Monday, January 26, 2009

Is Texas' Science Education Evolving?

The State Board of Education moved a step closer to dropping a 20-year-old science curriculum requirement that critics say is used to undermine the theory of evolution.

After two days of heated debate, the board made a key vote Friday in favor of dropping a mandate that teachers address both "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theory.

A panel of science teachers had recommended that the language be dropped, suggesting instead that students be required to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations.

The new standards the board ultimately approves — a final vote on the curriculum proposal is not expected until March — will be in place for the next decade. They also will dictate how publishers handle the topic of evolution in textbooks.

This is good news because the creationists have been using the previous language as a ploy to introduce their religious teaching into science classes in Texas.

Additionally, it is good to know that the Center for Inquiry - Austin and the Clergy Letter Project have teamed up to produce a website called Teach Them Science to promote the proper teaching of evolution in Texas classrooms.

51 comments:

G said...

Ahhh. A tremendous victory in the making for closed-minded group-think.

How dare they suggest discussing the weaknesses of a scientific theory! If we go down that road, we'll end up with a bunch of young adults who can (GASP) think critically!

No, sir! Only mindless automatons allowed in our schools. We need a new generation of lemmings for the next wave of populist, pseudo-scientific drivel.

csm said...

If only it were as simple-minded as you make it seem, G. The odious thing that is being removed was inserted only to allow closed-minded creationists to argue non-scientifically in a science class. Science should teach science. Where there are legitimate issues with a theory, those can be brought up. But with evolution this whole argument is merely a wedge to introduce religion into a science class - which is absurd. Good riddance to it.

G said...

I understand your position, although in general I think you go too far in your desire to remove all religious references from public life.

But it seems to me that if a teacher wants to inject religion into his or her classroom, the teacher will find a way to do so. I haven't read the entire text of the education code. But from your post, it actually sounds like a good thing to me. I have a real problem with public schools when they withhold information from students in order to make the teacher's (or school board's) view appear to be more concrete than it is.

I'm not just talking about evolution here. I believe that the "dumbing down" of American society that we see today is a direct result of the public school system. Rather than teaching critical thinking and presenting facts (training the kids to analyze facts and come to their own conclusions), the schools are force-feeding THEIR interpretation on them... usually without even presenting dissenting evidence or views. That type of education leaves us with millions of young adults who are woefully unprepared for life.

My uncle has a bumper sticker that declares, "Education is Power." And I believe that is true. But when education has crossed the line to indoctrination (for lack of a better, less incendiary word), then it lays the foundation for oppression, not empowerment. When the educator refuses to present opposing views or inconvenient facts in order to solidify his/her position, that line has been crossed... to the detriment of the individual student and society in general.

BAWDYSCOT said...

G,

What you are saying reminds me of my grade school years when social studies teachers would explain the different interpretations of the Constitution. One the one hand you had the STRICT interpretation, all confining and and old-fashioned, as opposed to the LOOSE interpretation which is free and accomodating. What kid wouldn't like the LOOSE, I mean it is free and accomodating. I believed it then and until I did a little independent study.

Religion/evolution isn't the only way a teacher can nurture or stunt a child.

csm said...

Can't say I disagree with you, G. I guess the problem is that we will always have imperfect humans teaching other imperfect (and quite malleable) humans.

Religion, though, has no place in a public school, unless it is in a comparative religious studies class... or maybe the bible or q'ran as literature class. Religion is a personal thing that people either believe or do not believe, and no educator should have anything to say about religion not should educators be allowed to indoctrinate.

Now when it comes to mathematics or proper grammar or science, then yes, these are things that children should be indoctrinated into. 1+1 will always equal 2, for example. And another is that evolution is the basis for biological science and modern medicine.

csm said...

My comments above were made about public schools. Private, religious schools can teach whatever they want about religion, as long as they also teach a sound curriculum approved by their state or local authorities... and that should include teaching the reality of evolution. Any child who does not learn this and understand it should not get a high school diploma. Period.

Anonymous said...

Actually, if a student asks a teacher about their religion or even other religions, they are free to share their faith under the the protection of free speech. Happens everyday and many teachers will even place objects on their desk as a spring board to discussion.

Ceroill said...

