theory for “strengths and weaknesses” and attempting to use a Stephen Jay Gould quote to discredit the theory (yes, you’ll have to read the editorial for that tid-bit) he shows that his actions are, in fact, religiously motivated.
So, to answer McLeroy’s question…why should we oppose such standards? Here are just a few reasons.
1. These standards give students a false idea that there is a scientific controversy over evolution. There is not.
2. The phrase “strengths and weaknesses” gives a false idea about the very nature of science.
3. This approach could potentially lead to costly lawsuits when teachers use the standards to promote alternative theories in class like creationism (or, vice versa, teachers could potentially be accused of not adequately covering the “weaknesses” part of the clause).
4. Potential damage to the educational system, reputation, and economic growth of our great state.
5. Potential damage to the educational system, reputation, and economic growth of our COUNTRY (recall that Texas is one of the largest purchasers of textbooks, so what Texas decides largely impacts the rest of the nation).