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Texas Committee: High Schoolers Can’t Handle Evidence on Darwinism, Warts and All

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Last week, I testified in Austin, Texas, about the latest skirmish over how evolution is taught in Texas public high schools. I want it taught, warts and all. Darwinists want it taught as airbrushed and unquestionable dogma.

The state school board meeting was called to consider initial steps to streamline the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Streamlining is fine, in principle. The problem is that some of the proposed changes to the evolution section water down four passages that call on students to learn about, analyze, and evaluate some of the growing evidential challenges to modern evolutionary theory.

So, for instance, what are we to make of the sudden appearance of new species and fundamentally new body plans in the fossil record? Neo-Darwinism says these animal forms evolved very gradually as part of the evolutionary tree of life, but the pattern in the geological column paints a different picture. Shouldn’t biology students be able to exercise their critical thinking skills by wrestling with this conundrum? The majority on the biology committee weren’t keen on that idea. They struck the sudden appearance language from the TEKS and argued that high school students aren’t mature enough to hear about it and ask intelligent questions. Not “developmentally appropriate,” the committee report said.

And, besides, said Karyn Ard, the chair of the biology curriculum review committee, there’s not enough time to cover it during the school year. There’s too much other material they have to cover. Ditto the growing mystery surrounding the origin of the first life.

Since I substitute taught in the Austin Independent School District for a year before I started graduate school, I could sympathize with Ard when she emphasized the wide disparity in student ability and the challenge teachers face to cover all the assigned material adequately. At the same time, the very real effect of the committee’s streamlining is to get rid of just those areas that best expose kids to the growing evidential challenges facing evolution, while leaving behind all kinds of pro-Darwinian propaganda woven into the fabric of the leading high school biology textbooks.

Covering for Darwin

Significantly, the pro-Darwin Texas Freedom Network (TFN) has had it in for these four hot-button passages ever since the passages made their way into the TEKS a few years ago. So it’s no surprise that TFN is celebrating the proposed deletions.

Ard told the board that the biology committee’s motives were focused squarely on streamlining, that she wasn’t even aware of the TFN until recently, and that their proposed deletions were not in any way politically motivated. My first reaction was: Really? The committee just happened to water down precisely the four passages the pro-Darwin TFN named as public enemy number 1, and the committee includes a vocal Darwin defender, Ron Wetherington, but somehow it was never the committee’s intent to put a giant thumb on the scale for Darwin?

Wetherington himself testified a bit later and made it abundantly obvious that he’s had it in for these four passages since they first made it into the TEKS. Some able cross-examination from conservative state school board member Marty Rowley (Amarillo) further underscored this fact.

In all fairness, Ard may indeed have been largely unaware of what was at stake, or at least had little interest in or knowledge about the origins controversy and was merely happy not to have to cover it during a biology course jam packed with other material. She insisted that when Wetherington debated evolution with molecular biologist Ray Bohlin and Baylor University chemistry professor Charles Garner during their curriculum revision meetings, she and several of the other committee members were at sea, unable to follow the discussion.

OK, but that brings me to the second thought I had on hearing Ard’s plea of non-political motives: Intent is secondary. The primary issue is effect. And the effect of watering down these four sections of the TEKS would be to give biology teachers who want to teach the scientific controversy over modern evolutionary theory less cover than they have now.

And here’s why that’s a problem. The national Darwin lobby is in the habit of targeting and persecuting teachers and professors who dare call into question Darwinian dogma. Discovery Institute has come to the aid of many teachers and professors who have been targeted by militant Darwinists intent on suppressing the evidence against modern evolutionary theory. That pattern of attack and suppression is why Texas biology teachers with the courage to teach the controversy can use all the cover that the state board of education and the TEKS can give them.

More hearings are set for early next year, and a final meeting and decision in April. It’s in Texas’s best interest that at least eight members of the board (a majority) find the clarity and courage to do the right thing by voting to preserve these key passages in the current standards, standards that free biology teachers to safely teach students to scrutinize evolutionary theory, objectively, critically, and scientifically.

Cross-posted from The Stream.
Photo: Marine iguana, Galápagos Islands, by Sputnikcccp at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.