My freshman year of high school, when the teacher reached the section about evolution, he began by telling us that though there may be alternative explanations, they were not science and would not be discussed in class. He would be happy, however, to speak with any students about them after class. The evolution chapter then proceeded like any other lesson, with lectures and labs and an exam at the end.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that my experience may have been somewhat rare, particularly for conservative Indiana. I once met an elementary school teacher who feared being asked questions about evolution and wouldn’t answer them, telling her students to ask their parents instead. One friend’s high school skipped over the topic completely. But by this point in my life, I wasn’t surprised by these stories, having seen efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution in Georgia, Kansas and Pennsylvania (and since then Louisiana). Avoiding the topic seems somewhat mild compared with efforts to foist creationism or its cousin, intelligent design, on students.
The battle has now moved to Texas, where this week the state’s Board of Education is considering requiring teachers to instruct high school students on the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories, particularly evolution. Weaknesses, though, is simply code for “evolution is wrong.” Those who pull out that argument do not argue for science; they want creationism or intelligent design taught in its place, though they have learned to be circumspect about their goals. You can see from this liveblog of the board’s meeting this week, by a Houston Chronicle reporter, that several of the people who spoke out on the first day for the “strengths and weaknesses” language had a religious agenda. And they have half of the board on their side, including the board chairman, who believes the earth is only 6,000 years old.
You would think that a board of education would have education (i.e., teaching children things that are not false) be their first priority, but it appears that the Texas board, or at least part of it, does not. Of course, the really scary bit of all of this is that where Texas goes in textbooks, so does much of the country. Because it's such a big market, textbook publishers try to make their books fit Texas's standards. If Texas requires weaknesses to be included, those false arguments could end up in your child’s schoolroom, even if you live thousands of miles away.
So, Texans, speak up. Teach your children about the wonder of evolution. Tell the board to leave out that silly “strengths and weaknesses” line. If you live elsewhere, keep a lookout for efforts like these.
National Center for Science Education
Evolution Resources from the National Academies
Science, Evolution and Creationism (free PDF download)