01-21-09 oral hearing on Texas science standards limited to 4 hours
Today (Nov 21) board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, announced that testimony at the January 21 hearing will be limited to four hours — 8 a.m. to noon. That’s it. If folks are still waiting to testify at noon, we guess, then that’s just too bad for them.
Well, maybe the board just got tired of hearing the same old tired arguments over and over again at the November 19 hearing, e.g.,
(1) The "weaknesses" and "limitations" language is just a plot of the Discovery Institute to sneak religion into science classrooms (never mind that the "weaknesses" language was introduced long before the DI existed).
(2) Teaching the "weaknesses" or "limitations" of evolution theory will severely harm students, the state of Texas, and the nation.
(3) Many religious people see no conflict between evolution and religion. So what -- people should not be told what their religious beliefs are supposed to be.
Just repeating these same arguments over and over again is a public demonstration, not a hearing. However, I agree that the board should try to accommodate as many commenters as possible -- some people seeking to comment might actually have something new to say.
The "weaknesses" and "limitations" terms actually have a lot of support in the standards-drafting committees. "Strengths and weaknesses" was in the first drafts of the chemistry and astronomy standards. The "strengths and weaknesses" language was dropped in the second drafts but the biology, chemistry, and physics committees added the "strengths and limitations" language to the second drafts. Only the standards for Integrated Physics and Chemistry, Environmental Systems, Aquatic Science, and Earth and Space Science did not have "weaknesses" or "limitations" in either the first or second drafts (the Engineering Design and Problem Solving standards don't count). The Integrated Physics and Chemistry committee did not participate in the revision of the first drafts and hence there is no second draft for the IPC standards. Because of biological evolution, the "weaknesses" and "limitations" terms are the most contentious in the biology standards and so it is especially noteworthy that the second draft of the biology standards included "limitations."
Also, of the seven board members who have shown support for the "weaknesses" language, the two who were seriously challenged in the last election kept their seats. The board is more likely to listen to the general electorate than to scientists, teachers, clergy, etc.. And the question of whether to teach both strengths and weaknesses (or criticisms or limitations) does not require any scientific expertise to answer, so there is no reason to give any extra weight to scientists' opinions on that question.
The Texas Freedom Network article says,
Speakers who support watering down instruction on evolution were outnumbered by about 8-1 on Wednesday by those who support giving Texas kids a science education that’s appropriate for the 21st century.
Perhaps one of the reasons for that 8-1 lopsidedness is that there was practically no advance publicity of the hearing -- I am on the email list of the science department of the Texas Education Agency and I do not recall receiving any email notice about the hearing. Maybe some Darwinist insider(s) got the word out to Darwinist organizations and individuals.
Also, I am disturbed by the timing of the release of the reports on the survey of Texas college scientists. The reports were released only 1-2 days before the state board of education's Nov. 19 oral hearing on the proposed science standards, not giving enough time to debate the significance of the survey results. Some commenters at the oral hearing favorably cited the survey's results.
As I have said, I have proposed that the term "criticisms" be used instead of "weaknesses" or "limitations." The term "criticisms" does not imply anything about whether the criticism is valid or not, and a pseudoscientific or otherwise invalid criticism should not be called a "weakness" because it is not a real weakness. Also, a "criticism" can be an attack on an entire theory or just an attack on an imperfection in a theory. "Criticism" is a fairly neutral term.
Just spoonfeeding students the strengths of scientific theories is a bad idea. As I have said, teaching criticisms of scientific theories -- even pseudoscientific criticisms -- serves the following purposes: broadening students' education, encouraging critical thinking, helping students learn the material, increasing student interest, helping to prevent misconceptions, and helping to assure that technically sophisticated criticisms are taught by qualified science teachers.
Labels: Texas controversy (new #1)