Live Blogging from the SBOE Science Hearing, Part V

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7:54 p.m. – Once again, a creationist board member (who makes a living as a weekly newspaper editor), challenges a scientist on his knowledge of science. Really.

8:10 p.m. – Board Chairman McLeroy just said he doesn’t know of any board member who has ever advocated teaching creationism in public schools. That’s not true, and he should know. McLeroy and other creationists on the board are on the record in past voter guides as supporting teaching creationism and, later, “intelligent design” in Texas public schools. TFN has copies of those voter guides.

8:18 p.m. – Scientists testifying today have been remarkably reserved in their remarks despite efforts by nonscientists on the state board to somehow “educate” them about their failure to understand that there really are weaknesses to the theory of evolution. But sometimes their frustration is quite evident, and understandably so.

8:30 p.m. – Jonathan Saenz of the Free Market Foundation — the Texas affiliate of the far-right Christian group Focus on the Family – wants the state board to continue requiring that public schools teach “weaknesses” of scientific theories like evolution. Groups on the other side (TFN?) “want to take Texas in a completely different direction.” (Yes, actually, we do — a direction that ensures kids get a sound education based on real science, not ideology.) Teaching only the “strengths” of theories, he says, is “censorship.” If teaching “weaknesses” of scientific theories was illegal, he claims, someone would have sued by now. Oh, and he goes after the TFN Education Fund’s report on what scientists really think about evolution and science. Creationists on the board are asking about it. They’re asking someone from the Free Market Foundation, for Pete’s sake. Actually, they’re not asking. They’re using the opportunity to attack the report’s findings and methodology.

We have a question: If evolution deniers on the board are so curious about our report, why in the world didn’t they ask TFN President Kathy Miller about it when she testified earlier this evening? Likely answer: They’re just looking for an excuse to grandstand.

Board member Mavis Knight: “We’re talking about the Texas Freedom Network as if they’re not here. Can we ask them to answer some of these questions.” Chairman McLeroy: No.

We’re not surprised.

8:39 p.m. – To answer a question from a reader, we’ve seen probably less than a half-dozen evolution opponents testify today. We anticipate that anti-evolution pressure groups will recruit far more folks to speak at the second public hearing set for January.

8:42 p.m. – Terri Burke of the ACLU of Texas makes the case that attacks on evolution are little more than a Trojan horse for pushing religious concepts in public schools. We hope Terri will post her wonderful testimony on the ACLU-TX Web site.

8:57 p.m. – Board member Ken Mercer suggests that the reason evolution deniers haven’t had their arguments published in respected, peer-reviewed scientific journals is because of censorship. We guess it can’t be because their arguments have no basis in science. Nah. Can’t be that.

9:12 p.m. – Creationists on the board keep asking for specific data showing that teaching “weaknesses” of evolution harms students and creates legal problems for schools. Another case of missing the point: Undermining sound science in public schools handicaps the ability of students to compete and succeed in college and the jobs of the 21st century. This isn’t a difficult concept.

9:20 p.m. – Chairman McLeroy continues to ask whether there is a hierarchy in which a scientific “theory” becomes a “law” when there’s sufficient evidence for it. He keeps getting the same answer: That’s not how science works. McLeroy, of course, wants to portray the “theory of evolution” as possibly wrong because it hasn’t yet been elevated to a scientific “law,” as in the “law of gravity.” Fellow creationist board member Terri Leo, R-Spring, has made this argument in the past.

9:32 p.m. – Chairman McLeroy lists a number of trade books from highly respected scientists about evolution and proclaims, “I’m not persuaded.” For the record, McLeroy is a dentist.

9:38 p.m. – A number of University of Texas students have also come to speak out in support of giving public school students a 21st-century science education. It’s great to see.

9:49 p.m. – Still about a dozen or more folks are waiting to testify — some who have been waiting since this morning.

9:50 p.m. – Board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, notes that more than 700 scientists have signed on to the Discovery Institute’s “Dissent from Darwin” petition. If you haven’t already, check out the National Center for Science Education’s response to that petition.

9:59 p.m. – By the way, we’re not the only ones live-blogging from today’s public hearing. Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science has been offering his own insights about the testimony here.

