Super Chunk

I’m just talking here.

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education, science, evolution, creation

March 26th, 2009 · 5 Comments

Edited 3/30/09: The Texas measure was narrowly voted down.  This could, and likely will, come up again in 2011.
One of these things is not like the other ones…

Longtime readers will know that my first job was a middle-school science job, and I taught a bunch of different kinds of science.  Astronomy.  Geology.  Physics, a little bit.  Chemistry.  Biology (plant and animal).  Physiology.  Genetics.  And yes, evolution.  Specifically evolution, specifically to sixth-graders, and they specifically came to understand that sometimes random heritable mutations can be adaptive and result in higher rates of reproduction for individuals with the mutation, thereby causing the mutation to become increasingly common in the population as a whole.  Evolution is IMPORTANT.  It is TRUE.  It totally HAPPENED and is ONGOING.

So that’s my stance.  Imagine my chagrin when I read this writing by Clay Burell (forgive my blockquoting of blockquotes):

I’ve written about this repeatedly, but there’s a new and very troubling development afoot. In a stunningly anti-democratic back-door move, Texas State Rep. Wayne Christian has introduced a bill that would impose creationism-friendly, anti-scientific language in the state’s science standards, no matter what standards the State Board of Education (SBOE) votes on this week. Christian’s House Bill 4224 would re-instate the “strengths and weaknesses” clause that the SBOE voted to eliminate last month. Worse still, it ups the ante by inserting provisions that in essence give students the right not only to their own opinion about science, but also to their own “scientific” facts:

(c)  Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because he or she subscribes to a particular position on scientific theories or hypotheses;

This sounds innocent enough, on the face of it - until you read the next section, which protects teachers who teach creationism (and following Steven Novella, I “use the term ‘creationist’ to refer to anyone denying evolution to a significant degree, from young-earth creationists to intelligent design proponents who accept common descent”):

(d)  No governmental entity shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students to understand, analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information.

Protected by this clause, a creationist could simply label creationism a “hypothesis” or “explanation,” and trot out arguments for its “strengths” long since refuted or rejected by the international scientific community.

On Novella’s post, Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science, explains the consequences of these two clauses, taken together, for the classroom:

Students could claim they believe anything they wanted in anything in science and if that’s what they say, the teacher would be forced to give that student an A. That’s how bad[ly] this bill is written.

(me again) Clay Burell, the blogger at education.change.org, correctly notes Texan children will not be the only ones who lose a decade of good science information if this legislation goes through in Texas.  Texas is one of the benchmark states for textbook publishers; the publishers tailor their offerings to meet standards in Texas and California, and those standards are then the basis for the textbooks that are available to the rest of us, nationwide. What this means for you, gentle reader, is that science education in the U.S. would be further watered down (nevermind the fact that it’s tough to find time to teach science at all in the elementary grades, in the face of NCLB), no matter where you live.  It means that your child might very well be taught creationism or “intelligent design” to the exclusion of evolution, even if she attends a public school.  Because it might end up smack in the middle of the textbook.

If you live in Texas and find this scenario creepy in any way, please complain to your legislators.  (The State Board of Ed is in session through Friday 3/27 –  it can’t hurt to contact your rep there, too, if you have one.)  If you are a science person, please make it a point to discuss science in lots of contexts so that you can make people smarter.  (Note that you don’t have to be a science professional for this to work; you just have to like it and understand it.)  If you are a church person who also believes in science and provable hypotheses, as I am (all that teaching of evolution was in a Catholic school, FWIW), please use whatever influence you may have to further the cause of good and complete information in schools and in the public sphere.  Please oh please.  A rescue is in order.

Tags: less than fun · daily · kid stuff · church and religion · world · education

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dave // Mar 29, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    I guess ur right…A rescue is in order! However, the answer people want is not there. If the truth be told, both sides of the issue would be livid. So, what to do? For instance…If the Bible backed up evolution, the one side would go nuts because their whole belief system would be shaken. Then, because of the fact that the Bible was witten so long ago, before ‘Evolution’ writtings, ( the Bible would then have the preeminence) the other side would have a big problem… Let’s not even mention the politians… So, what to do? If I explained it then people would be at my door and I don’t think they would be pating me on the back! What to do?

  • 2 Christie // Mar 30, 2009 at 6:09 am

    You could begin by saying something of substance rather than skirting the issue.

