Archive for the ‘evolution’ Category

Anti-Evolution Politics Hurt Science Education

March 22, 2012

The conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute has posted a new essay following up on the organization’s January report giving low marks to science curriculum standards in most states, including Texas. Dr. Paul R. Gross, an emeritus professor of life sciences at the University of Virginia, writes for Fordham’s Education Gadfly e-newsletter that weak coverage of evolution is a product both of religious objections and politics.

“A focused combination of politics with religion, in pursuit of (or opposed to) governmental action, is vastly more effective than either one alone.

By themselves … religious anti-evolutionists would wield scant power over state decisions. Real power comes by politicizing the arguments and switching them from scripture to more stylish notions: ‘scientific alternatives,’ ‘critical thinking,’ or—most commonly—’strengths and weaknesses of [Darwin’s] theory.’ When these are pressed by politicians dissing ‘Darwinism,’ a downgrading of science is underway.”

Gross writes that increasing efforts in state legislatures to politicize and undermine the teaching of evolution have serious consequences for science even if proposed anti-evolution measures don’t pass:

“(T)hey can still have real effect on classroom teaching, on textbook content and selection, as well as on the curriculum as taught. All this political activity and the sense of popular support that it engenders can easily discourage teachers from teaching evolution, or from giving it proper emphasis—if only by signaling that it’s a highly controversial subject. Teachers, understandably, fear controversy and potential attack by parents. Meanwhile, for this and many other reasons, science performance of our children against their overseas peers remains average to poor.

The common anti-evolution claims are no more than talking points, less cogent even than the talking points of politics. The primary scientific literature has disposed of them all, as any serious reader can discover. Their real purpose is simply to cast doubt on evolution as a shaper of life forms. But there is no reasonable doubt that Earth is four billion years old and that life’s diversity emerged over eons in steps, usually small, driven by such (evolutionary) mechanisms as genetic change and natural selection.”

Remember this when creationists on the Texas State Board of Education (and in the Texas Legislature) argue — as they have repeatedly — that they aren’t trying to promote their religious views in science classrooms. That’s because they know the courts would slap them down. No, the goal of evolution deniers is to undermine confidence in science itself, thus opening the door to “alternative” concepts that have no basis in science (“intelligent design”). That’s really what Don McLeroy was trying to do when he demanded that “somebody’s gotta stand up to experts” during the debate over new science standards for Texas schools  in 2009.

But that kind of ignorance is undermining the education of millions of schoolchildren.

Click here to help elect a new State Board of Education in Texas this year.

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Ed Board Candidate Decries ‘Evolution Agenda’

February 15, 2012

With the Texas State Board of Education set to adopt science textbooks for public schools in 2013, this year’s state board elections are especially important. On Tuesday one state board candidate, Republican Marty Rowley of Amarillo, made it pretty clear that he would be part of the board’s anti-science faction if elected.

Check out the post on his campaign blog titled “The Evolution Agenda in Schools.” Rowley argues that new science curriculum standards adopted by the state board in 2009 got low marks in a recent review from the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute because the board had “the audacity to allow Texas schoolchildren to look at evolution as a theory instead of an indisputable fact”:

“(W)hile I don’t dispute that evolution should be taught to Texas schoolchildren, which our science curriculum apparently adequately does, I believe it is a theory, and nothing more than a theory. And if we want to turn out thinking, analytical Texas graduates, they should be allowed to view evolution in the light of the strengths and weaknesses it possesses. I say, let’s teach scientific theories, including evolution, let them stand on their own merit, and let our students make their own well-reasoned decisions as to what they believe to be the truth.”

Mainstream science long ago debunked creationists’ arguments about phony “weaknesses” of evolution. Even the State Board of Education in 2009 rejected a curriculum requirement that students study so-called “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution. Still, creationists seeded the new science standards with other measures they hope will undermine teaching about evolution.

This year’s state board elections are critical to the future of public education in Texas. All 15 seats, including the one Rowley seeks in West Texas, are up for grabs. Learn about the board districts, candidates and issues on TFN’s SBOE election watch page here.

Happy Birthday, Charles!

February 10, 2012

By Garrett Mize
TFN Youth Advocacy Coordinator

Students are standing up for science across the state this month as our Texas Freedom Network Student Chapters celebrate Charles Darwin’s birthday at university campuses from Brownsville and El Paso to Houston.