10:11 p.m. – “In the science classroom, 95 percent of Darwinian evolution should be thrown out.” There you go, in case you didn’t think any creationists bothered to show up today. There were a few.

10:20 p.m. – Of course, it’s pretty clear that the creationists on the state board believe deeply that the theory of evolution is fatally flawed. We also don’t question their genuine religious beliefs about the origins and development of life (although we continue to point out, as do many other people of faith, that there is no inherent conflict between faith and accepting the science of evolution). What is remarkable, however, is the ignorance about basic science displayed by some of those board members during today’s public hearing. Of course, TFN isn’t staffed by scientists either, but we haven’t chosen to attack one of the most important and substantiated theories in science. We should point out that board members who aren’t critical of evolution have been relatively silent during the hearing.

10:39 p.m. – Another reminder to board members about the importance of sound science standards to the state’s economy and to research in a variety of fields, including medicine.

10:40 p.m. – The Science Teachers Association of Texas comes out strongly in favor of science standards that don’t include the requirement for teaching so-called “weaknesses” of evolution.

10:46 p.m. – University of Texas student Garrett Mize knocks it out of the park. A remarkable young man and a strong supporter of sound science education in Texas public schools. Arch-creationist Cynthia Dunbar sounds frustrated.

10:49 p.m. – Traffic to TFN Insider has just reached a new one-day record.

11:06 p.m. – TFN Student Chapter members close up the testimony tonight. We couldn’t be prouder.

11:07 p.m. – If you want to support TFN’s work for sound science in Texas public schools, please sign on to our Stand Up for Science petition and campaign here. Want to join TFN? Click here.

Thanks for staying up late with us!

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44 Responses to “Live Blogging from the SBOE Science Hearing, Part V”

  1. Vince Leibowitz Says:

    It’s like Eugenie Scott said in my interview with her today at Capitol Annex (paraphrasing) scientific debate belongs in the scientific community, not on the op-ed pages. And certainly not before these unqualified hacks.

  2. Josh Rosenau Says:

    Why is McLeroy claiming the S&W language was in the TEKS before the Disco. Inst. existed? Disco. was founded in 1990, and the C(R)SC was founded in 1996. The S&W language was introduced in 1998 TEKS.

  3. Bob Price Says:

    Been watching this blog today, sorry I couldn’t be there myself. Thanks for keeping us posted – keep fighting the good fight…

  4. ttyler5 Says:

    The ACLU is using this issue as a Trojan Horse for its anti-religious agenda.

    When the people of Texas find out what you people are up to, you will be laughed out of the next SBOE meeting as you deserve.

    I intend to help see to that.

  5. Paul R Says:

    Hang in there, TFN, and thanks for the live blog that you and SS are posting at the Chronicle. You are doing an admirable job representing the views of scientists and educators who really care about improving science education as opposed to advancing a religious viewpoint in science classrooms/schools. We in Florida are with you – our efforts were somewhat successful in 2008 but we are anticipating a possible revisit of the problems again in 2009, so we hope that you, too, are successful in fending off this assault on reason.

  6. Patty P. Says:

    So cool that Florida is “watching us.” Glad to see we are not in this alone. I also thank you for doing a great job! to ttyler5: huh?

  7. Texas in Africa Says:

    Thanks for the liveblogging for those of us who couldn’t be there! Glad to know that someone is standing up for teaching students the difference between facts and opinions!

  8. africangenesis Says:

    It makes sense to ask for evidence of harm: “Undermining sound science in public schools handicaps the ability of students to compete and succeed in college and the jobs of the 21st century.”

    How handicapped are these students if the harm can be remedied by a couple nights reading Dawkin’s “The Selfish Gene”? Reading that book would probably be far more worthwhile than any watered down high school text book. Those taking H.S. Biology are most likely college track, and don’t need help with any area like evolution which is every bit as fun as dinosaurs. Knowledge of evolution will benefit them in very few academic or commercial persuits, as much fun as evolution is, the time would be better spent on biochemistry.

  9. ttyler5 Says:

    Patty P.

    What do you mena ‘huh”, read the blogging above.

    From the blog:

    ” 8:42 p.m. – Terri Burke of the ACLU of Texas makes the case that attacks on evolution are little more than a Trojan horse for pushing religious concepts in public schools.”

