In near reversal, state school board approves ‘examining all sides’ of science theories

By Jerry Pierce
Apr 17, 2009

AUSTIN—One day after failing to uphold a 20-year-old requirement that Texas public high school students evaluate the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories, including evolution, the State Board of Education on March 27 ratified new standards requiring biology students to “analyze, evaluate and critique” scientific theories.

Additionally, the language, approved by a 13-2 vote, requires “examining all sides of scientific evidence” and encourages “critical thinking.”

Jonathan Saenz, legislative affairs director for the Plano, Texas-based Free Market Foundation, said the board action was “a huge victory for school students and validation that the people of Texas and the State Board of Education reject censorship in the classroom and embrace open and critical discussion in the science classroom.”

Saenz wrote on his blog that he believed the mounting pressure from the public on the elected board was evident in the vote.

Meanwhile, Texas Citizens for Science’s Steven Schafersman stated that while the new language is preferred to the “strengths and weaknesses” requirement, he wrote on a blog for the Houston Chronicle: “Of course, the new language can be read (“all sides of scientific evidence”) that will permit anti-evolution Creationists to attack Biology textbooks, and they most certainly will …”

Following several amendments and counter amendments to wording the board initially approved in January, the board adopted the following language: “In all fields of Science; analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations of science by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.”

Democrats Rene Nunez and Mary Helen Berlanga were the lone dissent.

Texas science standards are revised every 10 years, which makes the Texas decision important for textbook publishers, who are reluctant to publish multiple editions for different states, and for smaller states that must buy available textbooks.

The education board was bombarded with e-mails, letters, phone calls and editorials from evolution-only proponents and critics in the weeks leading up to the meeting March 25-27 in Austin.

On Friday afternoon, the board was debating final approval of amendments dealing with the analysis and evaluation of the key evolution tenets of common descent and natural selection, which were also initially approved in January and the source of angst for evolution-only proponents.

The effort to retain the “strengths and weaknesses” requirement failed March 26 in a 7-7 vote with Berlanga absent.

Supporters of evolution had assailed the 20-year-old “strengths and weaknesses” clause as a back door to teaching biblical creationism, while evolution-only critics spoke of weaknesses in Darwinian theory.

Those who testified March 25 before the board included Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education and a vocal critic of the intelligent design movement, and Pierre Velasquez of San Antonio, a 31-year veteran science teacher who said preventing teachers from discussing strengths and weaknesses in scientific theories would stifle classroom discussion.

The Texas Republican Party entered the fray on March 7, adopting a resolution titled “Supporting Rigorous Educational Standards for Science in Texas” that opposed abandoning the strengths and weaknesses requirement.

Campaigning for evolution-only instruction was the Texas Freedom Network, founded by Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and daughter of the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards. TFN, which bills itself as “a mainstream voice to counter the religious right,” has mounted a “Stand Up for Science” campaign that included a March rally at First United Methodist Church in Austin.

A national Zogby poll released earlier this year showed 78 percent of respondents favored “teaching evidence for and against Darwin’s Theory.”

This article is reprinted from the April 6, 2009, issue of the Southern Baptist Texan, the newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

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