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Texas Education - Science Instructional Materials Debate

TEA LogoThe Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) is in the news again, this time for science education. For a bit of background on the SBOE, one of my previous posts, Texas Education in the Budget Crisis, has a quick run down of the shenanigans the board has pulled in recent years, mostly on less than honest means of passing new standards for various subjects.

The latest controversy is over the adoption of new science instructional materials for our public schools. A one day hearing on the materials will be held this Thursday, July 21st, followed by a final debate and vote on Friday. Unfortunately, not all of the materials submitted for consideration are particularly good, and some are downright harmful.

Consider the material submitted by International Databases. Here are some of the passages quoted in that article.

…at the end of the instructional unit on the Origins of Life, students should go home with the understanding that a new paradigm of explaining life’s origins is emerging from the failed attempts of naturalistic scenarios. This new way of thinking is predicated upon the hypothesis that intelligent input is necessary for life’s origins.
Many scientists have adopted an unproven hypothesis upon which to build their theories regarding the origin of life and its’ diversification. This ‘foundation’ is called scientific materialism, naturalism, and so forth… There are other scientists who have adopted the unproven hypothesis that an intelligence is necessary to explain both the origin, and diversification of life on Earth. This view follows from the human experience that teaches order (complexity) results from intelligent action.

The article has more, along with screen captures to see these quotes in context.


While you might suspect that a sensible board would reject such materials that weren't based on mainstream science, not all of the board members have demonstrated themselves to be sensible. Given their past behavior and their actions leading up to this vote, there's some reason to worry.

For example, when nominating members for the review panel to evaluate these materials, several of the board members appointed creationists (including my own representative, Gail Lowe, who appointed a man who likened evolution to religious dogma).

The new head of the Board, Barbara Cargill (appointed by Perry to replace Don McLeroy, after his first choice, Gail Lowe, didn't even receive a confirmation hearing from the state Senate), has made some rather divisive comments. In a speech to the Eagle Forum, she stated:

Right now there are six true conservative Christians on the board, so we have to fight for two votes. In previous years, we had to fight for one vote to get a majority.

Not only is this counter to what should be the secular goals of our public education system (secular as in non-religious, not anti-religious), it's insulting to the other Christians on the Board who don't agree with Cargill.


So, if you live in Texas, send a letter to the Board member that represents you, demanding that they uphold sound science standards and only approve appropriate, evidence based materials (here's an example of what I sent back when it was the science standards up for debate, which obviously needs to be updated appropriately). If you don't know who your representative is, you can find out at Who Represents Me?. You can follow the links from there to get their contact information, though it appears that all board members seem to have the same e-mail address, sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us.

Hopefully, with the recent losses of the ultra-right wing bloc in the last election, there's some hope that underhanded dealings similar to previous occurrences won't take place, and that our students will end up with good educational materials.


Additional Links:


Added 2011-07-27 - The debate and vote are over, and our children came out the winners. You can read more in a new entry, Texas Education - Follow Up to Science Instructional Materials Debate


Added 2011-07-21 & 22 - The debates are being live blogged by the TFN and by Steven Schafersman. So, here links to their live blogs, along with a bit more information.


Added 2011-07-19 - I've completed my letter to Mrs. Lowe, for anyone interested in reading it.

Attn: Gail Lowe - Science Instructional Materials

Mrs. Lowe,

I am a resident of Wichita Falls, and so you are my representative on the Board of Education. I have been disappointed in some of your past actions and votes that have weakened our children’s science education, but you have a chance to vote in support of sound science this Friday when it comes time to approve the new science instructional materials. It’s no secret that some of the submitted resources are sympathetic to creationism and Intelligent Design. Such resources do not accurately reflect mainstream scientific views, and would do our children a disservice by miseducating them.

I have written you before on science education, but considering your actions since that time, I feel obliged to repeat myself on certain issues.

First of all, evolution is accepted as true by the vast majority of mainstream biologists. Consider the following statement from the summary of the National Academy of Sciences’ 2008 report, Science, Evolution and Creationism (available online at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11876):

"Scientists no longer question the basic facts of evolution as a process. The concept has withstood extensive testing by tens of thousands of specialists in biology, medicine, anthropology, geology, chemistry, and other fields. Discoveries in different fields have reinforced one another, and evidence for evolution has continued to accumulate for 150 years."

Rather than go on at length listing scientific organizations and agencies that have issued similar statements endorsing evolution, I'll direct you to the following page on the website of the National Center for Science Education, which does list such statements:
http://ncseweb.org/media/voices/science

Similarly, I could go on at length describing all the evidence supporting evolution - both the fact of common descent with modification, and the various theories describing how evolution happens. Instead, I'll point out few very informative websites where you can find this information:

I hesitate to bring up the legal issues involved with the teaching of creationism, because we should simply be concerned with teaching our children the best science that we can, which evolution most certainly is, and raising other points seems a bit of a distraction. However, it cannot be ignored that when other states have provided openings to allow the teaching of creationism and intelligent design, it has resulted in costly court battles. Consider the Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover trial in Pennsylvania, the Selman et al. v. Cobb County School District et al. trial in Georgia, or the Rodney LeVake v. Independent School District 656, et al. trial in Minnesota (which is relevant to the "strengths and limitations" tactic). These types of battles are completely unnecessary, as they could be avoided entirely simply by keeping science classes limited to well founded science.

I think it hardly needs to be said that I will not vote for a representative who puts their own biases above the recommendations of experts in the appropriate field. I urge you to vote in favor of the evidence based resources, and to reject the resources that would miseducate our children.

Sincerely,
Jeffrey R. Lewis

Comments

100 years before Darwin sailed on the Beagle 'creationism' and evolution were at Galileo-style loggerheads. The links between religion and church are still as vital as they were when devout Church of England adherent Darwin contested interpretation of his records as relevant to church dogma - a scientific position common to times when state and church walked lockstep in ensuring conformity.
We risk similar confusion over the operation of the 'Denier' meme in public discourse : whether it be over evolution, history of Nazi work camps as revealed by Israeli Holocaust supporters or dynamics of climate change. It is an attack on Scientific Method reduced to political absurdity.

LOL 'links between religion and church' s/b links between state and church

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