    The ACLU is not a pro-Science organization interested in separating legitimate Science from pseudoscience.

    The ACLU agenda in this regard is the repression of religious freedom of speech and expression in all of our public institutions, and especially in the public schools.

    It is very apparent from what is being said here that TFN and the so-called Texas Citizens for Science group are attempting to stifle classroom dissent.

  10. John Kingman Says:

    Josh,

    Steve Schafersman at TCS could give you the details, since he’s been at this since 1980, but the claim is that the S & W have been around for 20 years. I think Steve said that the words were introduced as a compromise somewhere (pre TEKS) and he objected, but couldn’t get them removed.

  11. John Kingman Says:

    ttyler5: Sorry you’re deluded. You obviously weren’t there. The trojan horse is the “Weakensses” language.

  12. Dan S. Says:

    Thanks for the live update. I appreciate all your efforts to keep religion out of the science classrooms of Texas. The level of ignorance demonstrated by certian members of the SBOE is shocking. Mythology does not mix with Biology, Physics or Chemistry.

  13. Jeff Says:

    So, ttyler5, is it really in everyone’s best interest if we allow religious speech in science classrooms?

    What we’d really like is scientific speech in science classrooms.

    Also, africangenesis says that any student in HS Biology is most likely college bound. That is certianly not true. ALL students must take and pass biology in order to graduate from HS. It is a required course. And, while it’d be nice if all HS graduates were college bound, that’s not the case right now.

    In fact, almost all students must now take four full years of science to graduate. Beginning in 2012, all students must include biology, chemistry, and physics as 3 of their 4 sciences. So, we’re talking about the education of ALL students in the state of TX who attend public schools. And, as many people know, what we write into our standards is what the textbook publishers put in books for the next decade that then get adopted all over the country. So, this is of vital importance to science education across the country.

  14. Josh Rosenau Says:

    John Kingman: I knew we could trace back some of that language to 1994, but 20 years seems a stretch. I’m curious what Steve will say.

  15. ttyler5 Says:

    Kingman,

    The Science community is deluded if it thinks, like Steve Schafersman of the TCS, that Science theories “don’t have strengths and weaknesses”.

    And my comment regarding the ACLU stands: the ACLU could care less about good Science versus pseudoscience.

    They are interested only in anything that represses religious free speech and freedom of religion in the schools.

  16. James F Says:

    Board member Ken Mercer suggests that the reason evolution deniers haven’t had their arguments published in respected, peer-reviewed scientific journals is because of censorship. We guess it can’t be because their arguments have no basis in science. Nah. Can’t be that.

    This is for Mr. Mercer and his like-minded colleagues. Peer-reviewed scientific research papers are publicly indexed at the National Library of Medicine (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez/). There are currently about seventeen million citations of work by scientists all over the world. Your argument is that censorship has kept data refuting evolution out of this vast body of work for decades, perfectly, without a single slip-up. Know that you are proposing a conspiracy theory that would make faking the Moon landing relatively easy.

    Thanks TFN for the liveblog!

  17. Phyllis Says:

    Thank you TFN for standing up for the rights of science teachers and students alike! I am embarrased that such uneducated people are in charge of the Texas school board. And I’m angry at the thought of such idiots making a decision about MY daughter’s future education by including anything that is NOT science into a science classroom.

    I wanted so much to come and testify, but I don’t think I could stand all the IDiot statements.

  18. africangenesis Says:

    Jeff, I didn’t realize biology was now required for graduation. I can’t imagine how watered down and useless the science courses must now be. My aspiration would have been to have college texts used. Hopefully there are graded sections, so that some of the students can be challenged. It looks like things haven’t really changed since I was in public school. It was always sad when summer ended and there was no time for learning anymore.

  19. ttyler5 Says:

    Jeff,

    ” … is it really in everyone’s best interest if we allow religious speech in science classrooms?”

    It’s in everyone’s best interest if we allow *free speech* in science classrooms.

    That silly “Creationist” stuff — a 4,000 year old earth and so on — can’t stand up alongside genuine Science, and the point would not be lost on most students.

    But what happens when we don’t have a free speech policy, and a serious Scientific challenge is made to the prevailing concepts

    — for example, such as Stephen J Gould’s challenge to the old school.

