We observed here already that the media have misrepresented the results of Friday’s vote by the Texas Board of Education. But you don’t have to take our word for it. A member of the Board, Barbara Cargill, has issued this statement in clarification:
Revised Biology TEKS Continue to Require Critical Thinking on Evolution
The debate about whether to teach the scientific strengths and limitations of theories, like evolution, presents an incredible opportunity for good science instruction that will develop critical thinkers. Having taught biology for many years, I assure you that high school students are smart, savvy, and curious. A sound teaching strategy that motivates and inspires students is to allow them to discuss multiple scientific explanations for controversial subjects. We must educate our students — not indoctrinate them by presenting only a portion of the scientific evidence that is known. This is especially true when the science community is well aware there are multiple plausible, yet limited, scientific theories regarding mysteries in science, like the origin of life.
On Friday, April 21, the State Board of Education voted on the final language for the streamlined TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). Some news reports have given erroneous information about the revised standards. The streamlined TEKS in biology continue to call for critical thinking in the study of theories such as evolution. They specifically call for students to “analyze and evaluate” the evidence for common ancestry and Darwinian natural selection. They further call for students to “compare and contrast scientific explanations for cellular complexity.” And they call on students to “examine scientific explanations of abrupt appearance and stasis in the fossil record” and “examine scientific explanations for the origin of DNA.” I want to be perfectly clear about the board’s decision to use the word “examine” in the revised standards. The definition of the word “examine” is “to inspect something in detail to determine its nature or condition; to investigate thoroughly.” Synonyms include “scrutinize, investigate, probe, appraise, analyze, review, evaluate, and survey.” It is obvious that the intent is for students to apply these critical thinking skills to the various scientific theories about the origin of life.
Another very important standard is, “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.” The intent of this language is to allow students to take a deeper look at scientific evidence and to analyze, evaluate, and critique theories, whether the theory is evolution or any other theory.
Science is full of mystery and constant discovery, and by applying the scientific process, students will be challenged to think “outside the box” when it comes to theories. We want to encourage critical thinking by encouraging students to question, predict, analyze, and evaluate. Perhaps the “unknowns” will motivate more of our students to go into the field of science! Science should be open to close scrutiny and debate no matter where the evidence leads. Only then can we hope that our students will become great thinkers.
From Mrs. Cargill’s official biography:
Barbara Cargill, a science educator from The Woodlands, represents parts of the Greater Houston and Southeast Texas area on the State Board of Education. As an appointee of Gov. Rick Perry, she served as chair of the state board from July 1, 2011 through June 18, 2015, the maximum time allowable under state law.
A Republican, Cargill was first elected to a four-year term of office on the board in November 2004 and was re-elected in 2008, 2012, and 2016. During her board tenure, she has served as chair and vice chair of the board’s Committee on Instruction.
There is room to debate about the best policies for educating young people, but no room for distorting the policies already in place.
Photo: Texas State Capitol, via Wikicommons.