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The Ten-Gallon Evolution Debate


They're debating a revision of the state science standards in Texas today, which of course means another debate over evolution's place in the classroom.

The Texas state board of education is reviewing a draft of the standards, which basically spell out what students are expected to know in science.

The current version of that document says that students should be taught the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. That language has never been to the liking of scientists, who see it as potentially encouraging teachers to pick on evolution as somehow flawed or weak, when in fact the scientific evidence for the theory is overwhelming.

But a recent version of the standards (known as draft #2) appears to be drawing even stronger objections from scientists. Drafted by a six-member committee, it calls for students to "analyze and evaluate strengths and limitations" of scientific theory.

This story from the Associated Press says members of the committee are divided on that version of the standards.

Update: The Texas board is now expected to be presented with a new version of the draft science standards to consider—a third draft. You can read the third draft here, at the top of the page. Go to the second section of bullet-points for a comparison between the current standards (from 1998) and draft #3. It says that students should "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations, using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing."

Early reactions?

And while you're considering that language, don't forget about what's going on in Louisiana.

Last week, the state's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved rules on the kinds of supplementary materials schools can use during discussions of evolution, as well as global warming and cloning. The board was supposed to issue the guidelines, following the adoption of a law allowing the use of supplementary materials last year. This story in the New Orleans Times-Picayune notes that the impact of the law isn't clear, at least not yet. The board can prohibit certain materials statewide, the story says, or reject the ones chosen by a district, if challenged by a local resident.


I think it's just wonderful that Texas and Louisiana teach that evolution is just a theory. That puts Massachusetts, New York, and California - to mention just a few - way ahead in biology, chemistry, general science, politics, economics, history and a few other subjects. The decline of the South is both expectable and deplorable - but only if you are IN the South. Otherwise, it's just further proof that there was a war in 1861, or thereabouts, and that one side lost, and seems committed to its perpetual loss.

If they are going to require students to understand the "strengths and weaknesses" (in any verbal form) of scientific theories, maybe they'd better state all those things in writing. Just exactly what alternate theories are there and what is the evidence for them. If a theory does not have factual evidence then it does not belong in a science classroom.
The sad thing about this sort of debate is that it leaves our children to fall further behind the rest of the world and limits their career options. The conservative voice should be aware that in crying out for the addition of the creationist view they are doing neither education nor religion a favor. Ingorance is nobody's friend.

Have the proponents of evolution considered that one's beliefs on origins have no bearing on one's cognitive development? Or shall we overlook the fact that their are now and have been in the past individuals who have not held to the theory of evolution who have distinguished themselves as surgeons, engineers, and scientists of every nature? Nevertheless our educational institutions continue to yield no ground to those with divergent views on this matter. Meanwhile, homeschooling and other educational choices that are not hostile to these views increase. It must also be recognized that students who are homeschooled or educated in private schools that do not hold to the theory of evolution are in no ways being left behind their public school counterparts. Lastly, as a California public school educator, I must sadly note that Texas far outpaces our state in performance contrary to the previous commentors claim to the opposite.

Teaching the strengths and weaknesses (or limitations) of scientific theories is an excellent idea! After all, isn't genuine education about teaching students how to think, not what to think? Then again, too much free-thinking in the classroom could be threatening to the specific world view of any teacher.

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