Darwin Day is Sunday, February 12, and students are using the day as an occasion to highlight the importance of teaching evolution in science classes.

Next year the Texas State Board of Education will adopt science textbooks, and evolution will be a key battle in this decision. The purpose of these TFN campus events is to educate students about irresponsible efforts by politicians to dumb-down what public schools teach about evolution.

This is also an opportunity to mobilize students into advocacy around science education standards.

TFN believes Texas students deserve a 21st-century science education that prepares them to succeed in college and the jobs of tomorrow.

During debate over new public school science standards in 2009, the Texas Freedom Network and other supporters of sound science education persuaded a majority of State Board of Education members to strip out a requirement that students learn about phony “weaknesses” of evolution. Unfortunately, far-right pressure groups succeeded in opening the door to other creationist attacks on evolution in science classrooms, so the controversial debate over how to teach evolution in Texas is not yet over.

Texas Science Education Battle in 2013

February 1, 2012

After several years of especially divisive “culture war” battles over what Texas public school students should learn about evolution, history and other subjects, the State Board of Education last week decided that it will adopt new science textbooks for all schools in 2013. The new adoption schedule also has the board approving textbooks for history and social studies in 2014.

The decision to adopt new science and social studies textbooks comes after the board adopted controversial curriculum standards for both in recent years — science in 2009 and social studies in 2010. Independent reports over the past year have given both sets of standards poor marks.

Yesterday, for example, a report from the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute criticized the 2009 science standards in Texas as “riddled with errors,” “sketchy,” “redundant,” and “woefully imbalanced.” Last year a Fordham report called the American history standards adopted in 2010 a “politicized distortion” of American history filled with “misrepresentations at every turn.” And last fall a report for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Social Studies Faculty Collaborative warned that the social studies standards are “ineffective,” “fail to meet the state’s college readiness standards,” and “ignore the principles of sound pedagogy.”

Even so, the board will now ask publishers to submit new textbooks based on those deeply flawed standards. All of this comes after the board last summer adopted online instructional materials for some science courses. Working with our friends at the National Center for Science Education, Texas Citizens for Science and other organizations, we succeeded in keeping off of that adoption list any materials promoting creationism/”intelligent design” and related anti-science arguments.

However, the coming adoption of science and social studies textbooks highlights the importance of State Board of Education elections this year. In fact, all 15 of the state board’s seats are up for grabs in 2012. That means the primary elections this spring and the general election in November will determine whether the board’s far-right creationist bloc controls decisions about which science and social studies textbooks students will use for nearly a decade. (Check out TFN’s SBOE Election Watch page here.)

Based on the state board’s decisions last week, this how the schedule for adopting textbooks and other instructional materials looks going forward (estimated costs for purchasing new materials in parentheses):

  • 2013: Science, Grades K-12; Math, K-8; Technology applications ($625.65 million)
  • 2014: Social studies, K-12; Math, 9-12; Fine Arts ($683.18 million)
  • 2015: Languages other than English ($78.82 million)
  • 2016: Career and technical education ($103.67 million)
  • 2017: English Language Arts and Reading, K-5, Prekindergarten Systems ($536.46 million)
  • 2018: English Language Arts and Reading, 6-12; Health; Physical Education ($663.14 million)

The state board is likely to revise and adopt curriculum standards (on which textbooks and other instructional materials must be based) according to the following schedule:

  • 2012: Math curriculum standards adoption
  • 2013: Fine arts curriculum standards adoption
  • 2014: Languages other than English curriculum standards adoption
  • 2015: Career technology education curriculum standards adoption
  • 2016: English Language Arts and Reading curriculum standards adoption
  • 2017: Science and health/physical education curriculum standards adoptions (Health standards include guidelines on sex education.)
  • 2018: Social studies curriculum standards adoption

So next year the Texas Freedom Network will once again be mobilizing supporters of science education to stop creationists on the state board from dumbing down instruction on evolution in new textbooks and other materials. And you can be sure that we will be leading the fight for sound textbooks and curriculum standards each year afterward.

Celebrating Mediocrity in Texas?

