Monday, May 10, 2004

Curriculum Developments There have been a number of developments on the curriculum front. Thanks to Stranger Fruit for providing some of these links.

A while back I reported on the travails of Darby, Montana, which was debating whether to adopt an “objective origins” policy in their science classes. Of course, “objective origins” is creationese for “biased in favor of our own idiosyncratic religious beliefs”. Happily, the good people of Darby voted out the chief backer of this policy, and elected an opponent of the policy. You can get the full story here. Here's an excerpt:

Darby school board voters, clearly weary of a rancorous battle over a controversial science policy, swept incumbent trustee chairwoman Gina Schallenberger out of office Tuesday and replaced her with a new trustee opposed to the so-called "objective origins" policy.

Erik Abrahamsen, whose campaign included his opposition to the policy, was elected to the board along with incumbent Bob Wetzsteon. Wetzsteon and Abrahamsen pummeled Schallenberger and a fourth candidate, Robert House, who had hitched his campaign to Schallenberger's, supporting objective origins.

Alas, the victory might be short-lived. AgapePress is reporting that two candidates for the Republican nomination for governor are running on platforms that include teaching creationism. That story is available here:

A candidate for governor of Montana is voicing support for the teaching of creationism in public schools.

The Darby School Board recently adopted an “objective origins” science policy that allows criticisms of the theory of evolution to be taught in district schools. It is a move that has generated increasing discussion in Montana over the creation/evolution debate.

Former state senator Ken Miller, who is now seeking the governorship of Montana, believes teaching of creation in the classroom should be basic and should not include biblical scripture verses. He feels it is important that information about creationism be presented scientifically so that students and their parents can make a fully informed comparison between it and Darwinism.

“If we're going to present the theory of evolution,” Miller says, “then we also need to present the theory of creationism and then allow both of them to be presented to the children. And then they with their parents [can] decide what they believe to be true and what they want in their lives.”

What Miller is promoting here is the “equal time” approach, which was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1987. In that case, “creationism” referred to the young-Earth version. It is possible that Miller has something less extreme in mind, in which case it might manage to pass constitutional muster.

Arizona is also gearing up for a fight, as reported here:

Teaching science is back on the classroom agenda, and along with it comes the debate over teaching the theory of evolution.

Scientists say it is not the kind of argument Arizona should be engaging in if it wants to attract national attention as a hub of biotechnology research.

Dozens of scientists and teachers are poring over Arizona's science standards, which haven't been updated since 1998. The exercise is an important one because it is meant to prepare students for a new statewide AIMS science test by 2008.

But revisiting the standards has reopened the controversy over how to teach evolution without stepping on beliefs that God, or even several Gods, created the world and human beings.

The article's next paragraph deserves some comment:

Scientists say the evolution theory that started with Charles Darwin's monkey-to-man premise and the fossil record of an old and evolving planet is the same one that is at work when researchers learn how bacteria evolve into drug-resistant strains. It is even at work when a new type of dog is created through selective breeding.

Charles Darwin's “monkey-to-man premise” could be more accurately described as his “recent common ancestry of apes and man conclusion”. I love the writer's tone of child-like fascination that selective breeding of dogs and drug-resistant bacteria have anything to do with evolution.

The article also contains this interesting paragraph:

Meanwhile, some science teachers who are also people of faith struggle with their classroom objectives.

Willie Longreed is a Stanford University-trained scientist who teaches at Tuba City High School and also believes in the traditional Navajo religion, which says that many Gods, called The Holy People, created the world and humans.

Longreed also is a member of the committee that's working on the latest set of science standards. He calls evolution theory the crux of the biological sciences, and every day walks among its evidence of fossils, ancient footprints and the timeline found in stratified rocks.

Longreed calls science "observation," which he teaches in the classroom, and his faith "all assumption," which he "tiptoes around" when teaching. As for his personal peace, Longreed said he has found a balance between the two, having faith in The Holy People but also having faith in antibiotics, which the theory of evolution helped to produce.

Said Longreed: "You have to hear both sides of the issue and fit yourself in."

Creationists routinely pretend that our only choices are Darwin's theory of evolution and the creation story of Genesis. They conveniently ignore the fact that many religions have creation stories. Once we open the door to non-scientific theories in science classrooms, it doesn't end with Genesis.

Finally, Pharyngula has this encouraging post about developments in Minnesota:

Our state senate voted down an attempt to modify the science education standards with an amendment authored by the Intelligent Design creationist wing of the Republican party. The amendment was the same as the one approved by the House a while back.

This is good news, but we’re not done yet. The House and Senate versions of the science standards still need to be reconciled, and now everything moves into backroom conference committees. Let’s hope Senator Steve Kelley can keep doing his good work on this matter.

Incidentally, as recent developments in Montana and Minnesota once again illustrate, teaching creationism in science classes is entirely a Republican fetish. I don't know of a single instance where a Democrat has instigated or supported such a policy.