Texas Science Education: It’s up to Don McLeroy

AS WE REPORTED yesterday in Texas: Classroom Creationism Under Assault, quoting The Dallas Morning News:

Proposed curriculum standards for science courses in Texas schools would boost the teaching of evolution by dropping the current requirement that students be exposed to “weaknesses” in Charles Darwin’s theory of how humans and other life forms evolved.

In today’s Houston Chronicle we read Proposed standards would give evolution a boost:

AUSTIN — A proposal for curriculum standards for science courses in Texas would remove language requiring students be taught the “strengths and weaknesses” of all scientific theories, wording which some say has been used to undermine the theory of evolution.

Proposals released Tuesday from review committees of teachers and academics would also put up roadblocks for teachers who want to discuss creationism or “intelligent design” in biology classes when covering the subject of evolution.

Very nice. However, as the Houston Chronicle reminds us:

The standards are subject to approval by the state Board of Education, where a majority of members have said they are in favor of retaining the current mandate to cover both strengths and weaknesses of major scientific theories, notably evolution.

For those who don’t know, the curriculum of Texas public schools is determined by a little-known group called the state Board of Education, or BOE. None are scientists. Additionally, the board is riddled with young earth creationists. You can learn some disquieting things about them by reading this article in the Texas Monthly: How Well Do You Know Your State Board of Education?

Back to the Houston Chronicle article:

The issue comes before the board [the BOE] early next year. A close vote is expected. Standards adopted by the board will remain in place for the next decade.

This is important. If the creationists on the BOE have their way, Texas schools will be teaching creationism for the next ten years; and because of the size of Texas, the effect on the nation’s textbook industry will be significant. More from the article:

State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, R-College Station, said Tuesday he will oppose the recommendation.

“I like the present language on strengths and weaknesses,” said McLeroy, who describes himself as a creationist. “This is something we’ve been doing for over 20 years in Texas, and we should keep doing it.”

He said the theory of evolution has “plenty of weaknesses.”

Yes, there are indeed weaknesses. For example, it completely leaves out Noah’s Ark!

As reported by Eugenie Scott’s National Center for Science Education in this article: Draft science standards in Texas:

In particular, a requirement in the current standards for high school biology that reads “The student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information” would be replaced with “The student is expected to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing,” and a description of the limits of science (adapted from the recent National Academy of Sciences publication Science, Evolution, and Creationism) — “Science uses observational evidence to make predictions of natural phenomena and to construct testable explanations. If ideas are based upon purported forces outside of nature, they cannot be tested using scientific methods” — would be added.

That sounds entirely rational. What sane person could object to that? Scott’s article informs us:

The chair of the state board of education, avowed creationist Don McLeroy, defended the “strengths and weaknesses” language … [saying] “I’d argue it doesn’t make sense scientifically to take it out … Evolution shouldn’t have anything to worry about — if there’s no weaknesses, there’s no weaknesses. But if there’s scientifically testable explanations out there to refute it, shouldn’t those be included too?”

So there you are. And McLeroy’s board gets to make the final decision. Want to know more about McLeroy’s “thinking”? We’ve linked to this before, but it’s worth doing again. This is material, presumably written by McLeroy himself, posted at his own website: A Conservative Look Inside the Texas Public School System. You may find his site to be a bit chaotic, but that’s to be expected. Click around there and you’ll see how that creationist dentist thinks. The fate of science education in Texas may well rest in his hands.

Scott’s article continues:

What’s next? The Texas Education Agency is expected shortly to solicit public comment on and expert review of the draft standards. The draft standards will then be revised in light of that input, and submitted to the state board of education for its approval.

So don’t touch that mouse. Stay tuned to this blog.

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4 responses to “Texas Science Education: It’s up to Don McLeroy

  1. Thanks for keeping in touch with this issue. I’ve been trying to make sense of the affair by myself for a while.

  2. It doesn’t make sense. All we can do is watch it unfold.

  3. Maybe a good criterion for ALL states to use would be to require that anything taught in science class be backed up by scientific observation; i.e., facts that are verifiable and reproducible.

    It’s only logical.

  4. retiredsciguy says:

    Maybe a good criterion for ALL states to use would be to require that anything taught in science class be backed up by scientific observation; i.e., facts that are verifiable and reproducible.

    You mean “teach science.” Yeah, good idea.