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Chron coverage of yesterday’s SBOE actions

Here’s the Chron story about yesterday’s happenings at the State Board of Education, in which the good news was that the anti-science “strengths and weaknesses” language had been removed from the curriculum, and the bad news was that a subsequent attempt to back-door similar nonsense made it in for now.

The “strengths and weaknesses” standard has been a staple in the curriculum for about 20 years.

On Friday, however, the board looked again at the issue and decided students should have to evaluate a variety of fossil types and assess the arguments against universal common descent, which serves as a main principle of evolution — that all organisms have a common ancestor.

The board’s effort to undermine “universal common descent” in public schools will make the state’s science standards “an object of ridicule,” said Steve Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science.

“It’s really unscientific. It promotes creationism. It says that students will be required to learn arguments against common descent or ancestral connections,” Schafersman said. “The only alternative to common descent is creationism in their minds.”

Scientists vowed to fight the plan before the board takes final action in March. New science curriculum standards will influence new science textbooks for the state’s 4.7 million public school children beginning in the 2010-11 school year.

One board member who pushed for the change said that fossil records create scientific evidence against universal common descent — and students should be allowed to study the possibility.

“There are many, many gaps that don’t link species changing and evolving into another species, so we want our students to get all of the science, and we want them to have great, open discussions and learning to respect each other’s opinions,” said Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, a former science teacher.

[…]

They are asking students to explain something that does not exist, said David Hillis, a biology professor at the University of Texas at Austin and MacArthur Foundation “genius award” winner.

“This new proposed language is absurd. It shows very clearly why the board should not be rewriting the science standards, especially when they introduce new language that has not even been reviewed by a single science expert,” Hillis said.

Yeah. I mean, you wouldn’t want someone who doesn’t use the Internet setting standards for broadband, would you? The “fossil gap” argument is an old, long-discredited one that keeps getting trotted out anyway. As Daniel Davies posited in The D-Squared Digest One Minute MBA – Avoiding Projects Pursued By Morons 101, good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance. Not that this would stop the zealots on the SBOE.

The good news is that there should be time between now and March to get the same votes as before to reject this absurdity. That’s the hope, anyway. Martha has more. I’ve also got some testimony by 2008 candidate for SBOE Laura Ewing beneath the fold. We wouldn’t be going through this nonsense if Ewing had been elected, as there would then have been a clear majority for maintaining scientific standards, but sadly that was not to be. All the more reason to make sure we take out Cynthia Dunbar next year, that’s for sure. Click on for her account.

Testimony by Laura Ewing, Friendswood, TX

Dear Members of the SBOE:

I am here today as a retired public school educator and as a person who cares so much about decisions impacting TEKS, testing and textbooks that I ran for the SBOE in 2008. Most importantly, I am a parent of a son who has attended public schools in Fort Bend as a kindergartner and Friendswood from 1st through 12th grade. He is now a college student at UTSA.

I ask that you vote FOR the current language of the Science TEKS. Our students must be educated with the ability to succeed in the 21st century, and that means teaching them with scientific theories which have been corroborated through research and testing.

In December my family spent almost two weeks hiking in the Davis Mountains and Big Bend. As I viewed the majesty of the mountains and terrain formed by volcanic action and oceanic movement, I marveled at God’s beautiful creations. And, I also realized that solid scientific study has determined that these structures are billions and millions of years old. We visited with a paleontologist/archeologist who has discovered on his property the fossilized remains of a 75 million year old turtle, first of its genus and species. It was important for my son to hear about the methods used in scientific research of these lands and this particular discovery. Our trip allowed him to use his 21st century scientific learning, which includes his critical thinking skills, to analyze the world around him. There was no need to discuss whether or not the turtle has evolved. Critical thinking skills were utilized in determining HOW the species has evolved. I want for all of our 4.5 million public school children to continue to learn scientific methods that will allow them to be successful in their future endeavors and competitive in the 21st century global economy.

I have taught Sunday school at my local Methodist church for over a decade, and as our junior high students discussed the story of Adam and Eve this last Sunday, I realized again why I don’t want politicians politicizing what and how issues of faith will be taught in public schools. The lesson reinforced the role that houses of worship need to play in educating our children in faith-based issues. Our students need to be guided to their religious beliefs by their families so that they truly have freedom of religion. Let’s support the role of public school education in teaching science and truly prepare our students for the 21st century. I know that down the street there is at least one bill introduced to strip this body of much of its oversight powers because the majority vote decisions have not been following process and have politicized and jeopardized the education of our children. You have the opportunity to show students, parents and the legislature that you can make educationally sound decisions and not ones that promote personal political agendas. Please open the door for our students to learn and be successful in today’s world.

Thank you,

Laura Ewing

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