Archive for TEKS

Don McLeroy attempts to spin the issue

Posted in Education, Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2009 by airtightnoodle

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).

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Texas science standards…making the state look bad

Posted in Education, Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2009 by airtightnoodle

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.

Victory in Texas for Science? Not quite…

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2009 by airtightnoodle

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.

Take action to support science in Texas!

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2009 by airtightnoodle

From the Texas Freedom Network:

This Wednesday the State Board of Education will hear public testimony on proposed science curriculum standards. The new draft standards reject efforts by creationists to undermine instruction on evolution. They also make it clear that supernatural explanations like creationism/”intelligent design” have no place in public school science classes. But creationists who control the state board are insisting that the standards require students to learn phony “weaknesses” of evolution. They want to force publishers to include those bogus arguments in new biology textbooks.

Take Action!

Help us turn back efforts to sabotage the education of Texas schoolchildren by standing up for science this week!SUFS

  • Click here to sign up to testify before the State Board of Education IN SUPPORT OF THE DRAFT STANDARDS at the public hearing on Wednesday. The board will hear only four hours of testimony. But even if you don’t get a chance to speak, adding your name in support of the draft standards is very important. Also, supporters of the draft standards will WEAR GREEN at the hearing to show their support for a sound science education.
  • Tell your state board member that you SUPPORT the draft science standards and OPPOSE efforts to water down the curriculum by opening the door to phony attacks against evolution. Click here to find the name and contact information for your State Board of Education member. Once you have the name of your board member, you can also click here to send an e-mail to him or her in care of the Texas Education Agency.
  • Donate to the Texas Freedom Networks’ Stand Up for Science campaign. Your contribution will help ensure that the next generation of Texas schoolchildren gets a 21st-century science education that helps them succeed in college and the jobs of the future.

 

Barbara Cargill’s recent comments on evolution and “strengths and weaknesses”

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2008 by airtightnoodle

Barbara Cargill

Barbara Cargill

Barbara Cargill, the district 8 representative of the Texas State Board of Education, recently wrote an article addressing the controversy over Texas’ science education standards and the “strengths and weaknesses” language.  You may find her article in its entirety here.  Below I have commented on some of Ms. Cargill’s points.

“The State Board of Education began discussing our state’s science curriculum standards in November.  We listened to over 90 testifiers, and the vast majority supported teaching all of evolutionary theory as fact with no reference to its scientific weaknesses.”

As I have stated on this blog before, if evolutionary theory is going to  be judged by such standards, then much of science should be suffering under the same scrutiny.  No scientific theory is ever going to be proven to be 100% true.  No theory is safe from criticism and peer review.  That does not mean that well-tested theories should not be treated as fact.  That’s the beauty of the scientific method–which, many scientists will agree, HAS shown evolution to be true beyond “reasonable doubt”.

The current requirement states that students are expected to “analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information.”  This is a good standard that has served our teachers and students well for many years.

I would personally like to know how this is a good standard that has served the state well.  This clause is certainly put into the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) specifically for ideas that some people find troubling or controversial.  I have never heard of anyone spending time in class having their students evaluate the weaknesses of cell theory, the germ theory of disease, thermodynamics, and so on.  A good science teacher will of course discuss how parts of any of these theories have changed over time and might touch on any controversies related to the topic.  Yet this is something that is covered by the TEKS already–both the current TEKS and the newly proposed TEKS. 

For example, both the proposed TEKS  and the current TEKS state:

Science is a way of learning about the natural world. Students should know how science has built a vast body of changing and increasing knowledge described by physical, mathematical, and conceptual models, and also should know that science may not answer all questions.
 
 
 
 
 

 

Cargill goes on to state:

Proponents of Darwinian evolution say that the theory has no weaknesses.  However 700+ reputable scientists who have signed “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” question major tenets of evolution.  They state, “Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”  In The Origin of Species, Darwin himself wrote, “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.”

To say that proponents of “Darwinian evolution” claim the theory has no weaknesses is misleading.  Scientists realize that theories are subject to change.  This tenet of science is included in the state’s science standards, as mentioned above.  Furthermore, 700+ scientists signing a petition does not mean a whole lot, unfortunately, unless one questions each scientist as to where their dissent lies.  This is, in fact, one of the common criticisms of this petition. Further criticisms include the fact that the professional expertise of those listed is not always apparent, some people may have been misled when signing the petition, and that the wording of the original document was in itself misleading.

For example, when evidence for universal common ancestry in the fossil record is taught (i.e. scientific strength), then the contradictory evidence showing the huge gaps of missing transitional fossils in the record must also be presented (i.e. scientific weakness).  We must educate our students — not indoctrinate them by letting them hear only one side of an issue. 

