First revision of proposed Texas science standards finally posted
I am now against having any state science standards at all, though 49 of the 50 states have them (Iowa does not have its own science standards, and I don't know what science standards Iowa uses, if any). IMO authors of textbooks do not need to be told how to write them. IMO if a textbook author wants to include discussions of holocaust revisionism or criticisms of evolution theory, that's fine. I am against all government standards for public education -- these standards just give high-pressure special-interest groups extra opportunities to try to dogmatize public education.
The revised standards follow some of my recommendations (I don't know if other commenters also made the same recommendations):
(1) There now appears to be uniformity of the core principles in the introductory sections of the standards for the different branches of science (except for the Integrated Physics and Chemistry standards -- as noted above the committee for those standards did not participate in the revision). These core principles in the introductory sections are under the following headings: nature of science, scientific systems, scientific investigations, and science and social ethics. However, having the same introduction for the different branches is redundant -- there should be one introduction for the entire group of science standards. Some of the "knowledge and skills" standards should also be in a single introduction for the entire group.
(2) An inappropriate use of the word "evolution" was eliminated -- "evolution of the atmosphere" was changed to "changes of the atmosphere." It is inappropriate to use the word "evolution" for directionless changes that are not a development or a pattern of progression. However, "evolution of the universe" and "geological evolution" were wrongly retained.
The "strengths and weaknesses" language of section 3(A) of "student expectations" was removed from the only branches that had this language in the first draft, the chemistry and astronomy branches. The "strengths and weaknesses" language has been in the Texas science education regulations for about 20 years. I think it is doubtful that this language will be retained unless the state board of education overrules all of the standards-drafting committees, which I think is unlikely. I decided that I didn't like the term "weaknesses" myself -- for various reasons, I think it is appropriate to teach pseudoscientific criticisms of scientific theories, and a pseudoscientific criticism is not a real weakness. I proposed that the term "weaknesses" be replaced with "criticisms" (I suggested the phrase, "scientific strengths and scientific and pseudoscientific criticisms"). The Biology, Chemistry, and Physics standards have the following new language that was not in section 3(A) of the first draft:
-- analyze and evaluate strengths and limitations of scientific explanations including those based on accepted scientific data, and evidence from students' observations, experiments, models, and logical statements.
IMO that language is no good because a "limitation" of a scientific explanation is not necessarily the same thing as a criticism that directly attacks a scientific explanation or theory.
Standards for the other branches of science -- Integrated Physics and Chemistry (no second draft, as noted above), Environmental Systems, Aquatic Systems, Astronomy, and Earth and Space Science -- have the new language that was in most of the standards (except Chemistry and Astronomy) in the first draft of the proposed standards:
-- analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing.
Anyway, neither of these two new versions of Sec. 3(A) would prevent the adoption of biology textbooks containing criticisms of evolution theory.
The introductions in the second drafts, as in the first drafts, have too much philosophizing about science. Also, the introductions in the second drafts give non-standard definitions or descriptions of "scientific theories," and as I noted before, I think that is a very bad idea:
NATURE OF SCIENCE: Science is a way of describing and making testable predictions about the natural world. Scientific hypotheses are tentative and testable statements that must be capable of being supported or not supported by observational evidence. Hypotheses of durable explanatory power that have been tested over a wide variety of conditions become theories. Scientific theories are based on natural and physical phenomena and are capable of being tested by multiple, independent researchers. Students should know that scientific theories, unlike hypotheses, are well-established and highly reliable, but that they may still be subject to change as new information and new technologies are developed . . . . .
For example, the Merriam-Webster online dictionary's definition of the scientific meaning of the word "theory" is: "a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena." My printed dictionary, "Webster's New World Dictionary: Third College Edition," gives the following definition of the scientific meaning of "theory": "a formulation of apparent relationships or underlying principles of certain observed phenomena which has been verified to some degree." There is no talk about scientific theories being "well-established and highly reliable," being "capable of being tested by multiple, independent researchers," etc..
Labels: Texas controversy (new #1)