Texas Curriculum Fuels Evolution Debate

on January 24, 2009
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New York Times: “In Texas, a Line in the Curriculum Revives Evolution Debate” The debate is still raging over how the science curriculum is being “messed with” in Texas.

The state’s sharply divided board of education considered testimony this week from “scientists and social conservatives” on the issue of revising the science curriculum. Any revisions would have far-reaching effects, since Texas is the second-most populous U.S. state; textbook publishers cater to the large and lucrative Texas school market.

Any revisions would have far-reaching effects.

A Wednesday Times article explained the specifics of the debate:

On the surface, the debate centers on a passage in the state’s curriculum that requires students to critique all scientific theories, exploring “the strengths and weaknesses” of each. Texas has stuck to that same standard for 20 years, having originally passed it to please religious conservatives. In practice, teachers rarely pay attention to it.
This year, however, a panel of teachers assigned to revise the curriculum proposed dropping those words, urging students instead to “analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence.”

Thus, the “agitators” this time were not creationists, but rather evolutionists who wanted to undo the status quo and remove the “strengths and weaknesses” phrase. And the details of the debate the board heard are unsurprising: one side points out alleged weaknesses in Darwinism, and the other side points to alleged refutations of those weaknesses.

For instance, this week the board heard from the Discovery Institute’s Stephen Meyer, who testified that, among other things, evolutionists have difficulty explaining the Cambrian Explosion. Biologists such as the University of Texas’s David Hillis countered that by arguing that the alleged weaknesses are all “baseless” and “misrepresentations.” Meanwhile, parents testified that their children had been “intimidated and ridiculed by biology teachers when they questioned evolution.”

The following day, the Dallas Morning News reported that the board “voted 7-7 on Thursday to follow the advice of a panel of science educators and drop” the phrase in question. The News article misleadingly implies that the “strengths and weaknesses” phrase applied exclusively to Darwin’s theory, when in fact it was found in generic requirement for students to study “scientific explanations” in all areas of science (see the guidelines). And the phrase is used elsewhere, such as in an advanced science course curriculum and the psychology curriculum. Nevertheless, as the Discovery Institute blog notes, the use of the phrase “analyze and evaluate” in reference to common ancestry and natural selection is indeed a bit of a success.

How valuable are students who can recite scientific explanations but cannot differentiate between good and bad explanations?

The News quotes Democratic board member Mary Helen Berlanga: “We’re talking about science. We need to stay with our experts and respect what they have requested us to do.” She apparently forgets that at least one such expert (Meyer, mentioned above) testified on behalf of language that challenges students to think about evolution.

Opponents of the “strengths and weaknesses” phrase justify their stance on the grounds that it opens the door to teaching creation, though the text clearly gives no mandate for anything other than thinking critically about all scientific explanations. How valuable are students who can recite scientific explanations but cannot differentiate between good and bad explanations? Ironically, censoring the weaknesses in evolutionary thought will make them that much more potent when students someday do encounter them and ask, “Why wasn’t I told about this?”

Answers in Genesis reminds readers that ultimately, Christian parents and pastors are responsible for educating each new generation in the biblical worldview; that’s not a responsibility that can be entrusted to public schools. However, we strongly support curricula that encourage truth-seeking and critical thinking—good skills that (for some) strangely go out the window when the question turns to evolution.


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