Texas Science Education: Update (22 Oct)

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has two items regarding the upcoming Board of Education elections. The first is an editorial: Pat Hardy and Mavis Knight should stay on the State Board of Education:

The mother of all ideological debates is shaping up for the State Board of Education next year: another round in the decades-old argument between supporters of creationism and supporters of evolution.

We already know that. But which side is the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on?

Both [Hardy and Knight] have clashed with fundamentalist conservatives on the board over curriculum standards. Adopting those standards, known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills [later called TEKS], is the strongest influence the state board has over what Texas students are taught in public schools. The board also recommends textbooks based on the standards.

Yes, yes. We know that too. Now who’s who?

The debate is expected to center on current language that requires strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories to be presented in the classroom.

Advocates of creationism want intelligent design to be presented as one of those theories when discussions turn to the origin of the universe and the development of living things. Others say that’s not science but religion.

We repeat: Who’s who in this mess?

Hardy and Knight say teachers should help determine the science TEKS.

That’s gotta be the world’s most useless editorial!

Things become a bit more clear in that paper’s other article: Local voters to pick 3 for state school board. [Note: While proof-reading and checking our links, we observe that the newspaper has changed the article’s title. It now mentions sex-ed. We’re keeping the original.] Some excerpts:

Should science textbooks include the possibility of a supreme creator when evolution is taught? Should students learn about contraceptives in sex education and health classes? Should the state’s science curriculum be changed? Your vote in the State Board of Education contests will help decide.

Good opening. Now what?

On Nov. 4, voters will elect almost half of the 15-member State Board of Education, which approves textbooks, creates the state’s curriculum and approves and determines passing scores for the state-mandated assessment program. Three of those seats represent areas in or near Tarrant County.

Okay, we’re interested. Continuing:

Earlier this month the board appointed three critics of evolution to review new science curriculum standards for the coming decade. One is an official of the Discovery Institute, which promotes teaching doubts that natural selection is responsible for the existence of humans. Critics say that not including such weaknesses in curriculum is censorship of unresolved issues in the theory of evolution.

Yeah, “censorship.” Here’s more:

Teachers and experts who drew up the proposed curriculum say no weakness of evolution should be included.

That’s pure slime. Either the reporter is an idiot, or he’s being deliberately fuzzy. The whole point of shutting the now-open door for “weaknesses” is that there’s no evidence — none — against evolution. All the alleged “weaknesses” are fanatical attacks on the scientific method. Let’s read a bit more, to determine if this reporter is truly bonkers, or if he just had a sloppy paragraph:

This year, some Texas scientists and educators formed the 21st Century Science Coalition to fight any discussion of weaknesses, saying there is no room for the supernatural in science.

“Some Texas scientists”? Some? That makes it sound like a fringe group. But their number is now over 1,000. We think we can judge where this reporter’s sympathies lie. But then he gives us what seems to be a factual description of the local candidates’ positions. “Local” means Districts 11, 13, and 14, presumably where the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has its readership. Here’s a summary:

District 11 … Patricia “Pat” Hardy, Republican (incumbent) … Evolution: Hardy has described herself as a devout Christian but said that a religious point of view doesn’t have a place in the classroom. She said that textbooks should be clearer on the weaknesses of evolution. She once predicted that the “far right” contingent would try to teach creationism in schools.

We can’t make much sense out of that. But then, her opponent is Bruce Beckman, Libertarian, who “opposes teaching any theory because he is opposed to “dogmatic indoctrination” in public schools …”

Next race:

District 13 … Mavis Best Knight, Democrat (incumbent): … Evolution: Knight contends that science should be strictly limited to observable data that can be examined and that intelligent design, if it must be addressed, should be taught in a Bible course. She believes that social conservatives on the board want creationism to be taught in science and biology textbooks.

Sounds sensible. She and Hardy (just discussed) are the ones that the editorial supported. Knight’s opponent is apparently a victim of brain death:

Cindy Werner, Republican … Evolution: She would vote for textbooks that discuss the weakness of evolution. “In teaching the strengths and weaknesses of evolution such a discussion will open up the possibilities to and would allow for the discussion of intelligent design or creationism.”

And finally:

District 14 … Edra Bogle, Democrat … Evolution: Bogle says religious beliefs have no place in the public school curriculum.

Okay, but what about that “strengths and weaknesses” stuff? This is non-informative. Her opponent, however, is clearly in favor of teaching evolution’s “strengths and limitations,” so a decision can be made here:

Gail Lowe, Republican (incumbent) … Evolution: Lowe has been quoted in Texas Monthly as incorrectly stating that the National Academy of Sciences does not consider evolution a fact. She supports teaching the strengths and limitations of the theory of evolution, according to information provided to the League of Women Voters.

There’s a third candidate in that race. He seems interesting:

John E. Shuey, Libertarian … Evolution: On his campaign Web site, Shuey mocks board members’ attempt to question evolution with a fake news story about the board seeking balance in the teaching of the theory of gravity. He says he opposes teaching “pseudoscience” or “unfounded claims of weakness in evolutionary theory.”

We can’t tell if some of the candidates are inarticulate bozos, or if that newspaper is incapable of presenting the issues, or if there’s a grand conspiracy to keep the voters confused. We’ll leave it up to you.

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6 responses to “Texas Science Education: Update (22 Oct)

  1. mightyfrijoles

    I vote for Bozo.

  2. Might as well. Everyone else is.

  3. I’m with you, I don’t know what Pat Hardy meant by saying that textbooks should be “clearer on the weaknesses of evolution.” Hardy is, however, a strong advocate of teaching evolution, and Texas Citizens for Science president Steve Schafersman knows her well and is a staunch supporter of hers.

    Other than that, keep Knight and vote in Dr. Bogle!

  4. I suspect that the candidates have, at least at some point, expressed their opinions with some clarity. The problem appears to be with that newspaper. They can’t write, which is a problem in their line of work.

  5. retiredsciguy

    SC says:
    “The problem appears to be with that newspaper. They can’t write, which is a problem in their line of work.”
    I agree. The paper needs a good, science-literate, technical writer.

  6. It’s not just that paper. Almost none of them can competently write about science, or business, or constitutional issues. They’re okay when writing about sports, and crime, and maybe the weather. But that’s about it.