January 31, 2012

This should tell you a lot about the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the Texas State Board of Education. Last year the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute sharply criticized the state board for its “ideological manipulation,” historical revisionism and contempt for expertise in adopting new social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools in 2010. Today a new Fordham report gives science curriculum standards adopted by the state board in 2009 a grade of “C.” Yet here’s what state board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, had to say about the new Fordham report:

“As a science teacher, I am pleased that our standards received a score of 5 out of 7 for content and rigor. We look forward to continuing to work with Texas teachers to bring the best instruction to the classroom with our excellent science standards.”

Seriously? She celebrates a “C” grade? She really thinks Texas is giving kids the “best instruction” with “excellent science standards” that, in fact, get low marks from a conservative education think-tank? News flash for Ms. Cargill: Most parents don’t think mediocrity is something to celebrate, especially when it comes to the education of their children.

From the Fordham report’s section on Texas:

“Texas has produced a set of science standards with areas of strength—including a particularly well-done sequence for earth and space science—but also with weaknesses that cannot be overlooked. These include a tendency across nearly all disciplines to pay lip service to critical content with vague statements, and, somewhat less often, the presence of material that’s well below grade level.”

While giving the standards decent marks in some areas, Fordham describes other sections with words like “sketchy,” “redundant,” “riddled with errors,” and “woefully imbalanced.” Would you describe such standards as “excellent”? We doubt it, but an ideologue like Cargill does.

Don McLeroy, a former board member who served as chairman during the science curriculum standards adoption, was pleased with Fordham’s remarks about how evolution is covered in the standards. Says McLeroy:

“The report confirms what I have always insisted: that the creationists inserted real scientific rigor into the teaching of evolution.”

Good grief. Fordham actually said “evolution is all but ignored” in standards for primary grades, and discussions on the topic in middle school grades are inaccurate. The report points to one particular misleading section about the evolution of finches:

“Creationists often distort these important findings to argue that Darwinian macroevolution does not occur—instead, microevolution does. In addition, the word ‘evolution’ is never used in any of the middle school standards, and the term “natural selection” is never explained.”

Fordham does give the high school bi0logy of evolution good marks, noting that “there are no concessions to ‘controversies’ or ‘alternative theories.'” But that’s actually despite the efforts of Cargill and McLeroy, who wanted the standards to include phony “weaknesses” of evolution promoted by creationists. Fortunately, TFN and other supporters of science education kept that nonsense out of the standards.

And then this from Fordham:

“(T)he high school biology course is exemplary in its choice and presentation of topics, including its thorough consideration of biological evolution. Even so, the term ‘natural selection’ appears just three times, as does the word ‘evolution’ and its variants. It is hard to see how Texas students will be able to handle this course, given the insufficient foundations offered prior to high school.”

It’s no surprise Fordham found that “natural selection” gets short shrift in the standards — it was one of the core concepts that McLeroy and other creationists on the board specifically tried to weaken in 2009.

Public education is clearly under siege in Texas. The Legislature is cutting billions of dollars in funding for public schools. Thousands of teachers are losing their jobs. And members of the State Board of Education are celebrating mediocrity (or worse) in the curriculum standards they’re adopting.

It’s hard to imagine that voters need more evidence that this year — with all 15 state board seats up for election — will be critical to the future of public education in Texas. Check out TFN’s SBOE Election Watch page here.

Abortion=Evolution=Holocaust?

January 18, 2012

It’s a cold and stunning effort to use the Nazis’ systematic murder of millions of Jews before and during World War II to promote a political agenda today.  We just saw a press release in which a Texas-based right-wing litigation group peddles the argument that the Holocaust, abortion and evolution are all connected. Check out this excerpt from the press release from The Justice Foundation in San Antonio and other anti-abortion groups:

Millions of innocent unborn children have died and women have been hurt throughout the world through abortion. Millions of men, woman and children died in the Holocaust. Is there a connection between these evils and evolution? … We will examine today the pictures, the stories, the evidence, and the horrors in the concentration camps and abortion clinics.

The release goes on to announce a Friday press conference in the nation’s capital to promote a DVD about “the relationship between Evolution — Auschwitz — Abortion.”