  20. John Kingman Says:

    ttyler5:

    Look up delusion.

    What do you think “freedom of religion in the schools” means? The courts have ruled that religion cannot be taught in public school science classes, or did you miss that.

    Freedom of speech is also constitutionally guaranteed. What makes you think there is not already “free speech” in classrooms. Kids can ask whatever questions they want.

  21. africangenesis Says:

    Kingman, What do you think “religion cannot be taught in public school” means? Aren’t nationalism and evironmentalism religions? What is education without values? What basis for values is there outside of religion (or inside for that matter)? Western critical philosophy has not only rejected religion, but all values, with both the cartesian and hegelian branches ending in nihilism. How is the state to pick and choose among the values? We would really be safer if we had separation of school and state, but the founding fathers did not anticipate the current public school system.

  22. Lottie Says:

    Jonathan Saenz of the Free Market Foundation — the Texas affiliate of the far-right Christian group Focus on the Family – wants the state board to continue requiring that public schools teach “weaknesses” of scientific theories like evolution. […] Teaching only the “strengths” of theories, he says, is “censorship.”

    Do you suppose he applies the same standard to abstinence only programs teaching only about the failure rates of condoms?

    Probably not.

  23. ckelly Says:

    Look, the only real solution to this conflict is to present viable challengers to the Creationist SBOE members at election time and get them off the board. This hasn’t happened. Two weeks ago about half the SBOE members were up for re-election, of the 3 – 4 rightwing religious members of the SBOE, only 1 had a viable Dem challenger (don’t know the challenger’s views on evolution but she lost anyway). The other SBOE members had no real challenge – and no, half-hearted libertarian challengers don’t count.

    P.S. Great job TFN and others for supporting real science and presenting real opposition to the agenda of the ever-increasing number of Creationists on the SBOE.

  24. ttyler5 Says:

    KIngman,

    Your insulting remarks are the typical drivel put out by far-outside-the-mainstream minority groups like this one.

    ” Kids can ask whatever questions they want.”

    What a complete disregard you show for their educational needs.

    What a complete disregard for classroom reality your comment reflects.

  25. ckelly Says:

    ttyler5,

    How is TFN “far outside the mainstream”? Fighting for sound, modern science education for Texas schoolchildren sounds pretty mainstream to me.

  26. africangenesis Says:

    ckelly, there is another solution. Give up central planning, all those who support central planning assumes they will either never lose an election or will never have an election. Push the decisions down to the parent/teacher level. School choice is the solution.

  27. hendric Says:

    ttyler5,
    The ACLU is for protecting our freedoms, all of them, including freedom of religion. See here
    http://www.aclu.org/womensrights/gen/35300res20071206.html
    http://www.aclu.org/religion/schools/37022prs20081002.html

    They will defend your right to wear a cross, or a shirt with Jesus Christ. What they will fight, is a cross on a wall in a public classroom, or a picture of Jesus Christ in the hallway. They protect the individuals’ rights from being stepped on by the government. Proselytizing by a government official, be they a teacher, principal, or judge, they would definitely fight, since it infringes on the rights of the participants.
    You don’t hear much about them defending Christians, because Christians are the ones in power, but it does happen. See http://www.aclu.org/religion/govtfunding/26526res20060824.html for more examples.

    Also, a classroom is not a free-speech zone where anyone can say anything at any time. It wouldn’t be very effective otherwise.

    Evolution as a scientific theory is much more powerful than a simple fact. It can do things facts cannot, such as explain new evidence or make predictions. Creationism cannot do either of these. Our closest primate relatives have less chromosomes than we do. Creationism’s explaination is that “God made us that way.” Evolution predicts that sometime in our history, two of our chromosomes must have fused together. And after research, we have found this to be true. Do you not see how Creationism closes the door on real science? Once your answer is “God made us that way” you have to turn away, because you are done. But with real science, the answer always is “Huh? I wonder what that is…Let’s go find out” which is what allows us to make so many new amazing discoveries.

  28. ttyler5 Says:

    Kingman,

    ” They protect the individuals’ rights from being stepped on by the government.”

    That is a ** completely deluded statement**.

    They have used the government, via judicial fiat, to outlaw freedom of religious expression and religious free speech in the public schools.

    This is a violation of the rights of the vast majority of Americans.

