For live blogging updates on the current debates over the Texas science standards, visit the blog of the Texas Freedom Network here.
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).
In the Dallas Morning news from Tuesday, we have an interesting editorial from Daniel Foster, physician and professor. Daniel points out that
Six thousand years and 13.7 billion years can not be brought together. What is the child to believe?…The first rule of all ethics is, “Do no harm.” I believe it is harmful, and therefore unethical, to confront our children with two disparate truths considered by anti-evolutionists to be equally true.
I think Daniel hit the nail on the head with this comment. There is no scientific reason to teach, in a science class, that there is evidence for a 6000-10,000 year old earth. If a student brings it up in class, should the teacher address it? Sure. But to promote such discussion about unscientific ideas about origins as part of the state’s standards is ludicrous.
These ridiculous standards have the potential to make Texas a laughing-stock in several respects. Foster states, for example:
If Texas appears to the nation and the world uncommitted to science, we confuse outsiders about whether we mean what we say about improving the quality of the education we offer our youth and about our research aspirations.
Texas’ overall high school graduation rate is among the lowest in the nation. Of Texas high school graduates, only 41 percent are ready for college-level math and only 24 percent are ready for college-level science. Many of our most qualified students now leave the state to go to college, creating a “brain drain.” We claim as a state that we mean to improve, but what message does the proposed action regarding our textbooks convey?
Despite our poor high school graduation rates, Texas actually has several great research universities and top-notch medical centers. It would be a shame for the reputation of these institutions to be damaged as a result of unscientific standards being included in the TEKS.
You can read the rest of the editorial here.
Michael Shermer, author of such books as The Science of Good and Evil
and Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, recently interviewed a researcher under the employment of AIG’s Creation Museum.
Here is the You Tube clip. Enjoy.
As if the foolishness surrounding the biology TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) wasn’t enough, the proposed standards for the Earth and Space Science course are under attack as well.
Steven Schafersman has reported on this issue at his blog on the Houston Chronicle’s website here.
Earlier this week the Texas state board of education agreed to strike the phrase “strengths and weaknesses” from the current science standards. This move was cheered and celebrated by many scientists and teachers all over the state.
However, on Friday, January 23, the state board looked at the issue again and decided that students should have to evaluate a variety of fossil types and assess the arguments against universal common descent.
On one hand, I feel like saying…ok! Send me some fossils so I can teach that (hey, I’d love to have more fossils for free in my class). But of course, it wouldn’t work like that if this proposal gets passed.
This proposal is completely unscientific and is in the same spirit as the “strengths and weaknesses” clause that was struck down. What is even more amazing to me, personally, is that at least before this creationists/intelligent designer proponents could make the argument that they weren’t singling out evolution–they wanted to teach the strengths and weaknesses of ALL theories (which of course for the most part wasn’t true, but they could still make that argument). This new proposal is blatantly singling out evolution.
Not surprisingly, chairman Don McLeroy, a self-proclaimed creationist, also added the following:
Also added to the proposed standards by board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, is an amendment that directs science teachers and students to “describe the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record.”
Board member Barbara Cargill had a lot to say as well. Recall that I recently contacted Ms. Cargill asking her to explain some of her recent comments in an editorial from a Texas newspaper. She has never responded.
One board member who pushed for the change said that fossil records create scientific evidence against universal common descent — and students should be allowed to study the possibility.
“There are many, many gaps that don’t link species changing and evolving into another species, so we want our students to get all of the science, and we want them to have great, open discussions and learning to respect each other’s opinions,” said Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, a former science teacher.
She scoffed at claims that social conservatives on the 15-member board were just trying to find another way to expose students to creationism — the belief that life, Earth and the universe were created by a supreme being.
“This isn’t about religion. I don’t know how many times we have to say it before people accept it,” she said. “It’s about science. We want to stick to the science.”
As usual, Ms. Cargill seems to assume that teachers who WANT to teach evolution properly are trying to censor their students’ thoughts and opinions. Of course a good teacher wants students to be able to ask questions and respect others’ opinions. However, this move is certainly about religion. It’s not about science, because what these board members are proposing to teach students isn’t backed by the scientific community.
There is still hope, however. The board will not take a final vote on these newly proposed science standards until March.
You can read more about the issue here.