Talking Points

January 10, 2012

From today’s TFN News Clips:

“I want the full portrait of evolution and the people who came up with the ideas to be presented. It’s a worldview and it’s godless. Atheism has been tried in various societies, and they’ve been pretty criminal domestically and internationally. The Soviet Union, Cuba, the Nazis, China today: they don’t respect human rights. As a general court we should be concerned with criminal ideas like this and how we are teaching it…. Columbine, remember that? They were believers in evolution. That’s evidence right there.”

— New Hampshire Republican state Rep. Jerry Bergevin, who has introduced one of two new anti-evolution bills in that state’s legislature.

Stay informed with TFN News Clips, a daily digest of news on issues involving religious freedom, civil liberties and public education. Subscribe here.

2011 in Quotes: The War on Science

December 26, 2011

The assault on science and science education continued throughout 2011. Today’s review of quotes from the past year shows that evolution and climate change were major targets in the right’s war on science, especially in Texas. Read other quotes from the far right in 2011 here.

“The controversy over science standards was actually the result of an attempted hijacking of science for ideological purposes by evolutionists. Their agenda was much more about worldviews than biology. The standards reflect real science and challenge students to study some of evolution’s most glaring weaknesses in explaining the fossil record and the complexity of the cell.”

– Don McLeroy, former Texas State Board of Education member, writing in an op-ed column about the board’s record over the past several years. Austin American-Statesman, January 1, 2011

“If your theory’s right, all these species would get together and form a new species, then where is the cat-dog or the rat-cat, whatever it be. They don’t come together. Cats go with cats, and dogs go with dogs.”

– Ken Mercer, member of the Texas State Board of Education, in another installment of his argument that evolution is bad science because there are no cat-dog and rat-cat hybrids. TFN Insider, October 28, 2011

“Evolutionists will go ‘Oh, it just happened by chance.’ Today we know that’s false. Today we know that even a single-celled organism is hugely complex. When was the last time we’ve seen someone go into a windstorm or a tornado or any other kind of natural disaster, and say ‘Guess what? That windstorm just created a watch.'”

– Texas state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, responding to a question about whether or not he is a creationist. Zedler proposed legislation to bar “discrimination” against college faculty and students who promote creationism. It failed to pass. Mother Jones, March 21, 2011

“Are you kidding me, Earth Day in the schools? We’ve got to save the Earth? I mean, that’s like a tick . . . trying to save a whole heard of cattle. I mean, ticks go along for the ride, they don’t manage the cattle, they don’t tell them where to go. And that’s our arrogance in thinking that we can do something to save the planet and control where the planet goes. You know, we’re just along for the ride and we’re insignificant peons on this thing.”

– David Barton, president of the religious-right group WallBuilders, on human attempts to slow climate change. RightWingWatch, April 26, 2011

“As far as the Founding Fathers were concerned, they’d already had the entire debate over creation and evolution, and you get Thomas Paine, who is the least religious Founding Father, saying you’ve got to teach Creation science in the classroom. Scientific method demands that!”

– David Barton, the religious right’s favorite fake historian, on the Founding Fathers and their opinions on teaching evolution and creationism/intelligent design. Mother Jones, June 9, 2011

“I hear your mom was asking about evolution and, you know, it’s a theory that’s out there. It’s got some gaps in it, but in Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools. Because I figure you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right.”

– Texas Gov. Rick Perry, talking to a young boy in New Hampshire during a presidential campaign stop. National Public Radio, August 18, 2011

“I think what you’re advocating for is censorship on the part of government. So the government would prohibit intelligent design from even the possibility of being taught in questioning the issue of evolution. And if you look at scientists there is not a unanimity of agreement on the origins of life. … Why would we forestall any particular theory? Because I don’t think that even evolutionists, by and large, would say that this is proven fact. They say that this is a theory, as well as intelligent design. So I think the best thing to do is to let all scientific facts on the table, and let students decide.”

– Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, at an Iowa forum where she explained her views on teaching creationism in public schools. Think Progress, November 30, 2011

“I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized. I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. I think we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.”

– Gov. Rick Perry, again in New Hampshire on the Republican presidential campaign trail, making a claim that was a contender for Politifact’s “Lie of the Year.” Politifact Texas, Austin American-Statesman, December 5, 2011

Science Back in the Crosshairs in Texas?

November 23, 2011

Just when it looked like science education might be safe for a while in Texas public schools, the State Board of Education could soon be dragging the state back into the textbook wars over evolution.

