Scientists unite for science curriculum

October 1, 2008 3:22:48 AM PDT
Scientists from Texas universities on Tuesday denounced what they called supernatural and religious teaching in public school science classrooms and voiced opposition to attempts to water down evolution instruction. The newly formed 21st Century Science Coalition said so far it has 800 members who have signed up online.

"Texas public schools should be preparing our kids to succeed in the 21st century, not promoting political and ideological agendas that are hostile to a sound science education," said David Hillis, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin.

The State Board of Education is considering new science curriculum standards. It is expected to vote next spring. Because Texas is such a large purchaser of textbooks, its ongoing science debate affects textbooks nationwide.

An academic work group proposed that Texas standards for biology courses eliminate the long-held language of teaching students the "strengths and weaknesses" of theories.

The science coalition supports that language change because it says talking of "weaknesses" of evolution allows for religion-based concepts like creationism and intelligent design to enter the instruction. The Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based group that says it monitors the influence of the religious right, also praises the proposed language change.

But they say they fear State Board of Education members, led by chairman and creationist Don McLeroy, will switch the language back before the final vote.

Even at Baylor University in Waco, the world's largest Baptist university, professors don't teach creationism because it's not based on science, said Richard Duhrkopf, an associate professor of biology.

"We shouldn't be teaching the supernatural in science classrooms," Duhrkopf said. "It's time to keep religion and faith in the Sunday schools and not in the public schools." McLeroy denies he is trying to force religion and the supernatural into Texas schools.

"I'm getting sick and tired or people saying we're interjecting religion," he said. "We're certainly not interjecting religion. Not at all."

McLeroy says he supports restoring the "strengths and weaknesses" language and said working groups left some form of that language in the proposed standards for chemistry and astronomy. He also said he supports the "testable explanations" approach advocated by the National Academy of Sciences.

"Texas students need to understand what science is and what its limitation are," McLeroy said Tuesday, repeating part of an opinion piece he wrote in August. "I look at evolution as still a hypothesis with weaknesses."

Federal courts have ruled against forcing the teaching of creationism and intelligent design. So teaching the strengths and weaknesses of theories such as evolution has become "code" for pushing religion-based ideas in schools, said Dan Quinn, spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network.

"It's time for the State Board of Education to listen to experts instead of promoting their own personal and political agendas," Quinn said.

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