    You, as well as the leadership of this out-of-the mainstream organization, are clearly in favor of this government repression of our rights.

  29. sigma83 Says:

    Coming over from the AE blog. Thanks first of all for writing this up, valued TFN staff member.

    To comments writers: Why are you still bothering with ttyler5? I’m all for dissenting opinions presented factually and objectively but he’s not done anything of the sort.

    I believe ttyler5’s aggressive antagonism stems from common Christian persecution complex, where if you don’t agree with what they said you must be against them and everything they believe in. He’s not presented any factual evidence for his claims (linking some anti-religious articles from TFN would be a good start) nor has he really done more than jump up and down.

    Feel free to tell me I’m wrong, however (this goes for everyone who reads this)

  30. ttyler5 Says:

    Pardon me, Mr. Kingman,

    — as it turns out, that deluded remark about how the ACLU ‘protects people’s rights’ was from Hendric’s comment, not yours.

    Though I am sure it is an argument you would make as well.

    ckelly: “”Fighting for sound, modern science education for Texas schoolchildren sounds pretty mainstream to me.”

    :^D :^D :^D Oh please! This organization is nothing more than a “progressive” political front group.

  31. Elaine Ellerton Says:

    Does anyone know a good way to get the audio files for these hearings? They are posted on the tea.state.tx site as archived audio, but it seems that the only way to save the entire thing is to play it first, and that is going really, really slowly. I constantly stops and starts. There has to be a better way. Anyone? Or if there is another site that has some of the key speeches at least?

  32. Robert Book Says:

    I’m disappointed that the way the TFN handled this event. First, upon arrival in Austin, I learned TFN knew but chose not to alert me by Tuesday morning that the TBOE had changed the draft guidelines for science standards over the weekend. So I wasted time and resources making 35 copies of my proposed comments when I could have been working on revisions to make them relevant to the newly proposed standards. Second, as a new participant I had now idea how very late the event was likely to go as the SBOE took up time on much less controversial matters. If I had been warned I could have changed my schedule and made plans to stay in Austin on Wednesday night before returning to Dallas. As it was I have to leave before I could speak. I’d like to support the effort and expect opponents to throw curves but I’m hoping the TFN will do a better job of informing me in the future.

  33. ckelly Says:

    ttyler5: “This organization is nothing more than a ‘progressive’ political front group.”

    The TFN might even be….liberal [horrors]. So what? It turns out that Democrats (progressives, liberals) whatever you want to call them come down on the side of science while the Republicans (conservatives, especially the religious right) have moved towards anti-science and science denial. Be it evolution, global warming, environmental pollution, or Terri Schiavo, the Repubs have made it clear that religious dogma and rightwing ideology win the day… not science. TFN may be a political group but they are still fighting for modern science education in Texas. They are fighting to remove dubious language in the State TEKS. Language that a majority of Texas scientists oppose by the way. Which brings me back to my original question as to how you can claim TFN is “far outside the mainstream”? TFN also does not appear to oppose other conservative Republicans on the SBOE other than the 6-7 Creationist SBOE members that are trying to insert religious dogma into science education.

  34. africangenesis Says:

    ckelly, What makes you think a majority of Texas scientists oppose the strengths and weaknesses language? The recent report only included biologist and anthropologist academics, and there is no indication in the report that they were asked about the language.

  35. Elaine Ellerton Says:

    Africangenesis,
    This is the paragraph:

    Scientists Reject Teaching the So-Called ‘Weaknesses’ of Evolution
    Opponents of evolution have targeted the Texas science curriculum standards as a test case for their newest strategy forcing public school students to learn about so-called “weaknesses” of evolutionary theory. This survey of Texas scientists roundly rejects this strategy: 94% of Texas scientists indicated that claimed “weaknesses” are not valid scientific objections to evolution (with 87% saying that they “strongly disagree” that such weaknesses should be considered valid). Clearly, the latest shift in strategy from promoting intelligent design to pushing “weaknesses” of evolution has not made any significant inroads into the science community. Just as with intelligent design, the vast majority of relevant university and college faculty in Texas do not buy into the “teach the weaknesses” concept now favored by supporters of creationism.

    http://www.tfn.org/site/PageServer?pagename=2008BiologyReport

  36. James F Says:

    That’s already been addressed elsewhere: the statement of the 21st Century Science Coalition (http://www.texasscientists.org/), signed by 1,365 Texas college and university faculty members and other Texas scientists (emphasis mine):

    Scientists for a Responsible Curriculum in Texas Public Schools

    A strong science curriculum is an essential part of a 21st-century education and should be based on established peer-reviewed empirical research. In 2008-09 the State Board of Education is revising the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum standards for the sciences.

