Score one for the (publishing) good guys

The Texas Board of Education came down entirely on the side of evolution in the Great Texas Textbook War of 2011. By a unanimous vote (one of the 15 board members was on vacation), the board chose supplemental material for high school biology classes from established, mainstream textbook publishers rather than  any of the creationist-based alternatives.

With California undergoing a suspension of school textbook purchases for the next several years, Texas is the big educational textbook buyer in America these days. Any decision to buy puts big-time money in a publisher’s pocket, and Holt McDougal’s win over International Databases, LLC, is a major win for science-based science education and a black eye on the crackpot, bullshit “intelligent design” crowd.

 

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Some laws aren’t as pinheaded as they appear at first glance

The Tennessee state legislature just passed a bill concerning science education in the state’s public schools. There are those who are panicking about the bill’s passage:

“…the Tennessee Science Teachers Association is on record describing the bill as “unnecessary, anti-scientific, and very likely unconstitutional.” Although the document is worded so as not to promote any particular doctrine, the thrust of the proposed law would elevate creationist theories about human evolution to the same status accorded by most educators to Darwin’s research.”

Really? Let’s take a look at what the bill actually says (emphases and inserted comments are mine):

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SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 6, Part 10, is amended by adding the following as a new, appropriately designated section:

(a) The general assembly finds that:

(1) An important purpose of science education is to inform students about scientific evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to becoming intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens;

(2) The teaching of some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy; and

Yes, that is true; some scientific subjects such as evolution have caused controversy due to the confusion between opinions held by faith and facts sustained by science and scientific methods.

(3) Some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects.

That is also true. Some teachers are pinheads despite possessing a modicum of education, and others don’t know how to handle the political ramifications.

(b) The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.

How about these for “appropriate” and “respectful” responses? “Creationism is a religious belief that doesn’t belong in the science classroom”, and “there are strong indications that global warming is a real event, even though the exact causes are not fully understood yet”? These responses are appropriate and respectful, stick strictly to scientific fact, and are responses that indicate use of scientific method and critical thinking.

(c) The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies. Toward this end, teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.

Sounds like the acts of a properly taught science curriculum to me.

(d) Neither the state board of education, nor any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or any public elementary or secondary school principal or administrator shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.

Still looking okay.

(e) This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote  [d]iscrimination for or against religion or non-religion.

Again, looks good to me. No one gets dumped on or ridiculed. No one.

SECTION 2. By no later than the start of the 2011-2012 school term, the department of education shall notify all directors of schools of the provisions of this act. Each director shall notify all employees within the director’s school system of the provisions of this act.

SECTION 3. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law, the public welfare requiring it.

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Now, the real question is what do school administrators and teachers do with this.

There is a neat easy answer: follow the letter of the law.

  • present scientific facts and encourage the use of critical thinking
  • discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the stances toward socially controversial subjects such as evolution and global warming
  • come to factually supported conclusions
  • do all this with a view toward respectful stances toward belief and non-belief

Aaaaaannd a quote from CBS News:

Presumably, that would also extend to teaching about alternative theories to global warming, a hot-button issue among conservative groups.

There is no “presumably” here. Any teacher who instructs students in “alternative” theories” about any controversial subject in science should, by law, just stick to facts and critical thinking. If they don’t, then there should be some heads stuck onto pikes warnings about violations of state laws.