Quite so. This is an individual conversation, not part of the curriculum. Personal discussions about what values or beliefs one may or may not have are not out of place or out of line. But if the subject is science, you should not inject religion into it, even by placing religious items on your desk to spur the asking of questions. If you do have such items on your desk, that's fine. But if a student in science class brings the topic up during class, you (the supposed teacher) should politely tell the student you'll be happy to talk about it after class (if there is time)or after school if they choose to stay late for said conversation.

Ceroill said...

Oh, as a followup on this topic, CSM, here is the text of an article about David Attenborough, and the hate mail he gets from creatinists.


Attenborough reveals creationist hate mail for not crediting God

* Riazat Butt, religious affairs correspondent
* The Guardian, Tuesday 27

Sir David Attenborough has revealed that he receives hate mail from viewers for failing to credit God in his documentaries. In an interview with this week's Radio Times about his latest documentary, on Charles Darwin and natural selection, the broadcaster said: "They tell me to burn in hell and good riddance."

Telling the magazine that he was asked why he did not give "credit" to God, Attenborough added: "They always mean beautiful things like hummingbirds. I always reply by saying that I think of a little child in east Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator."

Attenborough went further in his opposition to creationism, saying it was "terrible" when it was taught alongside evolution as an alternative perspective. "It's like saying that two and two equals four, but if you wish to believe it, it could also be five ... Evolution is not a theory; it is a fact, every bit as much as the historical fact that William the Conqueror landed in 1066."

Attenborough, who attended the Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys in Leicester in the 1930s, said he was astonished at manifestations of Christian faith.

"It never really occurred to me to believe in God - and I had nothing to rebel against, my parents told me nothing whatsoever. But I do remember looking at my headmaster delivering a sermon, a classicist, extremely clever ... and thinking, he can't really believe all that, can he? How incredible!"

In 2002, Attenborough joined an effort by clerics and scientists to oppose the inclusion of creationism in the curriculum of state-funded independent schools receiving private sponsorship, such as the Emmanuel Schools Foundation.

coreydbarbarian said...

i think it's disingenuous to argue that kids won't question authority or think critically simply because the OFFICIAL CURRICULUM REQUIREMENTS don't mention supposed "weaknesses" of evolutionary theory - and these are "weaknesses" that 95% of scientists DON'T agree with.

it's equally foolish to believe that by including an official statement to undermine evolutionary theory, you are somehow encouraging critical thinking by attacking an idea that has achieved no small semblance of consensus in the scientific community.

csm said...

I dunno, Corey... Indoctrinating the minds of children is probably a good way to undermine something (anything)... Start 'em young and we can get 'em to believe in Santa and God and the tooth fairy and the easter bunny and the devil and creationism and and and...

Ceroill said...

csm, this is a bit off topic, but what the heck.
There was a little book I read years ago, wish I could remember the name and author, it was great.
The basic subject was what you just mentioned- indoctrination of children. Specifically though, it was rather controversial, as it dealt with the Pledge of Allegiance.
Allow me to summarize.
The author told a tale of his young child coming home one day, and proudly announcing that in school that day they all said the "Pledge Allegiance". After a moment the father/author, noticing the way it had been said, asked if she knew what "pledge" meant, or "allegiance". Of course the young child had no idea, had simply recited what had been said by the teacher. This got the father/author thinking about how insidious this basic method of teaching can be. That is, teaching a child something they don't truly understand, and giving them praise when they 'learn' it well.

I won't go into the rest of the book, which dealt with a speculative situation of this country being invaded and the conquerors indoctrinating the little children by this method.

Heck, (yes, I'm rambling now) it doesn't even have to be little kids. It works with teens,and even adults when it's done right. Are you familiar with The Third Wave? Here's the link to the Wikipedia entry

BAWDYSCOT said...

"Strength through discipline, strength through community, strength through action, strength through pride".[1]

Sounds like much of the rhetoric I heard throughout all of the Presidential election process just past. Thanks, Bob.

(back for another edition)

Verification word: graspie

Ceroill said...

Bawdy, I'm glad if I managed to add another smidgen to your education. Of course, in a sort of corollary, there is the quote from Hermann Goering, that occurred to me so often over the last 8 years: The people can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders. All you have to do is tell them that they are in danger of being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.

Anonymous said...

"and these are "weaknesses" that 95% of scientists DON'T agree with."

Can this be backed up? I doubt it. All respectable biologist, microbiologist and the like recognize the numerous holes that cannot be explained by evolution or which just outright defy evolution. Throwing random numbers out doesn't bolster your position.

