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Education Reporter

Texas Science Standards Allow Critical Thinking
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The Texas State Board of Education debated numerous possible changes to the state's science standards before making several key decisions. The standards as finally adopted protect critical thinking and free inquiry by requiring that schools teach science in a way that "examin[es] all sides of scientific evidence."

The editorial page of the New York Times accused "religious and social conservatives" of trying "to insert into the state science standards various phrases and code words that may seem innocuous or meaningless at first glance but could open the door to doubts about evolution." (3-31-09)

The standards formerly called for the teaching of the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. Some critics strongly objected to that language, believing that any weaknesses in the theory of evolution should not be taught. After much debate, the board decided to replace the "strengths and weaknesses" wording. Some individuals on both sides of the debate claimed this as a victory: apparently both sides could agree that examining all sides of the scientific evidence and encouraging critical thinking were suitable goals for the education standards to adopt.

The newly adopted language requires schools:

"In all fields of Science; [to] 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."

As part of its decision-making process, the Board examined hundreds of articles from mainstream scientific journals, which demonstrated ongoing debate and controversy over some of evolutionary biology's major claims. Dr. John West of the Discovery Institute applauded the new standards and defended the Board against the accusations made by such critics as the New York Times editorial page. "Contrary to the claims of the evolution lobby, absolutely nothing the Board did promotes 'creationism' or religion in the classroom," said West. "Groups that assert otherwise are lying, plain and simple. . . . Let's be absolutely clear: Under the new standards, students will be expected to analyze and evaluate the scientific evidence for evolution, not religion. Period."

The board received tens of thousands of emails, calls, faxes and letters from interested citizens. In January, a national telephone poll by Zogby found that 78% of likely voters favor the teaching of evidence both for and against Darwin's theory in public schools. This number is up from 69% in 2006.

Like the New York Times, the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), a liberal group, objects to the new standards. TFN reports on its blog that another portion of the new standards could affect the way global warming will be taught in Texas schools. In December, a writing team drafted environmental systems curriculum standards that required schools to "discuss the positive and negative influence of commonly held ethical beliefs on scientific practices such as methods used to increase food production or the existence of global warming." This ambiguous language seems to invite schools to accuse those who question manmade global warming of being motivated by their "ethical beliefs" rather than by the evidence. The board chose instead to adopt a standard calling for analysis of "how ethical beliefs can be used to influence scientific practices such as methods of increasing food production." In a separate item, the board called for students to "analyze and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming." TFN and other critics claim that there are no legitimate dissenting views on global warming — a claim that is patently false. (tfnblog.wordpress.com; Houston Chronicle 3-27-9)

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