    Scientifically sound curriculum standards must:
    • acknowledge that instruction on evolution is vital to understanding all the biological sciences;
    • make clear that evolution is an easily observable phenomenon that has been documented beyond any reasonable doubt;
    • be based on the latest, peer-reviewed scholarship;
    encourage valid critical thinking and scientific reasoning by leaving out all references to “strengths and weaknesses,” which politicians have used to introduce supernatural explanations into science courses; and
    • recognize that all students are best served when matters of faith are left to families and houses of worship.

    We, therefore, call on the Texas State Board of Education to approve science curriculum standards that prepare Texas students to succeed in the 21st century.

    ———

    As the statement correctly notes, “strengths and weaknesses” is a political ploy to introduce creation pseudoscience, which was the subject of the poll. It would have been preferable if the language of the standards was specifically addressed (the final wording was changed the weekend before the hearing so the actual wording would have been impossible to poll), but the intent was properly examined. Furthermore, while polls are useful, the real metric is that no data refuting evolution has been presented in any peer-reviewed scientific research papers, so there is no secular reason to include trumped-up “weaknesses” in the curriculum.

  37. africangenesis Says:

    Elaine Ellerton, That text you cite is the text the seems to be misleading, because the question finding 3 is based upon is:

    “Do “weaknesses” advanced by proponents of creationism or intelligent design represent valid scientific objections to evolution?”

    Note, that this is not the weakness statement being considered, and is not all weaknesses, just those put forward by the propoents. When a report is as biased as this one is, one shouldn’t just accept the authors conclusions, but should look to the basis. If the authors have a basis for their conclusions, they chose not to disclose it. I have not been able to find the raw data or the complete survey questions at Dr. Eve’s web site. Dr. Eve claims TFN caim to him for “an unbiased survey”, it appears TFN made a poor choice. He gave them the conclusions they hoped for, but without the data to support them.

  38. africangenesis Says:

    James F., I agree the signers of that petition oppose the strength and weaknesses language. But isn’t strength and weaknesses used in other for some of the other scientific disciplines now or at least in the past without religious controversy?

  39. Elaine Ellerton Says:

    “strengths and weaknesses” was left in chemistry and something else, I can’t remember. The issue here is that there are no weaknesses of evolution that is taught at THAT level. It just leaves room for some teacher, who most probably doesn’t know more on the topic of evolution than what his text book says, to present the data, and then add that he doesn’t believe it, however. That is not gonna fly with high school kids. They will either not be bothered about the theory, as his teacher doesn’t even believe it, or they will take it with a grain of salt so that he will have no problem accepting Genesis in a literal form and may not trust other areas of science that relate to evolution (which is almost all of them). It isn’t like the teacher can add some useful scientific data to support his standpoint, because there isn’t any.

    The poll is useless either way, but I loved that they had no problems with the other poll of the 700 PhDs , that was sponsored by the DI, to support their argument. The bottom line is that these kids need to learn the basics of science. I mean really, how much do you really learn about evolution at this level, barely anything. It isn’t like they are discussing bottlenecks or punctuated equilibrium.

    And, true, strengths and weaknesses would not affect other disciplines. Why? Because those don’t directly negate the entire founding of the precious literal interpretation of Genesis. So, who care about discussing the weaknesses of Newtonian gravity and compare it to Eisntein’s. Not that it would happen because, as I mentioned earlier, these kids aren’t equipped for those discussions yet.

  40. James F Says:

    africangenesis, at the high school level, in the colloquial sense, not that I know of. No discipline of human knowledge is ever 100% complete, but incomplete does not equal “weak.” One doesn’t see a movement to teach “strengths and weaknesses” or “strengths and limitations” of electromagnetism, gravity, plate tectonics, atomic theory, or germ theory. The whole thing is an attack on evolution by the Discovery Institute and their ilk, since they conflate evolution and materialism or atheism. The red flag, much like “strengths and weaknesses,” is the use of “Darwinism.”