G said...

re: consensus

Are we now assuming that scientific consensus implies inerrancy? Isn't there usually a consensus in the scientific community on most issues, even when they are wrong (e.g. flat earth, bloodletting, impossibility of breaking the sound barrier)?

Don't we often make the greatest scientific advancements when someone is willing to challenge the "consensus" and take his/her investigation and experimentation in a totally new direction?

Isn't thorough analysis of flaws and inconsistencies the most effective way to determine the veracity of a law or theory? If it is unquestionably correct, then we needn't fear intense scrutiny (regardless of the motivation).

Groupthink

Please note the section on symptoms of groupthink.

Anonymous said...

This may be a little different. When someone has invested a career in an hypothesis/theory and then a group of scientist begin to poke holes and offer alternatives; it can be a threatening situation. Many egos, biases and strongholds must be dealt with and they take some time. The Expelled documentary provided some good info on this.

csm said...

These are all ABSOLUTE FUCKING BULLSHIT arguments. No scientist is barred from exploring and testing any existing theory. If a better explanation can be found science, by its very nature, corrects itself. This is definitional to science. And many folks imbued in religion cannot understand this because their doctrine tells them what to believe and that it cannot be changed.

Furthermore, there are not scientific FACTS, only THEORIES that are supported by evidence.

When it comes to teaching our children, we should teach them a foundation of what science means and how it works; this is sadly lacking or these type of "issues" would not be raised by well-meaning folks. And then we should teach them what we know today based on the evidence and the theories that support that evidence. Things like gravity, evolution, etc. etc. If there are credible SCIENTIFIC issues with a theory then those should be taught. Creationist nonsense should not be taught in a science classes. Ever.

csm said...

By the way, G, the best example of groupthink I can come up with is religion.

G said...

Some religious groups, yes. Cults, definitely. But it is also quite evident these days in the scientific community as well, particularly in the areas of evolutionary theory and "climate change" (formerly known as "global warming").

For the most part, I would agree with your last paragraph. I don't see any reason to teach creationism in science classes. At the same time, there are some aspects of evolutionary theory that aren't scientific either. If students clearly understand what is involved in scientific method and are expected to apply those principles to every area of scientific inquiry, things that are purely speculative will become evident to all.

I do take issue with your first paragraph. I would agree that pure science CAN be self-correcting, but only so far as someone is willing to break from the consensus to really challenge currently held beliefs. Also, it would be absurd to think that scientists are somehow absolutely neutral and egoless. Great advances in science often face stiff opposition and ostracism from the firmly entrenched majority. Don't scientists who speak out against man-made "climate change" face ridicule from all sides? Aren't scientists who point out the scientific flaws in evolutionary theory dismissed as purely religious zealots?

Now let's go back to the original post. What is wrong with pointing out both the strengths AND weaknesses of any scientific theory being discussed?

coreydbarbarian said...

first, let me apologize for not posting more often.
i've been driving 15hr days lately, plus i'm trying to get ready to move at the end of the month. i do wish i had a lil more time to add to the discussion(s).

---
new rule: i'm not wasting any more energy on anonymous bloggers. especially the stupid ones.

---
g, i'm as big a fan of george orwell as anyone here, and terms like doublespeak and groupthink have been with me for at least 20yrs. that said, i do not accept your theory that scientists engage in groupthink when dealing w/ climate change and/or evolution.

what really bothers me here is that opponents to either climate change or evolution are simply not basing their opinions on the evidence; they are allowing their agenda to dictate what evidence is allowable, and discarding anything that conflicts with the ideology that they came to the table with in the first place.

albert einstein often pointed out the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning. i believe his points are relevant to this discussion.

when my baby sister argues against the validity of carbon dating methods, she is doing so because it conflicts with her religious beliefs, and she sets out to find evidence to disprove said methods.

this approach to fact-finding is simply not in accordance with the scientific method, where evidence informs opinion, and not the other way around.

when you allow yourself to dismiss scientists with statements like, "...it would be absurd to think that scientists are somehow absolutely neutral and egoless.", you overlook the obvious; it is the scientific method that is actually neutral and egoless, and it is the method that allows science to be self-correcting. as evidence accumulates, it overrides any biases inherent in the scientists themselves.

by and large, the opponents of evolution and climate change and the big bang etcetera are primarily motivated by the perceived threat to their accepted theology/world view, and clearly not by a preponderance of evidence.

i think the most telling fact is this: the opponents of (insert theory here) are not trained scientists at all, they are average joes. i will tell you what i tell them - come back to me when you've actually passed a course in evolutionary biology or genetics. only then can we have a reasoned discussion of the facts, instead of the opinions perpetuated by those unfamiliar with the scientific method.

finally, you ask, "What is wrong with pointing out both the strengths AND weaknesses of any scientific theory being discussed?"

