The Texas Tribune, as well as my pro-evolution correspondents on the ground in Texas, report that the State Board of Education, which has historically tried to insert creationist language into Texas public-school biology standards, will have a public hearing today about the 2009 standards that are up for revision. Those standards were hard-fought by both creationists and pro-evolution scientists, and resulted in four parts of the Texas Science Standards (“TEKS”) that were problematic for science educators.
I’ve put the problematic standards below; they’re taken from a long, point-by-point analysis by the pro-science Texas Freedom Network:
Have a look at each of these existing parts of the TEKS standards and try to see why a committee of educators and scientists is trying to get them changed.
A bit of historical analysis may help: in view of their failure to have creationism (and its intelligent-design subspecies) taught in schools either as the sole “theory” of life or as an alternative deserving equal mention with evolution, Texas creatopmosts (as well as some in South Dakota) have been pushing a “teach the controversy” approach. The hope is that antievolution teachers (or anti-global warming teachers) can bring up bogus “controversies” that, in the eyes of the kids, will discredit evolution. Thus we have this bit of the existing standards, which, though it sounds innocuous, is carefully crafted to allow teachers to introduce creationist literature into the classroom:
Note, in the bit below, the “sudden appearance”, “stasis”, and “sequential nature of groups in the fossil record”. That does not have anything to do with Steve Gould’s views on fossil patterns connected with punctuated equilibrium.
And here we have evaluations of “scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell.” Have you heard that before?
Finally, we have evaluation of the evidence for a naturalistic origin of life, including (and this is the giveaway) molecules “having information”.
If you think these statements are innocuous, and are wondering why there’s such a fight about them (creationists want them in, rationalists out), have a look at the TFN document.
The Texas Tribune reports on the squabble:
At the request of the board last July, a 10-member committee of educators and experts took on the challenge of narrowing down the biology curriculum standards known as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS. The committee removed four passages that some board members and activists say allow teachers to challenge evolution in the classroom, thus advancing creationism.
Educators on the committee said they did not intend to make a political statement when they made their recommendations. Teaching 14- and 15-year-olds to question evolution is a tall order for students and teachers, Karyn Ard, a biology teacher at Troup Independent School District, told the board in November.
“These changes were purely based on the fact that our kids cannot master those,” she said.
In 2009, board members added the passages in question [JAC: above] to the science standards, to persuade students to pursue creationist explanations as alternatives to evolutionary science. One of the passages requires biology teachers to examine “all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.”
The committee removed that line from the standards, arguing that “evidence does not have sides, only different perspectives on the interpretation of the evidence.”
As far as I know, biology textbook publishers did not change their text to conform to the Texas standards, but stood their ground for science. What these hearings will affect is not the textbooks, but teachers’ ability to sneak creationism into the classroom under the rubric of “alternative explanations” for complexity, “sudden appearance,” and so on.
Extra reading: A Senate committee will vote today on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education. She has never explicitly endorsed creationism (though I believe her husband has), but an article in ProPublica notes that DeVos and her husband (they’re billionaires) have given tons of money to groups that champion intelligent design. It is not beyond belief that a new Supreme Court could tacitly overturn precedent and allow some form of creationism/intelligent design back into the public schools.
h/t: David Hillis