If this is how Ms. Cargill expects teachers to teach the strengths and weaknesses, then I would also like to see how she proposes handling the strengths and weaknesses of other biological theories, like the germ theory of disease.  I am very serious.  As a teacher who wants to make sure I am covering the TEKS properly, I would like to see some examples of how to teach strengths and weaknesses of the other theories I am required to teach my students.  I would love to see Ms. Cargill’s ideas. 

Also, should a teacher mention the strength (the fossil record), and then a potential weakness (gaps in the fossil record), but then go back to another strength (teaching about all the transitional fossils that have been found)?  Or is that unbalanced and still too one-sided and “indoctrinating”?

How does one decide exactly what is a strength and what is a weakness of a theory?  In some cases it may be obvious, but in others it may simply be in the eye of the beholder.  So where does a teacher turn to make sure they are adequately covering strengths and weaknesses?  Should there be some sort of scientific consensus on which ideas are strengths and which are weaknesses?  But wait…if we turn to scientific consensus, then wouldn’t evolution simply be taught largely as fact anyway?

I would like to note that there is one thing I can certainly agree with Ms. Cargill on:

Presently, Texas’ science standards contain key process skills like analyzing, comparing, gathering information, and drawing conclusions.  Students should practice these skills at each grade level, but too often the tendency is to teach rote memorization of accepted facts.

However, she then continues:

By applying the scientific process, students will be challenged to think “outside the box” and form their own conclusions about topics like common ancestry.  Evolution proponents should not mind if students ask questions; after all, if evolution is the best explanation, then the data should only point to its validity. 

Ms. Cargill is being misleading again here by implying that evolution proponents are scared of their students asking questions about evolution.  Unfortunately, some teachers may certainly be scared or a little intimidated, but this is not due to trying to “cover up” any inaccuracies in evolutionary theory.  It is due to the backlash that might occur from the students, their parents, other teachers, local religious groups, and so on.

Also, note to Ms. Cargill–the data does point to the validity of evolution.

Science is full of mystery and constant discovery.  Headlines such as cloning, DNA testing, and gene mapping are prolific.  Science classrooms are the perfect place to brainstorm about current science events!  With that in mind, how can teachers pick and choose which scientific evidence to teach or ignore?  Teaching students to believe that evolution indisputably holds the answers to life’s big questions undermines the very essence of scientific inquiry.

Good question, Ms. Cargill.  How can teachers pick and choose which evidence to teach or ignore?  Unfortunately, Ms. Cargill did not really address the question herself.

Tony Whitson has also commented on this article at Curricublog.

*Update

I’ve commented on the Texas Insider site where Ms. Cargill’s article is published asking her to please address my post and also sent Ms. Cargill the following email:

Ms. Cargill,
 
I recently read your article from the Texas Insider regarding the latest on the evolution/creationism/intelligent design debates.  I have posted some comments on my blog in reference to this article and welcome you to look at it and respond. 
 
The address is located here:
 
https://airtightnoodle.wordpress.com/2008/12/20/barbara-cargills-recent-comments-on-evolution-and-strengths-and-weaknesses/
 
I hope you are able to address some of my questions.
 
Merry Christmas!
 
Airtightnoodle

Hopefully she will be able to address some of the above.

*And yet another update!

Jeremy from An Evolving Creation linked to this post (thanks, Jeremy!) and added some extra food for thought:

What Cargill failed to mention is that the signatories of that statement are expressing their skepticism about “the ability of random mutations and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.” The statement does not address common ancestry. In fact, several of the signatories have publicly stated that they have no problem with the fact of common ancestry.

Creationism (a.k.a. zombie science)

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2008 by airtightnoodle

Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education recently wrote an article entitled “Zombie Jamboree in Texas” in which he compares the creationist movement to such zombie flicks as “Dawn of the Dead”.

As humorous as this might seem, Branch’s article clearly points out why this issue is so important–and why the outcome in Texas is important for the nation as a whole.

Three creationists were just appointed to a six-member committee to review a draft set of Texas state biology standards, which determine what is taught in Texas’s public school science classrooms and the content of the biology textbooks approved for use in the state. And since Texas is one of the largest textbook markets in the country, what happens to textbooks there is relevant to the content of textbooks everywhere.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

When voting on Tuesday, don’t forget about voting for the State Board of Education!

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2008 by airtightnoodle

Here is an article about the candidates running in my area, district 8, for Texas State Board of Education. 

Note that the incumbent, Barbara Cargill, advocates “teaching the controversy”.