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Attention Texans for Sound Science Education

As sort of a follow up to a pre-election post I made here, I wanted to be sure all Texas readers are in the loop on something very important. On November 19, 2008, people of all professions and backgrounds will converge on the State Board of Education meeting in Austin to testify in support of sound science standards in Texas public schools.

As mentioned many times previously, the standards set by the Texas State Board of Education impact the textbooks used throughout the US. And if the creationist cabal that makes up a good portion of the Texas State Board is not kept in check, children all over the country could be reading about the “weaknesses of evolution”; which is simply the new trick creationists are using to slip religion into science classrooms.

If you can, please make plans to attend and do your part.

See the email containing all the pertinent information from Steven Newton and the amazing Eugenie C. Scott of the National Center for Science Education, Inc. after the fold.

Dear Texas Friends,

If it is at all possible for you to attend the November 19, 2008 board of education meeting in Austin to testify in support of sound science education standards, please, please do so. . . . .

If it is not possible for you to attend, please provide feedback on the standards at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/teks/scienceTEKS.html

The primary issue is whether evolution will be treated with integrity, or whether the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the science  standards) will capitulate to political pressure and require textbook publishers to include disguised creationism in books submitted for adoption in Texas. These TEKS will form the basis for science curriculum for years to come.

The first draft of the new TEKS has been released and reviewed by an outside committee. Now that the TEKS language is becoming finalized, it is important that the SBOE hear from as many concerned citizens as possible.

The matter of primary concern is the wording of the standard C. Knowledge  and Skills, #3, Scientific Processes, A. (in short, “Process Skill 3A).  In the current version of the TEKS, it reads:

C. Knowledge and Skills
(3) Scientific Processes. The student uses critical thinking and  scientific problem solving to make informed decisions. The student is  expected to:
(A) analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including  hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using  scientific evidence and information.

Although on the surface this sounds like a reasonable, “critical  thinking” educational standard encouraging students to evaluate scientific explanations, in practice it has been used to attack evolution in the curriculum. In 2003, textbook publishers were  threatened with  having to include “weaknesses of evolution” – i.e., creationist arguments  like “gaps in the fossil record” and “irreducible complexity” along with evolution. These attacks were narrowly defeated after much controversy  and considerable effort from scientists and teachers.

During the current 2008 revision of the standards, committees of scientists and teachers are suggesting new wording for Process Skill 3A to the Board of Education. Wording was changed from “strengths and weaknesses” to something that better encourages TRUE critical thinking:

C. 3. (A) analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical  evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing;

We encourage everyone concerned about science education in Texas to make their opinions known to the board. Public input is an important part of this process, and numbers count.

You can also make your opinions known during the upcoming State Board of  Education meeting, which will take place Wednesday, November 19th,  beginning at 9:00 AM in room 1-104 of the TEA building, 1701 N. Congress, in Austin. Point 7 of the agenda will involve TEKS science standards, and  will probably be taken up late morning or shortly after lunch.  Information on this meeting and a full agenda for the meeting can be found here:  http://www.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/mtg_mat_current.html

To testify, you must sign up on either Friday, November 14 or Monday,  November 17, either in person at TEA between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM, or by filling out a form and faxing it to them. No one will be allowed to  testify who has not signed up in advance. Sign up early! The form is at
http://www.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/forms/registration_testimony.html. You  want to check “Committee of the Full Board”, and fax the form to  512-936-4319. You may also telephone in your registration to 512-463-9007.

You have only 3 minutes to testify, so make your testimony count. Explain your qualifications to speak on the topic (including being a  taxpayer/parent/scientist/teacher – whatever combination describes you). You should make only one or at the most two points, make them succinctly,  and preferably bring 35 copies of your testimony to distribute to the board and staff. Stress the importance of teaching evolution without phony “weaknesses” not recognized by professional  scientists.

And feel free to consult with us for additional ideas. Numbers count!  Please sign up to testimony if you possibly can, and also comment on the  posted standards, supporting the wording that avoids the  creationist-inspired “weaknesses” language.

Thanks for your support of evolution education. For more information on Texas evolution education issues, please visit:  http://www.texscience.org/

Please, Skepchick readers, do whatever you can.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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8 Comments

  1. @stacie:

    Also, stacie, if you are able to make the meeting, do you think you can take a few notes or something, and let me know the general vibe and how the meeting plays out? If it looks interesting enough, perhaps I can post a follow-up.

  2. For more information about what is happening in Texas, visit the Texas Citizens for Science site at http://www.texscience.org/ and my blog at http://www.chron.com/commons/readerblogs/evosphere.html. Much more information than NCSE provides is at http://www.texscience.org/releases/2008nov19-science-standards.htm.

    Many TCS members and I will be in Austin on Nov 19 to testify about the science standards. Also, afterward we are meeting at El Mercado Mexican Restaurant on Lavaca at 17th St., just one block from the TEA building.

    Steven Schafersman, President
    Texas Citizens for Science

  3. @throwback1986:

    The only suggestion I would have would be to follow the advice of the NCSE:

    Explain your qualifications to speak on the topic (including being a taxpayer/parent/scientist/teacher – whatever combination describes you). You should make only one or at the most two points, make them succinctly, and preferably bring 35 copies of your testimony to distribute to the board and staff. Stress the importance of teaching evolution without phony “weaknesses” not recognized by professional scientists.

    Also, you might want to exalt good science and its efficacy while pointing out that any so called weaknesses in evolution have been derived from bad science, wishful thinking, or outright lying.

  4. Agreed – my approach was to tie existing science standards to US high school students’ dismal ranking in math/science. They rank consistently at the bottom, and we can’t afford any further erosion in the quality of our students’ education.

    I am striving to avoid insulting their simple-minded views of creation. Instead, I want to emphasize the nature of the scientific method, its objectivity, and its standards of rigor. In the interest of a sound science curriculum, I will save the insults for another day ;)

    Cheers,
    Brett

    and focus solely on the

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