Evolution Theories: Stories vs. Facts
To the Editor:
Thank you for an interesting and frightening article about the Kansas board of education's elimination of evolution from the state's science standards ("Kansas Evolution Controversy Gives Rise to National Debate," Sept. 8, 1999). Hurrah for Harvard and New York University geology professor Stephen Jay Gould and Bill Nye, public television's "Science Guy," for speaking out, and bravo to Tom Bonnell's Commentary ("One Misstep for Kansas; One Quantum Leap Backward for Its Students," Sept. 8, 1999). It's almost unbelievable that an evolution controversy still exists.
Schools should teach historical and scientific facts, based on the scientific method. The biblical view of creation is not a "theory" in any way, shape, or form. It is part of someone's religion, or of mythology if you will. Gov. George W. Bush of Texas says he thinks the creation story is important because "children should be exposed to different theories about how the world began." Then how about the creation story where the frog burps up all the people? Or the Mayan story where Plumed Serpent and Heart of Sky create the world? Or the Egyptian story where we all come from Re's tears and spit? Or how about the Native American tales where God is a coyote?
Yes, let's expose our students to all these wonderful stories and "theories"--but let's teach factual information in our science classes. Is this hard for Christian fundamentalists to swallow? Too bad. This is reality, and getting an education means learning about the real world.
To the Editor:
I read with interest your recent articles on the debate over the Kansas school board's decision to give local districts control over whether they teach evolution and how. I would point out that the issue really does not revolve around creation vs. evolution, as is often implied. I find no mention of creation in the Kansas decision.
The challenges to standard evolutionary teaching are many, and students should be presented with both the data for and against the concept. The theory does not share the empirical verification that such other well-known scientific concepts as relativity have. Relativity has been shown to operate in particle accelerators and laboratory experiments many times. In contrast, the idea that life can spring from nonlife through unaided, natural processes has never once been shown in any lab, although not for lack of trying.
Many in science accept Darwinism as an article of faith, lacking another idea of creation that they are comfortable with. But it does not follow that Darwin's theory of evolution should be advanced as proven, when in fact it never has been. Further, the concept of interspecies change has never been empirically verified.
Science teachers should teach as fact those things that have been shown by scientific method to be fact. And they should advance ideas on unanswered questions, such as the origin of life, in an honest fashion. That which falls into the area of philosophy, which much of evolution (or naturalism) does, should be admitted to be such and debated on that level.
The bottom line is that to teach as fact those things which are popular (but unproven) is a disservice to children everywhere. The debates of scientists such as Michael Behe, the molecular biologist who has shown the problems at the theory's molecular level, and modern advocates of evolutionary ideas, such as Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould, are quite interesting and ought to be presented to allow students to make up their own minds on the theory.
Spoon-feeding students and deciding for them doesn't help our young people learn critical-thinking skills.
Rehire Teachers, or Retain Them?
To the Editor:
Regarding your Sept. 8, 1999, article "States Strive To Lure Retired Teachers": The biggest problem facing education is the recruitment and retention of young teachers. But hiring retired teachers will turn out to be a negative development in this quest.
Hiring older, more experienced, and more expensive teachers will leave less money to attract younger ones. And, as indicated by your lead example of the Spanish teacher in South Carolina, older teachers may demand the most favorable teaching conditions, leaving the less favorable conditions for the younger teachers.
And should we not question the value of some of these retired people returning to the classroom? There is ample anecdotal evidence of retired administrators with questionable teaching skills being hired as teachers.
Ed. School Critic Is Ignorant of Field
To the Editor:
I was angered and saddened to read Brad Thompson's letter to the editor ("To Raise Test Scores, Close Education Schools," Sept. 8, 1999) in response to Suzanne Tingley's Aug. 4, 1999, Commentary, "Weighing the Cattle."
The author is ignorant of educational research, apparently does not understand cause-and-effect relationships or independent and dependent variables, and seems not to comprehend factors related to test scores, to mention but three of the letter's most obvious oversights. And he proposes extremely simplistic and unfounded solutions to very complex and confounding problems.
Low student test scores do not, as Mr. Thompson claims, have more to do with teaching quality and methods than other factors. Educational research and the literature of teaching show them to be related more to socioeconomic level, cultural background, the quality of parental care and support, preschool experiences, and inherited learning potential. Obviously, Mr. Thompson has little familiarity with this knowledge base and little understanding of what underlies best practice in schools.
He also apparently fails to recognize that teachers do not prepare exclusively in education schools. At most universities, the vast majority of courses are taken outside the education department. At my own university, for example, students wanting to teach in high schools take nearly 75 percent of their courses in academic disciplines.
