Thursday, January 22, 2009

Texas School Board Set to Strike a Blow for Jesus

Here in the Bible Belt, in Texas, where people still cling to their guns and their Bibles, we have a religious war brewing.

A Jihad for Jesus, if you will.

The war is set to be fought in the meeting room of the State Board of Education, where 15 school board trustees are getting set to vote on whether to include an infamous phrase in each and every section of the state’s science curriculum.

Specifically, we are talking about the “strengths and weaknesses” clause. One requirement that is in the current curriculum, in examination of scientific theories holds that students should be able to “analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information.”

This clause is cut and pasted into every section of Chapter 112 of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills that can be found at the TEA website here.

On its face it appears that the board wants Texas public school students to engage in higher level thinking where they evaluate the validity of scientific theory.

You know, like the Theory of Relativity, or the Kinetic Theory of Matter.

But in reality, the clause is really only meant to be used in one discipline, and really in one theory within that discipline.

Specifically, biology, and the “Theory of Evolution.”

Yes, the clause is there specifically to ensure that students would question the strengths and weaknesses of that theory, even though it is presently included as line 3A in every section of the chapter.

This is a fairly blatant attempt at appearing to be even-handed, even though whenever the clause is debated, only Darwin’s theory comes up.

And not Einstein’s Theories, or Superstring Theory.

Now here is the rub. Even though that clause has been in the TEKS for 10 years now, teachers generally ignore it.

And for good reason. Most science teachers that I am aware of are themselves not equipped to question the validity of scientific theories. This is really the stuff of ivory tower science, not something that can be adequately discussed in K-12 classrooms.

Why then, if teachers are not really qualified to question scientific theories, does the school board think that children are?

The truth is, they aren’t and that is where it gets really interesting. If teachers and students alike cannot make use of “scientific evidence and information” to evaluate a theory’s strengths and weaknesses, who can?

Answer: textbook authors.

See? It’s not about higher level thinking, it is about reading someone else’s evaluation of a theory and memorizing it for later regurgitation. That’s about as low as you go as far as complexity and quality of cognitive domains.

But what is really and truly insidious is that when textbook authors are required to include in their scientific discussion an evaluation of validity, it opens up the possibility of inclusion of analyses and opinions made in the past that have been offered and subsequently rejected.

But without some rather sophisticated knowledge that lies far beyond graduate school, students and some teachers have no way of knowing this.

Knowing, for example, that natural selection had nothing to do with the Cambrian speciation explosion, yet that event is held up as evidence that natural selection is a weak theory because it cannot explain the event.

Knowing, for example that evolution per se is not the theory in question. That “Darwin’s Theory” is not the “Theory of Evolution.” “Darwin’s Theory of Evolution” is a misnomer. Those words are shortened from the title of Darwin’s book “On the Theory of Evolution by Means of Natural Selection.” There is no real argument that evolution has not taken place. Evolution is a biological principle, not a theory. A biological principle simply states what happens. A theory attempts to explain how a phenomenon happens, not whether it does.

So it looks to me like the Texas State Board of Education is getting ready to really downgrade the quality of science education by making outlandish demands of textbook authors to lie, essentially, to young readers.

And quite frankly, this is not a state issue, it is a national one. Publishers have little desire to create multiple versions of a textbook, ones that are individually written to suit the demands of individual states. Texas, as it turns out, is a huge textbook customer so what is written for Texan tastes also get shipped to states with lower textbook demands. So what the Texas Board demands of publishers will have an effect on the quality of science education across the country.

So despite the fact that Bush and the Texas Mafia have made a sudden exit from the national scene, Texas keeps on giving the finger to the nation through its religious reactionary school board.

I am thinking of founding a new national organization: “Americans for the Secession of Texas.”

I bet I can get a pretty big membership list.


Rhymes With Right said...

Simple question: Should students be taught critical thinking skills, including about scientific theories, or should they accept a "faith-based" science curriculum which tells them not to ask questions but simply believe the revealed wisdom of Darwinism?

Personally, this believer in (and teacher of) evolution prefers the former, and considers the latter no different than the attitude professed by those who banned the teaching of evolution in the last century. After all, we only advance in knowledge by asking questions.

Hal said...

You missed the point, Greg. Critical thinking skills are the last thing that the SBOE members who want this in the TEKS are after.

It's all about getting textbook authors to do the kids' thinking for them. And the kids don't have the necessary background to evaluate what the authors offer as strengths and weaknesses.

Matty Boy said...

Hi, Hal. One of my readers sent me a link to this post in the comments of my blog. On Wednesdays, I talk about math and for the past few weeks, it's about the state of math education.

You are absolutely correct about the controversies of science. The Huge Honking Controversy of the 20th Century, which continues to this day, is whether relativity explains what the universe looks like or if quantum mechanics is the working model, because they can't both be right at the same time.

If the Good People with the Right Thoughts should be willing to make teachers take oaths to the effect that the universe is much older than the Biblical creation myths say. This isn't theory, it's math. Anyone unable to understand that shouldn't be allowed in a classroom.

Just my humble counterattack.

Anonymous said...

Oh Hal! I pity you. You have Rhymes with Phat commenting on your blog!

Hal said...

That's OK. Anything to boost my Technorati blog reaction rating. I used to have an Authority rating of 82 but my fellow bloggers have stopped linking to my posts and it has fallen through the floor.