  • 3 Dave // Mar 30, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Christie

    I’m not skirting the issue. I was just testing the water. The issue that Chunk is talking about is more about lost science and how/why it’s happening. I doubt that he would have any issue about the good science of evolution. His issue in that regard would be about the bad science/scientists. Anyone that has studied in any discipline and has read about the people themselves, know what opposition they met from their own colleges. I saw on PBS many years back, a scientist that proved out that the bones that were previously studied and had been shown that they were worked on by prehistoric man (tools) was only about ten percent correct. Well, she was hammered because she had screwed things up and had set the ‘cause’ back. However, her ten percent was worth ten times more than their one hundred percent of poor/faulty science. This kind of stuff has been going on forever. You can hardly find a science/history story on the tube without rudeness/jealousies/vanities….it’s a soap opera. Now Chunk’s job is to introduce/explain sciences to mostly students that have no real heart/interest in the subjects, like him. He has to sort out the good/explainable science and shape it in a manner easily understood. That’s a big/worthwhile job. I haven’t even gotten to the outside people (politicians/ religious/atheist/whoever) who he has to deal with. Now if I provide the ‘missing-link’ to all this, what do you think would happen? Many mountains of bones/fossils/science haven’t persuaded those who have no heart or who have a bad heart/attitude. Has it? Just look at Chunk’s post and you’ll see there is no end game for all this. No one is in charge to exercise discipline and reason. Anyone saying something gets punched in the mouth. It’s the same throughout the Bible. Read it for yourself. Now you’re a case in point. What good would it do you if I just let it all out? You, without any heart/grace/curiosity, came at me with an accusation under your tongue. What do I owe you that you should be so rude? Now Chunk knows what he’s talking about like many other teachers. That’s not the problem! It’s not my problem either! He has the information to explain what he wants to say and so do I. That’s not the issue. It’s getting past those who are standing in the way because of their ‘cause’, whatever that may be. My little comment was just to see if there might be a chance to find way to explain a Bible answer that wouldn’t set people off. Also, those who get so much opposition/grief for teaching what they know to be good science need to know that they are doing the right thing. It must be very disheartening for them. But on the other hand they also need to know that there is more to it than just their science. Really, there should be no conflict between science and the Bible. And there isn’t.

  • 4 Christie // Mar 30, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    Dave — I feel I ought to tell you that “Christie” and “Chunk” are the same (female) person. Same science teacher, same church person, same pointy accuser. Also, I still don’t exactly know what you’re getting at.

    I’m not altogether interested in providing a pulpit for people who want to make a stand for teaching creationism in public schools. There are other venues for that (I don’t want to start or host a flame war either), and I hope that if that’s your mission you will seek out such a venue. I disagree on a fundamental level with that premise, and I’m interested in making sure that the superstructure that shapes American schools is as strong and useful as it can possibly be. In this case, that means excluding a religious belief from science education. Creationism and intelligent design are not the same as science. They have a place, but it is not in the sciences and it is certainly not in a mandatory, government-funded science curriculum.

  • 5 Dave // Mar 30, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    Christie

    Oh, you’re the teacher. Good for you. I thought that the writing above was on the sensitive and gentle side. What I’m driving at and what is most important is breaking through to a better understanding of what’s in the Bible and how we all are treating each other. After all, if we get it all right but hurt one another, what’s the good in that? You’re a teacher of evolution and you are up against a lot of opposition in what you know to do. It looks like a lot of people are whaling at one another with their ism’s. I don’t have one and I’m not religious. It may seem like I’m religious, but for now please take my word for it that I’m not, if you would. I’m also not on a mission looking for a pulpit to preach my personal theory. The evolution you’re teaching is correct as far as the good science takes it. So I’m not in opposition to you and what you do. What’s going on in the school system is wrong caused by; let’s just say the ‘Groups’. Let me mention first that if I allude to the Bible then I’m pegged as religious or if I say something about a creation then I’m a creationist. The way it works is that whoever spouts their incorrect views the loudest, the other side labels them and it’s carried over to even those who are seeking understanding. Those people are only in it to make them selves heard. And a lot of others wind up as collateral damage like you and your students. Really, the only way out for you teachers is by votes/courts/war. Persuasion won’t and hasn’t worked. One error or one ambiguity and then the whole thing are wrong if not heresy. I’m sorry for being so sharp with you and I apologize. So, I’ll stand corrected and give something of substance. Fair enough? Always remember that these ‘Groups’ are people too and by all mean are not to be intentionally hurt or demeaned. What needs to be done is to turn their argument on its head. Their creationist point of view is not correct. Their POV, they say, comes from the Bible. If you don’t know for sure then you should be able to find what the best guess is to what the population of humans was on the earth, say about forty thousand years ago. I have no clue. Now the second chapter of Genesis says that there was not a man to till the earth. That was six thousand years ago, slightly less. So between evolution and Gen:2, man was wiped out if you just take it all at face value. Right? Also God tells Adam and Eve to be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth in Gen:1. That last statement shows that before Adam and Eve there were people populating the earth. Right? The first statement again says that man kind was earlier wiped out. In your opinion, do these two statements more support/enhance evolution or is it oppose to it? Well it’s late. That’s a small start for now.
    cu

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