The Texas board of education has tentatively dropped language from the state science standards saying students should be taught the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution, a move that pleased scientists.
Yet the board, at a meeting late last week, drew strong objections from scientific experts through its preliminary approval of amendments that call into question core aspects of the benchmark biological theory, including the common ancestry of living things.
Curricular decisions in Texas, because of its share of the education market, hold significant sway over textbook publishers and curriculum developers across the country.
In January, the 15-member board narrowly decided to remove the strengths-and-weaknesses language. Last week, in another, preliminary vote, the board rejected an effort to reinsert that language, a move applauded by scientists.
At that same March 26 meeting, however, the board had approved an amendment calling for students to analyze the “sufficiency or insufficiency,” of evidence for common ancestry. The board also called for students to “analyze the sufficiency or insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of the cell.”
Scientists say that language is misleading, since it implies that common ancestry and natural selection are riddled with doubt, when it fact they are backed up by voluminous scientific evidence.
Common ancestry is rejected by some critics, including those who believe that God created humans and all living things as described in the Bible.
Scientists also objected to other amendments they say undermine the teaching of science generally, such as language calling for critical analysis of molecular biology and the Big Bang.
That language was all tentative, pending a final board vote on March 27. Many scientific organizations have argued for a comprehensive teaching of evolution.
“We urge you to vote for removing anti-science changes to the draft standards and protect the future of science education and technology-based industry in Texas,” the American Association for the Advancement of Science wrote in a March 23 letter to the board.
A version of this article appeared in the April 01, 2009 edition of Education Week