‘Devolution in Education’

Weekly newspapers often do a good job covering complex topics because reporters have the time and space to research and develop their stories. The Fort Worth Weekly offers a good example this week. If you want a broad examination of the debate over new science curriculum standards and what Texas public school students should learn about evolution, this article by writer Laurie Barker James is a an excellent primer. James takes the reader through the debate and the consequences that lie ahead for Texas if religious extremists on the State Board of Education succeed in undermining instruction on evolution.

The crux of the controversy: whether creationists on the state board will succeed in forcing science teachers to tell students the evolution is “just a theory” that is riddled with “weaknesses.” Never mind, of course, that creationists are distorting what “theory” means in science. And don’t bother trying to remind them that mainstream scientists have repeatedly debunked creationist-fabricated “weaknesses” of the theory of evolution. They don’t care.

But James clearly gets it:

In layperson’s terms, if you say, “It’s just a theory,” that usually means you’re talking about a guess, or something unproven. But [science teacher Kevin] Fisher said that, in the precise language of science, a theory is something that has been rigorously tested, reviewed by scientists, modified when new evidence becomes available, verified by repeated experimentation, and has become part of the scientific consensus. A theory differs from a law in that a law governs a single action, like the law of gravity. A theory, on the other hand, explains a whole series of related phenomena, like the theory of relativity. A hypothesis, Fisher said, is a guess that hasn’t been through that scientific process of being tested and proved up. And creationism, which is based on biblical interpretation, isn’t even a guess: It’s a belief, based on faith, he said.

“A theory isn’t a guess,” Fisher said. “Science deals with natural explanations which are testable.” In that context, he said, “evolution can be proven. The evidence is overwhelming.”

Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science explains the anti-evolution strategy of some board members.

“The intent of the [state board’s] creationists is to ask for misrepresentation of science, not for accuracy,” he wrote in an e-mail. “What [board member David] Bradley and his colleagues actually plan to do is damage evolution instruction by trying to get the new science standards to include [lessons on] alleged but false ‘weaknesses’ of evolution, in order to weaken evolution content, confuse students, and make them think science is less accurate and reliable about biological origins than it really is.”

And what do board radicals think about it?

Don McLeroy, a Bryan dentist, is the current State Board of Education chairman. As a medical professional, his credentials for board membership might seem impeccable. However, McLeroy, who was appointed by [Texas Gov. Rick Perry], is also an evangelical Christian who rejects the theory of evolution. Quoted in The New York Times on June 4, McLeroy said his rejection of evolution — “I just don’t think it’s true or it’s ever happened” — is not based on religious grounds.

“My personal religious beliefs are going to make no difference in how well our students are going to learn science,” he said in the interview.

That may be true. But the decidedly anti-evolution slant of McLeroy and his conservative colleagues on the education board may make that difference.

In an interview with the San Antonio Express-News on May 31, [board vice chairman David] Bradley told a reporter, “Evolution is not fact. Evolution is a theory and, as such, cannot be proven.”

Creationists like McLeroy and Bradley often argue that public schools should “teach the controversy,” as if there is a real scientific debate about whether evolution is real. (There isn’t.) They insist that science classes shouldn’t “censor” alternative viewpoints (even when those viewpoints are based on religious beliefs instead of science).

The implication, often stated openly, is that one can either accept the science of evolution or believe in God — the two, in other words, are incompatible. But that’s nonsense. Many people of faith see no such conflict.

“We can honor the faith of all Texans by teaching sound science in science classrooms and leaving personal views of the creation of the world to families and houses of worship,” [Texas Freedom Network’s Dan Quinn] said. “As a person of faith, I find it insulting when it’s implied that those who want their kids to get a sound science education aren’t ‘Christian enough.’ ”

“Be fair,” we hear from the anti-evolution side. But is it fair to undermine the education of schoolchildren and the economic future of the state simply to satisfy an ideological agenda? That question is especially important as the state board begins revising science curriculum standards for all Texas public schools.

“Right now, what the [state board] does will determine whether the next generation of Texas public school students get a 19th-century education in their 21st-century classroom,” said Quinn. “The adoption of the science curriculum will determine whether students will be prepared to succeed in college and jobs of the future, or whether their education is subordinated to the views and beliefs of a fringe group of [state board] members.”

Read the full article here. Then click here and help the Texas Freedom Network stand up for science in our public schools.