Friday, January 23, 2009

It’s a Tie: Jesus 1 Darwin 1

Things seem to have split down the middle in yesterday’s wrangle at the Texas State Board of Education confab in Austin, where it met to vote on amendments to the 3rd draft of Chapter 112 of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills document. That document can be found here.

In what seems to have become a miraculous turn of events, the forces for Jesus and The Creator of the Universe seem to have suffered a setback, as the board voted and rejected two proposed amendments to return the “strengths and weaknesses” clause to the document.

A team of teachers and education experts have worked long and hard to come up with 3 drafts of a proposed document that will set the stage for public school science instruction as well as what actually gets written in science textbooks. In the documents 3rd incarnation, Line 3A was stripped from each and every science discipline included in Chapter 112 of the TEKS.

In the draft currently in force, approved in 1998, this language is found:

“(3) Scientific processes. The student uses critical thinking and scientific problem solving to make informed decisions. The student is expected to:

(A) analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information;”

In the 3rd draft we see this language in the high school document:

(3) Scientific processes. The student uses critical thinking, scientific reasoning and problem solving to make informed decisions. The student is expected to:

(A) analyze and evaluate scientific explanations, using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing;”

Clearly, the phrase “as to their strengths and weaknesses” was deleted. The group deleted this phrase in a nod to the 21st century and the Supreme Court which has already ruled that creationism and intelligent design may not be taught in a science classroom. The “strengths and weaknesses” phrase was seen by the TEKS science committee as one that promotes the teaching of those two proscribed dogmatic ideologies that are nothing less than an attempt to teach religion in public school as science.

And yesterday, in two separate motions, two evangelical members of the school board sought to restore this language to the document.

An attempt that was narrowly defeated twice.

So it will not be part of the Texas science curriculum for students to evaluate Darwin’s theory of natural selection as to whether it adequately explains a known fact – that evolution occurs.

But they had to throw a bone to the vanquished, I think.

In a separate and very narrow challenge to evolutionary theory, the board voted 9 to 6 to include a phrase in the biology curriculum that specifically deals with species evolution.

In the 3rd draft’s section 43 (Biology) Line 7 reads like this:

(7) Science concepts. The student knows evolutionary theory is a scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life. The student is expected to:

(A) identify how evidence of common ancestry among groups is provided by the fossil record, biogeography, and homologies including anatomical, molecular, and developmental;

I guess this language was too strong and forceful for board chairman, Republican evangelical dentist Don McLeroy. He wanted the following idea added to water down what appears to be some factual certainty:

“…evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of scientific theories about common ancestry of different species.”

But at least he is getting away from the word “weakness.”

And at least they are being a little more intellectually honest by including this phrase as a direct attack on these scientific disciplines, rather than putting in every section of the document a “strength and weakness” phrase in some sort of attempt at looking even-handed, when an attack on evolutionary theory was the intent all along.

Besides, I always thought that the developmental evidence for the evolution of the phyla, “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” was a little hokey.

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