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Time Magazine Reports: “If It’s Broken, Don’t Fix it”

The February 13, 2006 issue of Time has a cover article asking “Is America Flunking Science?” The article notes that while the U.S. is still the world’s leader in science, it appears to be losing its edge.

“Some critics have tried to put the blame for the U.S.’s scientific decline on President George W. Bush, citing … his statements in support of ”intelligent design’ as an alternative to evolution…”

Yet given that intelligent design isn’t being mandated in a single district in the country, I’m pretty sure these critics are just blowing smoke. A much more reasonable observer would say, “if there’s a problem in science education in America today, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that the problem is being caused by the status quo?” The status quo includes the fact that in the vast majority of districts across the U.S., evolution is taught in a one-sided, pro-evolution, and dogmatic manner without any mention of dissenting views.

The article makes another interesting observation:

“Perhaps even more important than the struggle of U.S. students to keep pace with their international peers is their failure to keep up in enthusiasm for the subject. … Stanford University president John Hennessy is worried about a lack of role models, among other things. ‘We have [TV} shows about doctors, lawyers, politicians. Where are our role models of scientific innovation?’ asks Hennessy.”

Will this role model inspire student interest in science?:

“And finally the destructive part of the disclaimer that is on the text books in Georgia is the last sentence and it says something to the effect of that students are urged to study this material carefully, critically examine it and consider it with an open mind. Now think about what this means to a student. It means to a student that you’re supposed to do this to evolution but that every other topic in that book need not be critically considered or examined with an open mind. We are telling that we are certain of everything within science except for evolution and I can’t think of a worse policy in terms of scientific education and unfortunately that is what the Intelligent Design Movement has led to. A lot of bad teaching a lot of bad ideas about science.”

Biologist Dr. Kenneth Miller, star Darwinist expert biology witness in the Dover and Cobb County trials, on NPR, November 19, 2004

This is a perplexing statement from Dr. Miller: he seems to say that if we permit students to question evolution, then they’ll question everything. But then he is afraid that somehow this policy would lead students to believe that we are “certain” about everything in science (which of course, all would agree is not true). Yet in reality, the critical analysis policy in Cobb County would really to lead to the view that students and scientists SHOULD ask hard questions. Now Miller is a widely reputed textbook author and I’m sure that he wants his students to ask hard questions, but when leading biologists oppose critical analsyis policies for such bizarre reasons, this surely will not inspire enthusiasm for science in students.

But teaching students about views which both support, and question, evolution, and then allowing them to evaluate and investigate this issue for themselves, will increase their interest in science!
Time magazine tells us that science education is broken, but then the critics imply we should retain the cause of the problem: the status quo. Surely science education in America is a complex problem requiring a multi-faceted solution. But one part of the solution could be teaching students about the debate over evolution rather than pretending that there is one, and only one correct viewpoint over Neo-Darwinism. We know that teaching the controversy over evolution will increase student interest in science and make them better critical thinkers. Here’s how it can be done:

  • Require all biology courses to discuss both strengths and weaknesses of evolution

  • But do NOT mandate the teaching of alternative theories like ID

  • Protect teacher academic freedom to present minority scientific viewpoints at their own discretion

See Discovery Institute’s Science Education Policy for details on how to improve science education.

Note: this post edited to provide extra context and clarity for Ken Miller’s quote on Sat, Feb 11, 2006.