Get ready for another fight over how we teach kids.
After feuding for months over how to teach schoolchildren to read, the State Board of Education soon will shift to a topic that could become more controversial — the science curriculum.
Science, after all, involves biology. And biology is built on the theory of evolution, raising fears among some observers that social conservatives on the 15-member panel will try to shade textbooks with religion.
“The issue is … whether or not creationism will be taught alongside evolution as science, which will absolutely undermine our kids’ science education and their ability to compete for the best colleges and jobs of the 21st century,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based organization that advocates religious freedom and individual liberties.
Those fears amount to hogwash, says board Vice Chairman David Bradley, R-Beaumont.
“I hate to take the air out of their balloon. They’re going to be very disappointed if they come for a fight,” said Bradley, a leader among the board’s social conservatives. “The only thing that this board is going to do is ask for accuracy.”
It’s been 11 years since the state of Texas last updated standards for the science curriculum in its public schools. Things change. Pluto, for example, lost its status as a planet two years ago, but students in Texas still see it listed in textbooks as a planet in Earth’s solar system.
The State Board of Education recently finished a three-year rewrite of standards for the English-language arts and reading curriculum. Some called the process tortured, with revisions slipped under members’ hotel-room doors in the hours just before a final 9-6 board vote.
David Hillis, a biology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, predicted some board members would try to “replace real science with religious instruction.” He warned that the “intelligent design” theory preferred by evolution skeptics, which holds that living things are too complex to be the result of natural selection, has no scientific support or basis.
“We should rely on scientists to establish the science standards, not nonexperts with a particular religious or political agenda to promote,” Hillis said.
Board members say it is unlikely that intelligent design will even be considered. More likely is a fight over whether to keep an existing requirement that teachers present both the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories, including evolution.
Bradley said he does not foresee any successful effort to remove the “strengths and weaknesses” requirement from the science standards.
“Evolution is not fact. Evolution is a theory and, as such, cannot be proven,” he said. “Students need to be able to jump to their own conclusions.”
It may sound like a good idea to require teachers to point out the weaknesses of scientific theories, but Hillis contends that when it comes to evolution, “its main purpose is to introduce religious ideas and anti-science ideas into the science classroom.”
“The fact that biological populations evolve is not in question,” he said. “Evolution is an easily observable phenomenon, and has been documented beyond any reasonable doubt. The ‘theory’ part of evolutionary theory concerns the experiments, observations, and models that explain how populations evolve.”
Whenever you hear someone refer to evolution as “just a theory”, you know they’re speaking from ignorance. We need much better than that from the SBOE.