At last week’s meeting in Austin, state board members began mapping out the schedule for adopting textbooks and curriculum standards over the next decade. Although they won’t make any final decisions until early next year, board members considered a schedule that would have them adopting new science textbooks in 2013. Those new textbooks would go into Texas classrooms in fall of 2014, replacing others that have been in use since 2004.

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Mercer Still Attacking Science and Teachers

October 28, 2011

How in the world did we miss this? Seems that in August, Texas State Board of Education member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, had some interesting things to say about science and social studies curriculum standards on a Tea Party radio program. Speaking on the San Antonio Tea Party’s Boiling Point radio show, Mercer offered much of the usual commentary we’ve come to expect from the state board’s far-right members. But some of what he said was more revealing than he probably intended.

For example, Mercer claims during the radio interview that one of his particularly goofy arguments against evolutionary science in 2009 was just a joke. But as he continues, it sounds like he really does believe that the absence of “dog-cats” and “cat-rats” makes the case against evolution:

“If your theory’s right, all these species would get together and form a new species, then where is the cat-dog or the rat-cat, whatever it be. They don’t come together. Cats go with cats, and dogs go with dogs.”

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Unlikely Allies

September 1, 2011

Who knew evolutionary science had such an ardent defender in former (and infamous) Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams?

According to a letter from Williams to Gov. Rick Perry unearthed by the Austin American-Statesman, Williams tried to intervene with the governor at the outset of the State Board of Education’s contentious science curriculum revision in 2008:

“If Texas enters into a debate on the teaching of fundamental religious beliefs in public schools, it will tarnish our strong academic reputation, set our ability to attract top science and engineering talent to Texas back decades and severely impact our reputation as a national and global leader in energy, space, medicine and other high tech fields… Governor, this is a very important issue for Texas. I urge you to quell this issue quietly, firmly and permanently.”

Of course, Perry decided to go a different direction. His handpicked chairman, Don “Somebody’s Gotta Stand Up to Experts” McLeroy, led the state board in an embarrassing, drawn out public fight over the legitimacy of evolution — just as Clayton feared.

TEA’s Ambiguous Creationism Statement

August 22, 2011

Is the Texas Education Agency (TEA) climbing out on the limb with Gov. Rick Perry? The agency’s statement regarding Gov. Perry’s  claim that creationism is taught side-by-side with evolution in science classes is a little ambiguous. And more than a little alarming.

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Rick Perry’s Problem with Science Education

August 16, 2011

The culture wars will feature prominently in Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. The Texas Freedom Network has put together a primer on Gov. Perry’s record in the culture wars at www.tfn.org/rickperry. Here, for example, is what the governor says about teaching “intelligent design”/creationism in public school science classes. From a letter to a Texas constituent:

“Recognizing that evolution is a theory, and not claimed by anyone to be more than that, the governor believes it would be a disservice to our children to teach them only one theory on the origin of our existence without recognizing other scientific theories worth consideration. Intelligent design is a concept that is gaining greater traction because it points to a notion that most people believe to be true: that we were created by an intelligent being who designed the human race with great detail and complexity….”

From a newspaper interview:

“I am a firm believer in intelligent design as a matter of faith and intellect, and I believe it should be presented in schools alongside the theories of evolution.”

The governor has also appointed — in 2007, 2009 and this year — three creationists in a row to chair the State Board of Education, which guides what public schools teach nearly 5 million Texas kids.

Read more about Gov. Perry’s record in the culture wars here.

A Final Victory for Science

August 15, 2011

That sound you hear is the collective heads of the anti-science lobby exploding. That other sound you hear is their two-year effort to undermine science education in Texas going down the drain.

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Anti-Science Forces Try to Spin Loss

July 22, 2011

We wondered how the evolution-deniers would spin this disastrous end to their two-year campaign to insert bogus criticisms of evolution into Texas science instructional materials. Predictably, we didn’t have to wait long. They are absurdly claiming they somehow won.

The primary mouthpiece for the state’s anti-evolution lobby — the Texas-affiliate of Focus on the Family that calls itself Liberty Institute — tweeted this knee-slapper:

“Victory! SBOE unanimously votes to require changes to errors in science materials, related to evolution, before adoption.”

Since these folks don’t have a good grasp of what just happened, let’s review some facts here.

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