Howzit everyone!! I have made myself busy back here in Texas (more details in another thread), so apologies for the intermitency.
The Texas state Science standards were finalized Friday in Austin. I listened to the entire session Friday and some Thursday, but only got the summary of Wednesday.
I will give a brief history of this set of standards and a brief overview of what happened. If anyone is interested in getting more details, please follow the links I will provide. I would suggest you keep these things in mind, as I have found that the arguments from anti-science groups tend to be viral, so you will likely see something along these lines in SA before you know it.
Today’s standards were written by scientists and teachers over a period of months last year. The State Board of Education (SBOE) then wrote a bunch of amendments to it. There were a couple of preliminary votes on the changes, but yesterday was the final one.
The thing that irritates me is that this process has everything to do with politics and not so much to do with education. A lot of us wrote to the board to encourage them to keep the standards as written by the experts, but of course, they didn’t.
In general, the things that were changed were:
The old “strengths and weaknesses” verbage when talking about evolution. This eventually was stripped, but replaced with a watered down version.
Common descent and natural selection was attacked when talking about evolution and the fossil record. The worst of the language was to include debate on the “sufficiency of natural selection” to explain diversity and complexity (especially regarding the cell). This was also stripped and replaced with something weaker.
Language in science books will make it seem plausible that global warming is a myth.
The Earth and Space Science standards attempt to cast doubt on the Big Bang as forming the universe.
The age of the Earth and the Universe are questioned in the standards (Earth and Space Science and Biology).
I will let you read the Texas Freedom Network’s (who live blogged it) coverage for the specifics, but I had a few thoughts on the matter.
This whole thing was a farce; It was plain that some board members want to teach creationism in the public schools, but it was like, nobody could actually just come out and say what was plain to see.
A couple of the board members are just stark raving woo-woo nuts (see the video of the CHAIRMAN of the board on TFN). During the meeting, Don McLeroy (the chairman) said point blank that he wanted to attack evolution. In fact, at one stage he went on a rant saying that the experts should be challenged. This jack-ass thinks that he knows better than an entire board of scientists and educators, and his view should trump theirs.
Another board member (Teri Leo I think) tries to argue that evolution is “only a theory”, and is weak, and actually mentions Piltdown man, peppered moths, Haeckel’s embryos, et al. as evidence of this.
The micro vs macro evolution discussion came up at one point, as did the Cambrian explosion, appearance of design, etc… If it seems you have heard all of this before, it is because you most certainly have. The Discovery Institute (as well as a number of other creationist organizations) were on hand to give testimony (and coach some members I am sure).
Parts of this meeting disgusted me. These standards are supposed to last 10 years, which I don’t agree with, but that is another discussion. I think the standards we got may be the worst possible outcome. First prize, of course, would be the standards as written by the expert committee accepted without modification. Without that, if those with a creationist agenda had gotten carried away, they could have put something in that steps over the line of the first amendment which would then be challenged in court. I do not like things to be decided that way for several reasons, but at least it would get the standards cleaned up. Instead, we end up with mealy-mouthed, non-specific standards that leave open the liklihood that those so inclined will teach creationism in the classroom. Of course it is not mandated, and most teachers will continue to teach sound science, but that is beside the point. This is similar to (or may be part of) the “wedge” strategy, so instead of ridding the standards of supernatural mumbo-jumbo, we have allowed it to keep a foothold.
There are a few other things that could happen to improve these, but most likely, this is where we have landed for 10 years. The SBOE could end up undergoing a sunset review in which they must justify their existence to the state legislature. That could be interesting, but I am considering this a call to action on a couple of related issues:
A) The new textbooks will be purchased in 2011. Some will be trying to push creationism into those so that most Texas students as well as those of other states will get their dose regardless of the teacher’s approach. We must try to stop this as well as look at ways to address the textbook problem in general. One of these I like is hb 2959 which you can read about at Mark Loewe’s site. It is basically a way for Texas to produce cheap textbooks without skimping on content, allowing students to keep them at the end of the school year.
B) We need to get busy to ensure people like this are not elected. It seems we have slipped with regard to our vigilance over who is being elected to these positions. In fact, I read comments by several who were upset with the outcomes this week, but admitted that they had probably voted for the creationist board members at the time not knowing what they would likely do. I believe a couple of them even ran unopposed. We need to ensure that there is focus on these positions every time the elections come up.
In my opinion, the worst of the proposed ammendments were rejected, but it was far from a victory for responsible science education. I will not get carried way complaining as the standards came out much better than I had feared they would. Hopefully enough reasonable people will see what the board members want to do, and the next election cycle will see the state correct past mistakes.