Taking a Step Backward on Science Standards

sboe1119aEven before today’s Texas State Board of Education hearing on new public school science curriculum standards begins, sound science has taken a big hit. In September teacher writing teams released draft standards that wisely removed loaded language requiring schools to teach about so-called “weaknesses” of scientific theories like evolution. Creationists on the State Board of Education have seized on the “weaknesses” requirement in the past to demand that publishers challenge evolution in textbooks sold to schools in Texas and across the country. Scientists have repeatedly rejected that requirement as nonsense by pointing out that evolution is sound, established science.

So until Monday, efforts to promote a 21st-century science education in Texas schools appeared to have the upper hand. But then the Texas Education Agency — the state’s administrative agency in charge of public schools — released second drafts of the science standards that take a big step backward.

Second drafts for three of eight high school courses, including biology, now include a requirement that students learn the “strengths and limitations” of scientific theories. That language is right out of the playbook of the Discovery Institute, a major anti-evolution pressure group based in Seattle. Just as bad, science standards for middle school now call on students to develop “alternative explanations” for scientific concepts. That would kick the door wide open for evolution deniers to promote “intelligent design”/creationism in middle school classrooms.

At a press conference this morning, TFN President Kathy Miller (speaking in the photo above) joined with academic, business and faith leaders to condemn these irresponsible changes:

All of a sudden, a new draft appears with loaded buzz words that evolution deniers have used repeatedly to launch phony attacks on evolution. This raises serious questions about what and who is driving the process here. We hope writing teams will have an opportunity to fully discuss and reverse these troubling changes.

Mainstream scientists have made it crystal clear that irresponsible attempts to promote phony arguments against evolution are based on ideology, no science. It’s like saying there are “weaknesses” to the study of gravity or that Earth really doesn’t revolve around the sun after all. Tragically, the price for dumbing down the science curriculum will be paid by Texas kids who won’t be prepared to compete and succeed in the 21st century.

How the changes came about is unclear at this time. The “strengths and limitations” language mirrors, however, recommendations from evolution deniers appointed to a curriculum review panel last month by creationist state board members. One of those reviewers is vice president of the Discovery Institute.

Although the new draft standards have been presented as a product of the teacher writing teams, TFN has learned from various sources that team members actually reached no consensus on the new language. The writing teams will have an opportunity in December to strip out the “strengths and limitations.” Dozens of science supporters are preparing to testify before the State Board of Education this afternoon and evening to call for doing just that. In the meantime, however, expect to hear creationists on the state board crow that they are winning their war on evolution — a war in which Texas students and their ability to compete and succeed in the 21st century will be the casualties.

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One Comment

  1. Posted December 2, 2008 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    I think I know why there are those who deny macroevolution. It has a lot to do with observable science. You know, science done in the lab and out in the field? Work with fruit flies has been done since 1909 (Morgan at Columbia U) and after untold thousands of mutated generations they remain fruit flies – as creation science predicts. Darwin’s finches not only remain birds – but 100% finches as creation science predicts (even creation-basher Weiner admits that “different” species can interbreed in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1994 book). No macroevolution in vertebrates, no macroevolution in invertebrates, but you people still whine that macroevolution is “a fact”. This is in spite of the clear scientific evidence against it.
    “Both the origin of life and the origin of the major groups of animals remains unknown.” – A.G. Fisher, Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia fossil section, 2003
    The following quotes are from Hickman, Roberts & Larson, Zoology W.C. Brown, 1997 -
    “The origin of the ciliates [e.g. the Paramecium] is somewhat obscure.” – p. 235
    “Unraveling the origin of the multicellular animals (metazoans) has presented many problems for zoologists.” – p. 240
    “. . . one of the most intriguing questions is the place of mesozoans [a phylum of animals containing only one organ, a gonad] in the evolutionary picture.” – p. 242
    “The origin of the cnidarians and ctenophores [comb jellies] is obscure.” – p. 275
    “Any ancestral or other related groups that would shed a clue to the [evolutionary] relationships of the Acanthocephala is probably long since extinct.” – p. 317
    “The primitive ancestral mollusc was probably a more or less wormlike organism . . .” – p. 346
    “No truly satisfactory explanation has yet been given for the origins of metamerism and the coelom, although the subject has stimulated much speculation and debate over the years.” – p. 365
    “What can we infer about the common ancestor of the annelids? This has been the subject of a long and continuing debate.” – p. 365
    “Controversy on phylogeny within the Chelicerata also exists . . .” – p. 379
    “The relationship of the crustaceans to other arthropods has long been a puzzle.” – p. 399
    “The evolutionary origin of insect wings has long been a puzzle.” – p. 429
    “The phylogenetic affinities of the Pentastomida are uncertain. – p. 439
    “The phylogenetic position of the lophophorates has been the subject of much controversy and debate.” – p. 447
    “Despite the excellent fossil record, the origin and early evolution of the echinoderms are still obscure.” – p. 450
    “Despite the existence of an extensive fossil record, there have been numerous contesting hypotheses on echinoderm phylogeny.” – p. 465
    “Hemichordate phylogeny has long been puzzling.” – p. 476
    “However, the exact phylogenetic position of the chordates within the animal kingdom is unclear.” – p. 480
    “ . . zoologists have debated the question of vertebrate origins. It has been very difficult to reconstruct lines of descent because the earliest protochordates were in all probability soft-bodied creatures that stood little chance of being preserved as fossils even under the most ideal conditions.” – p. 485 [In other words, there is no evidence for their evolution]
    “The fishes are of ancient ancestry, having descended from an unknown free-swimming protochordate [a tunicate or lancelet] ancestor.” – p. 499
    “To the cladist, however, the statement that humans evolved from apes says essentially that humans evolved from something that they are not, a trivial statement that contains no useful information.” – p. 204 (phylogenetic systematics = cladistics)
    “Our concepts of species have become more sophisticated, but the diversity of different concepts and the disagreements surrounding their use are as evident now as they were in Darwin’s time.” – p. 205

    “The presence of hair in mammals may seem a trivial matter, but the exact timing of the origin of hair in mammals is unknown because the fossil record of the evolution of hair in mammals is exceedingly sparse. The developmental origin of hair is equally mysterious . . .” – Major Transitions in Vertebrate Evolution, Anderson & Dieter Sues, editors, Indiana U Press 2007, p. 153

    “Perhaps no aspect of evolution has received such intense study as human evolution, yet this is a subject concerning which there is much debate, and about which there is much still to be learned.” Colbert, 2001, p. 348.
    I won’t even get into the “Out of Africa” vs “multiregional” theories – and how macroevolutionists from each group shred the other (yup, both do ASSUME H. erectus is our alleged ancestor (John Hawks, U. of WI, Madison), but remember, H. erectus got disqualified as our ancestor (Newsweek, 3/19/07, p. 55) – as creation science predicts.

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