-- why don't we let SCIENCE decide if these purported weaknesses exist? pre-empting science by inserting doubts into the curriculum circumvents the scientific method that has served us so well...

csm said...

Well said, Corey!

Another thought: There are countless thousands, if not millions, of examples where scientists, based on improved evidence and tests, bring about improved theories and knowledge, abandoning previously held thoughts and ideas.

Does this ever happen in religion?

G said...

coreyd,

I'm glad you're back. I was getting concerned that you might not have made it back from one of your runs.

I didn't mean to be dismissive of scientists. I hope my comments didn't sound that way. I was simply pointing out that they are human beings like the rest of us. They have egos, presuppositions, a desire for respect, etc. Being a scientist doesn't automatically immunize a person from the weaknesses and failings of human nature.

Now, you claim that those who hold opposing views of evolution and climate change aren't trained scientists. But that just isn't true. There are thousands of scientists who have expressed their rejection of the idea of man-made climate change. And there are many scientists who reject much of evolutionary theory as well. The problem is not that they aren't scientists, but that those who DO support those theories immediately dismiss them as ideologically motivated.

Also, you claim that their views are not based on evidence. Well, in many cases it is actually their REJECTION of a theory based on a LACK of evidence that is important. Remember, the burden of proof in science is on the one posing the theory. At the same time, if a theory runs contrary to well established laws of other areas of science (e.g. chemistry), the burden of proof becomes that much more difficult.

I agree that we should be focused on the scientific method. But let's not forget that the scientific method doesn't stop at observation of events and data, followed by the development of a theory. A valid theory also needs to be verified through experimentation. And in most cases, it should be predictive as well. In SOME areas of evolutionary theory, that has occurred. But in others it hasn't.

csm,

Yes. There have been many cases where incorrect interpretations have been shown to be wrong. The text remains intact. But there are times when we discover that our understanding of the text wasn't correct.

csm said...

How does that happen, G, divine intervention? Not trying to be completely flippant, but who decides that the interpretation was wrong? And by what standards is the decision made? On whose authority? And how is the decision reviewed?

csm said...

G, in case Corey is "on the road again" let me challenge you to name 20 biologists who refute evolution, let alone thousands.

G said...

I said "thousands" with respect to man-made climate change. I gave a non-specific "many" to describe those who reject some parts of evolutionary theory. That isn't because I don't think there are thousands, but in the case of climate change, thousands have actually signed a document stating their position (hence my ability to be more specific with numbers). And note that I'm not saying that they reject ALL of evolutionary theory. Generally, it is the aspects that have never been demonstrated by experimentation that have been rejected.

In any case, it is pointless to get into a numbers game. Scientific truth is not subject to majority rule. And you can use google just as well as I can. If I must, here's a starting point for you:

Biologic Instutute

I've also mentioned the writings of A.E. Wilder-Smith in the past, which you and others have refused to read.

I realize that you want to limit things to biologists. But there is no reasonable basis for doing so. Biology is just one of many areas of science. And those different areas aren't going to contradict one another. So if a biological theory goes against known laws of chemistry, physics, et al., then it should be rejected (or at least receive abundant skepticism) until it can be experimentally verified.

On your questions about biblical interpretations, there isn't one ultimate authority for all Christianity who determines what interpretation is correct. And when an interpretation is shown to be incorrect, there are usually some people who will still hold onto it. But people who are willing to think a little bit are usually willing to recognize their errors.

If you like, I can give you some examples.

Anonymous said...

"why don't we let SCIENCE decide if these purported weaknesses exists?"

