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Seems Like Old Times: Texas Media (Again) Miss the Real Story on State’s Science Standards

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As we’ve pointed out already, some in the Texas news media have really mangled their reporting about the revised science standards adopted last week by the State Board of Education. Reporters are suggesting (in contradiction to a Board member) that the Board killed off critical thinking about evolution in the revised standards.

The current misreporting is especially amusing if you’ve followed the history of science standard battles in Texas over the years. This has happened before.

The science standards that were streamlined this year were originally adopted in 2009. Back then, the Texas media actually claimed the standards represented a big defeat for those of us who favor the critical analysis of evolution. Indeed, reporters insisted in 2009 that the science standards stripped out critical analysis. At the time, I pointed out otherwise, but few in the Texas media were willing to listen. Taking their cues from dogmatically pro-Darwin lobbying groups, many reporters simply parroted what those groups said.

Now fast-forward to 2017. Flatly contradicting their reporting from 2009, Texas media this year have spent months portraying the 2009 standards as the epitome of badness because — you guessed it — they actually call for students to evaluate the evidence for biological and chemical evolution! In other words, the very standards that were praised in 2009 for saving Darwinian evolution by eliminating critical inquiry have been portrayed this year as a danger to the republic because they not only promote critical inquiry, but they somehow secretly opened the door to intelligent design or even creationism.

Of course, the standards adopted in 2009 didn’t open the door to either creationism or intelligent design. But they did include critical inquiry — just like we said back when they were adopted. I guess I should be grateful that the Texas media finally admitted we were correct on that point — even if it took them eight years to do it!

Yet here they go again down the road of shoddy reporting. When the Texas Board of Education last week made some small changes to the 2009 standards, pro-Darwin lobbyists dusted off their talking points and again claimed that the new revisions removed critical analysis as well as striking a blow against “creationism” and “intelligent design.” Once again, reporters are spreading the story uncritically.

But the current reporting is no more accurate than the reporting back in 2009. For one thing, the science standards battle this year (just like in 2009) had nothing to do with opening the door to either creationism or intelligent design. In addition, although Board members made some minor changes in wording, they strongly rejected efforts by some on the science standards streamlining committee to gut language calling on students to think critically about evolution and other science issues.

In fact, the revised standards adopted last week include terms like “critique,” “examine,” “compare and contrast,” and, yes, the nefarious “analyze and evaluate.” As Board member Barbara Cargill has pointed out, the revised standards explicitly call for students to “analyze and evaluate” both the evidence for natural selection and the evidence for common ancestry. There is also an overall standard requiring students to “analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.”

Apparently, just like Zombie Science in textbooks, the same fake news stories in Texas are destined to keep coming back! At some point, you’d think reporters would be embarrassed about this sort of “zombie journalism.”

Photo: Newspaper vending machines, Austin, TX, by barryrjonesjr via Pixabay.