Testimony to the Texas State Board of Education

SCIENCE STANDARDS

Steven D. Schafersman, Ph.D.
President, Texas Citizens for Science
2008 July 17

Science standards for our state's public schools are too important to be subject to political and ideological manipulation by non-scientists. The Texas science standards should be the result of careful review and consideration by scientists and science teachers. TEKS rule 3A (specifically 112.43c(3)A), that states that students should "analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information," is not a proper scientific rule. It is not written in language any scientist would use. The scientists and science educators who have revised the TEKS at the direction of the TEA have revised this rule and reworded it, changing its language to match proper scientific language and intent. I urge this Board to accept this revision without trying to impose an anti-scientific framework on proper and legitimate science education.

Every educator, including myself, is eager for students to master critical thinking skills, for such skills enable a student to analyze, investigate, reason, and reach reliable conclusions about important intellectual topics, for these educational abilities will be valuable for any person throughout life. However, the history and rationale of the 3A requirement, including the reason for its peculiar and rather unscientific wording, does not accomplish this; in fact, it encourages the opposite, and if the rule were to be rigorously enforced it would be pedagogically counterproductive. Rule 3A has been used by a host of Creationists and anti-evolution organizations, such as the Discovery Institute, to attempt to damage and injure biology education in Texas, and for that reason alone the rule should be reworded.

Rule 3A was added to a Texas textbook Proclamation in the late 1980s by Creationist State Board members. I was present at that meeting and objected to the language. I said that the word "weaknesses" would be used by future Creationists to attempt to damage biology textbooks by forcing into them false and misleading information about evolution. I was correct. The term "critique" is also inappropriate, since nothing scientifically uncertain or controversial is presented in K-12 science classes to critique. The words "analyze" and "evaluate" are appropriate, however, since this is how students will understand the scientific process. The scientifically inappropriate rule 3A language was kept when the TEKS were written, and the language has been exploited and abused repeatedly by anti-evolutionists and other anti-science proponents ever since.

Rule 3A is wrong: many scientific explanations--including all theories such as evolutionary biology--do not have "weaknesses," and it is impermissible to fabricate bogus "weaknesses" to force into textbooks using requirement 3A as a justification as some have done. The concern (for potential abuse of the process) is that some SBOE members will use TEKS 3A as a justification to focus only on the topic of evolution as the place to insert false and pseudoscientific "weaknesses" that the Discovery Institute dreamt up to cast doubt on both the occurrence and theory of evolution. This happened in 2003 with biology textbooks and will keep happening as long as we have rule 3A.

There is no question that the original wording of TEKS rule 3A is going to be the primary means used by Creationists to try to debilitate the coverage of evolution and the origin of life in biology textbooks by attempting to insert "weaknesses" about evolution into them. These acts would injure and weaken the scientific coverage of evolution and other subjects in biology textbooks if successful, ensuring that students would receive a third-rate science education in Texas, not the 21st century science education they need. Rule 3A must be revised and reworded to achieve its perfectly laudable goal of encouraging critical analysis by students of scientific explanations (statements, conjectures, hypotheses, and scientific theories) in a proper way. In particular, scientific theories have no weaknesses, since nothing gets into a scientific theory that has not been corroborated by testing.

Comparison of the existing rule 3A and the revised rule 3A that scientists and science educators have used in the revised science TEKS in 2008:

Current Rule 3A

Scientific Processes
(3) The student uses critical thinking and scientific problem solving to make informed decisions.

(A) The student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information.

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Proposed New Rule 3A
(Several variations of this wording exist since the science TEKS workgroups worked independently; the important changes are that the scientifically inappropriate words "critique" and "strengths and weaknesses" were removed.)


Scientific Processes
(3) The student uses critical thinking, scientific reasoning, and problem solving to make informed decisions within and outside the classroom.

(A) The student is expected to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing.


Texas Citizens for Science
Last updated: 2008 July 20