  41. africangenesis Says:

    Any coverage of evolution before high school is probably unnecessary, but I don’t see any reason to baby the high school students. It is not as if evolution were heavy with mathmatics or anything. Dawkins is readable at a high school level, I know I would have eaten it up if the “The Selfish Gene” or “The Extended Phenotype” were available when I was in school. But back in the 60s and the 70s, we had Robert Ardrey, Desmond Morris and Phillip Wylie, all accessible at the high school level.

    It there is pressure to dumb down the courses and teach the basics then drop evolution, because as fun as it is, it isn’t one of the basics. Most the of kids will never need it again, it is poor important that they learn the organ systems and metabolic and homeostatic pathways so that they will be able to read the Physicisans Desk Reference and be literate about their own health and medical care.

    General Relativity has weaknesses too, since we’ve had to hypothesize “inflation” and dark energy for big bang cosmology, and will be in real trouble in a couple of decades if we don’t find dark matter. Quantum Chromodynamics has weaknesses, for instance “physicists still don’t know distribution of the virtual particles inside the proton or the origin of its spin.”

    http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2008/1121/2?etoc

    I currently don’t see anything in evolution that I would characterize as a weakness, but it has had weaknesses in the past, and it is embarrassing to single it out as needing protection.

  42. Elaine Ellerton Says:

    Africangenesis,

    i am interested in what you learned about evolution in high school. I went to a pretty top-rated public high school, Torrey Pines in CA, and I really can’t remember what it was we learned about evolution. But, I know that reading past the basics was not necessary for the material. I am not saying no one should, but think about the average high school science class. The Selfish Gene is a course on its own. When I learned about the “weaknesses” of evolution, like I mentioned before, it was in an upper division evolutionary biology class taught by the renowned Christopher Wills at Univ. of San Diego, CA. It was very complicated and sadly, I got a C. I took this class because I was a bio major. But, at a high school level, for general educational requirements, there are many more things that these kids need to learn before dwelling on this. I TAed freshman at UT in remedial bio classes and I can tell you that many of these kids were very unprepared and did not know the basics of ALL science material. We need to spend as much time teaching our kids the basic science tools so that they can later become decent scientists.

  43. africangenesis Says:

    I don’t recall specific mention of evolution in my 1967 biology course, but of course it was, although few classes would have been dedicated to it, other than the coverage of Mendelian genetics providing the details of inheritance that Darwin was missing. We would have covered what life forms first appeared in which geological time periods, and which phyla, classes, orders, etc. of the phylogeny seemed most closely related to each other as we went through the phyla. Of course, some of the details have subsquently been proven wrong with the advent of better cladistics and genomic analysis.

    I took this course in the 9th grade although most students were 10th graders. But I would already have been familiar with evolution from my readings in Scientific American, and popularizations by Desmond Morris (“The Naked Ape”) and I don’t think I was reading Robert Ardrey (“Territorial Imperitive”, “The Social Contract”, “The Hunting Hypothesis”, etc) until the summer before my senior year of high school. Biology was a college track course at that time. My senior year, I took a 1 semester Anthropology course, I was very disappointed that it was cultural rather than physical anthropology, so there was no evolution there, but any physical anthro coverage would probably have been out-of-date anyway, since the field was popping at the time.

    Today’s kids are spoiled, I could only dream of the footage and shows available on the Science, Discovery, National Geo and Animal Planet channels, not to mention the internet. If the freshman at UT don’t know the basics, it is because they don’t want to, so why are they in remedial bio? The schools may have gotten worse, however, they could turn off a lot of students in my time as well, but the libraries, television and the internet are all much better resources.

    I didn’t take any biology at university. The Selfish Gene can be read in a couple nights. I assume a course based upon it would include a lot of coverage of the relevant peer review literature.

  44. africangenesis Says:

    I should have mentioned, I don’t think many of our future scientists would have waited for high school courses to grasp the subjects. Our schools must be producing extreme teacher dependency and illiteracy from an early age to explain students interested in science in remedial courses. Are you sure those aren’t liberal arts majors looking for an easy way to meet their distribution requirements?

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