I does. That is why the discussions exist. In addition to the above link look up the Discovery Institute as well as the many books available at Amazon from scientist such as Michael Behe.

coreydbarbarian said...

g, i'm sorry if i made you worry! this winter has been unlike any other here. we never stopped getting moisture from the gulf stream this time, so lots of precipitation and slick roads all winter long. makes for long days & nights sometimes, but i'm working! thats more than many, so i'm thankful.

i really do appreciate your concern, though. :D

--
a very brief reply 2day-

i was raised to believe the exact ideas you are espousing. i accepted them w/o question in my youth, but as i grew, i realized that i had been mislead. in my experience, very few scientists doubt the veracity of these theories, and much hay is made from the few that oppose them.

if i recall correctly, the list of thousands (at least the one i saw, from the discovery institute) included very few science majors at all, and virtually no biologists or geneticists. many of the names were accountants, lawyers, and the like.

further, the few scientists they did include were along the lines of anonymous' hero, michael behe. i challenge anyone who likes behe's work to read the transcript from the dover trial; he basically showed his foolishness to the world, and was lucky not to be charged w/ contempt of court for his "less than truthful" answers.

i didn't think you were unfair to scientists, but i'm not sure you're seeing the scientific method as i am. in my view, scientific journals provide an opportunity for peer review on research and experimentation. no individual decides anything.

finally, (and i'm sorry i can't fully articulate these thoughts) i think the focus on experimental evidence vs speculation is a bit of a red herring. einstein's theory of relativity was only proven accurate in the past few months, yet his speculation on the issue was never really in doubt over the past century. except at the very beginning, of course.

time to run. i hope you guys have a wonderful day, filled w/ a thousand sincere smiles. :D

csm said...

{feeling lost, swimming in a sea of fools, comforted only by knowledge and science...}

coreydbarbarian said...

hey csm, i'd be happy to share this piece of driftwood w/ you if you'd like to take a break from swimming...

csm said...

{hop}

Thanks, Corey. Are those barnacles under your arms?

{drift}

Ceroill said...

Hey, let's have a drift party! *passes a lemonade on a floating coaster*

coreydbarbarian said...

thanks bob! i'm parched.
{sips lemonade}

and yes, those are in fact barnacles. it's all part of my disguise. now the sharks will think i'm a boat.

{drift}

verification word: unfog

Ceroill said...

*cue 'Jaws' music* Thank goodness my legs don't dangle off this....uhoh...nice shark...niiicee sharrrk...

(15 trivia points to whomever first posts where the line 'nice shark' is from)

[had to remind myself...'whom' always when following a preposition]

csm said...

As I bobble here mindlessly the only thing I can think of is "Finding Nemo", Bob... is that it?

{splash, splash}

Got any more lemonade?

Ceroill said...

Nope, that's not it. Sure, and here's some ginger snaps to go with the lemonade. Oh, here's a link to an article about observing evolution in action:
http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=114129&govDel=USNSF_51

coreydbarbarian said...

i think somethin just nibbled my toe.

wasn't it ll cool j as a chef?

Ceroill said...

Nope. Still no points awarded. I'll give the first hint. Television, not movies.

BAWDYSCOT said...

Sounds like a job for Flipper, the animal or the band.

Ceroill said...

Ok...next clue: a fuller version of the quote- "Nice shark...pretty shark."

coreydbarbarian said...

was it ace ventura?

csm said...

How about Fonzie on Happy Days before he jumped the shark?

coreydbarbarian said...

oh, yeah. it was tv. duh.

whatabout jabberjaws? i'm sure he could be called pretty when he had that fruit hat on or somethin..
or the pilot episode for the old batman show, when they had to break out the ol bat-shark repellant..
argh. it's killin me!

csm said...

Bawdy, how would Flipper, the band, handle a shark? Maybe an old lady would swallow the shark?

Ceroill said...

Still no dice.
Next: Sci Fi television

coreydbarbarian said...

was it captain james t. kirk when he landed on the planet of beautiful shark-women? ;)

Ceroill said...

LOL! Good try but no.

Anonymous said...

That would be "The Gathering" I believe.

Ceroill said...

Nope. Still no dice. Ok, I'll put you guys out of our collective misery.
Babylon 5, Ambassador Molari. He has just been describing how great and powerful the Centauri Empire once was, like a great shark. After the guy he was talking to leaves the bar, he sits and looks at his drink and says to himself, "Nice shark...pretty shark...", and makes a biting gesture.

Anonymous said...

"The Gathering" was the pilot for Babylon 5. I do remember that scene well.

Ceroill said...

Meep. Good point. Ok, you do get the trivia points.