Ultimately, the root cause of our education crises is not to be found, as Mr. Thompson would have it, "in the intellectually infantile world of education schools," but rather in the minds of people quick to take cheap shots and bash our schools and slow to engage in (or incapable of) serious research, analysis, design, implementation, or support of viable solutions.
College of Education
Union Strategy: An 'Oligopoly' Out of Touch With Teachers
To the Editor:
In "Rethinking Union Strategy a Year After the Failed Merger," their Sept. 8, 1999, Commentary, Bob Peterson and Michael Charney are quite right when they say, "Too often, they [teachers' unions] have been accomplices in maintaining an unsatisfactory status quo." Unfortunately, the rest of the piece falls short of pointing to the solution.
In arguing for "social-justice unionism," Mr. Peterson and Mr. Charney propose that the unions "build a strategic alliance with parents and communities in which all are respectful partners in fighting for what is best for children in schools and in society."
Contrast that phrase with the attack by American Federation of Teachers President Sandra Feldman who, when asked about the news that 1.25 million low-income children had sought a partial, privately sponsored scholarship, called it "sad" because it indicates that "there are some" who "want to get children out of public schools."
This is hardly a means to "build a strategic alliance" to fight for "what is best for children." Can anyone imagine a supporter of American universities greeting the news of a gift by George Soros or Bill Cosby to help poor kids attend Harvard as a "sad" indication that "some people" want to reduce the enrollment at Ohio State?
Or consider the Peterson-Charney contention that "too often, teachers don't view themselves as an essential part of their union." True enough, and verified by the fact that in our own hometown of Milwaukee, post-mortem polls showed that a majority of teachers last spring voted against the anti-school-choice school board slate handpicked for them by the union hierarchy.
Over the last year, we've been part of an effort, conducted by the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, in which more than 200,000 teachers in 14 states have been contacted by direct mail, telephone, and other means to compile a profile of teacher concerns. On the basis of what we've seen, it seems clear that the long, rear-guard action by union leaders against school choice is beginning to crack--even among their members.
In a survey of more than 100 teachers' unions in 20 countries, even union officials said they opposed school voucher plans in their countries by a bare 40 percent to 30 percent plurality, with another 30 percent saying they took no strong position. In other words, the more experience teachers have with education choice, the less hostile they are to it.
Our most recent responses from states like Minnesota and Wisconsin, where choice has existed for some time, show the same trend. And in a survey mailed to all teachers in the District of Columbia in 1997--a time of intense discussion there about a possible voucher system--a near majority of 48 percent to 43 percent said they would support a "Pell Grant type program" to give aid directly to poor students for use at a "public or private school of their choice." That, in essence, is a voucher.
Teachers are increasingly questioning the oligopoly structure of just two unions--still striving to merge into one--that dominate public school policy with their high and, on occasion, forced membership dues. We received more than 2,000 letters and e- mails about the merger in 1998--more than 95 percent of it hostile to the idea.
Trends in teacher-association membership suggest that our experience is no fluke. In Georgia, teachers fed up with paying high dues to support the anti-choice jihad have flocked to the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, now topping both the National Education Association and the AFT in membership, as does an alternative organization in Missouri. A similar group in Texas, where NEA membership has dropped by 5,000 in the last two years, will pass by the older unions soon.
After the merger was rejected last year, NEA President Bob Chase lashed out at critics of the union-- evidently now including a majority of his members--and blamed the rejection of the plan on the failure of leaders to "get our message out."
There's a grain of truth in that. But it's listening that the NEA and AFT leaders need most--listening and, perhaps, just a modicum of moderation and compromise. For starters, Mr. Chase and Ms. Feldman could do worse than to read President Clinton's State of the Union Address about school accountability and incentives, or even Hillary Rodham Clinton's remarks about charter schools at the NEA summer convention.
Historically, when institutions lapse into a kind of extreme, passionate ideology that the teachers' union leaders sometimes have, something must give. In the long run, the split between teachers and their unions must result either in teachers' opting out of the NEA and AFT, or in the union leaders' moderating their positions on choice and other issues.
It would be better for the unions and the country if the leadership looked down from the limb they have climbed out on and decided to move back to a more tenable position--one that would give teachers a voice in shaping school choice programs that seem likely to emerge now, whether union leaders like it or not.
Former U.S. Senator (R-Wis.)
Alexis de Tocqueville Institution
Vol. 19, Issue 5, Pages 36-37
Vol. 19, Issue 5, Pages 36-37
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