Tara Voelker's thoughts. A lot about video games, a little about life
Oh, Texas. Please lean to science.
About every ten years the Texas Board of Education reviews the science standards that set what basic level of scientific knowledge every student is expected to learn at each grade level. This year happened to be one such year that the standards came up for review. This should have just been a boring board meeting, but this simple event has grabbed the attention of the press. Why would this be such a big deal? The big topic this year was whether teachers should be mandated to teach the strengths and weaknesses of each scientific theory or if they should be required to teach students to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical data.
Confused on why this should be such a big deal? Don’t worry. It’s not your fault. It’s actually much more complicated than it should be. Let me give you the back story.
Roughly twenty years ago, the Texas Board of Education passed a standard that stated teachers were required to give both strengths and weaknesses of any scientific theory. No one really paid attention to any of it until more recent years when teaching students evolution versus creationism, or even intelligent design, became a hot topic.
Many conservatives, namely Christian conservatives, latched onto this and began requesting that students be taught the evidence against evolution. That’s something that I’m fine with. I personally don’t think that there is much (if any) there, but I believe that students should be given any and all information they can be given so that they can make informed decisions. What I don’t support it are people twisting evolutionary evidence to imply that there was a divine being gently guiding where evolution was headed, which is something that was being done. There were some who would take the “weaknesses” of evolution and imply that if there was some sort of divine intervention, all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together a little more nicely.
Before I continue I would like to give some explain to the word “theory” in terms of science. When the word theory is used by the scientific community, they are describing something that is formed by empirical data and observed phenomena that can used as a general principle to explain why something is happening. To sum up, something based off of evidence that explains stuff. Our current understanding of gravity and physics comes from the theory general relativity. That’s right, gravity is a theory.
The conservatives mentioned earlier never pushed for this standard to be enforced on all theories. There have never been stickers on physics books stating “The physics in this book are based off the theory of general relativity, which has not been proven as fact and must be viewed with an open mind.” But this was never about all scientific theories, just one.
So, like I said, the Texas Board of Education voted. It was decided that the students would be given data, and then required to analyze it. This prevents the strengths and weaknesses for any theory from being guided one way or the other. It may seem like something small, but it’s a big win for everyone hoping to give our young people a good scientific foundation.
Sadly, one board member, Ken Mercer, stated that this whole thing was a “a battle over freedom of speech.” It really does sadden me that this couldn’t be over education.
Maybe some day that States will be like Great Britain, where every publicly funded school is required to teach that the fossil record is evidence for evolution….