2008 Archives

Hearing on state school science standards rich in rhetoric

Proposal to require teaching 'strengths and limitations' of theories met with mixed reaction


The following is from the Nov. 20, 2008, edition of The Austin American-Statesman. Anthropology Professor Ronald K. Wetherington of SMU's Dedman College spoke at Wednesday's meeting of the Texas Board of Education.

November 20, 2008

By Molly Bloom

As the State Board of Education weighed proposed changes to how science is taught in Texas public school classrooms during a meeting Wednesday, rhetoric and linguistic nuances dominated the discussion rather than talk of test tubes and, well, science.

The revised science standards will outline what will be taught about science to every public school student in the state. Some educators speaking at a hearing during the meeting questioned the organization and depth of what students would be required to learn, but most of the public discussion focused on changes in how evolution and the scientific process would be taught.

A committee of science teachers and curriculum experts had recommended that teachers not be required to teach ideas "based upon purported forces outside of nature" and the "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories.

The strengths and weaknesses language has been included in the state curriculum since 1988, and critics say it has opened the door to teaching creationism alongside evolution. Those who believe that the strengths and weaknesses language should remain say it encourages open discussion and critical thinking in classrooms.

However, the board last month appointed a six-member panel of experts to review the revised curriculum that included one of the leading proponents of intelligent design, which holds that the origins of the universe stem from a higher power, and two scientists who have said they have doubts about the theory of evolution.

A new version of the proposed curriculum released this week effectively reintroduced the requirement to teach the weaknesses of scientific theories by mandating that students "analyze and evaluate strengths and limitations" of scientific explanations. . .

Almost 90 people signed up to speak at Wednesday's hearing. After a request by board Chairman Don McLeroy to avoid both applause and jeers, the crowd was fairly subdued.

But the speakers didn't hold back in their comments to the board.

Southern Methodist University anthropology professor Ronald Wetherington, a committee member who was nominated (to the experts panel) by board members Patricia Hardy and Geraldine Miller, said Wednesday that specifically requiring the teaching of theories' strengths and weaknesses would be confusing.

Wetherington said simply requiring students to learn how to analyze and evaluate scientific theories covers the same ground. "The more words you use, the more confusing it can get," he said.

Read the full story.

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