Charles Garner, Professor of Chemistry at Baylor University served along with Steve Meyer as Expert Reviewer on Texas Science Standards. (Here is an article from the Austin Statesman covering the issue: LINK.) Dr. Garner recently wrote the following editorial for the Waco Tribune.
As the Texas Education Agency reviews the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, a controversy has developed about language in the current TEKS, which states:
“The student uses critical thinking and scientific problem-solving to make informed decisions. 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.”
This language promotes critical thinking skills. It has been in the TEKS for years. The TEKS guidelines are working fine and Texas students receive some of the best science education in the country.
Nonetheless, some activist groups are protesting the “strengths and weaknesses” language. They assert that teaching “weaknesses” is a “wedge allowing teachers to insert their personal religious views into public science classrooms,” especially pertaining to evolution.
As an appointed reviewer of the TEKS, I investigated this claim. It quickly became apparent that there was no basis for it.
In fact, for several reasons, I doubt if even those who make this claim really believe it.
Whatever problems they have with “strengths and weaknesses,” religious infringement cannot be among them.
The “strengths and weaknesses” language has been in place for a decade. If it had been used to introduce religion or supernatural explanations into the classroom, these groups would have a long list of specific incidents, with names, dates, etc.
But when I contacted Dr. Dan Bolnik, an assistant professor of Integrative Biology at the University of Texas and the head of the 21st Century Science Coalition (from whose Web site the above quotes were obtained), Bolnik could not provide me with a single specific example of such an incident.
Rather, he directed me to a survey of biology teachers that concluded that state standards made little or no difference in whether alternatives to evolution were discussed.
The truth is that TEKS only allows teaching weaknesses based on “scientific evidence and information.”
If a science teacher were to bring religion into the classroom, it would be in spite of, and in violation of, the “strengths and weaknesses” wording, not because of it.
If “strengths and weaknesses” had been bringing religion into the classroom, eager critics would have quickly filed lawsuits.
Yet there have been no such challenges in Texas over the past decade that the “strengths and weaknesses” wording has been in place.
There is no evidence that “strengths and weaknesses” has brought any religion into the science classroom, and there appears to be even less reason to suppose this will change.
Perhaps what the 21st Century Science Coalition fears is criticism of a naturalistic Darwinistic worldview, the view that science has explained (or will someday) that life and everything is simply an accident of chemistry and physics.
That worldview, cherished by some in the scientific community and promoted heavily in the proposed Earth and Space Science TEKS standards, has several serious scientific weaknesses that students deserve to understand.
It is not enough to let statements like “most scientists believe . . .” put an end to critical thinking.
To be prepared for science in the 21st century, students must understand why some scientists accept, and others doubt, particular theories based on the nature of the evidence and the magnitude of the phenomena being explained.
The ideas embedded in evolutionary theory are too important to treat superficially. Let’s teach more about evolution, not less, and give the students of Texas enough scientific evidence to decide for themselves.
Charles Garner is a chemistry professor at Baylor University.