Vestiges of a creationist bent
Vestiges of a creationist bent
Texas Board of Education evolves slowly
Editorial - Austin American-Statesman - 1/24/2009 - original
In 1844, an anonymously written tract entitled Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation caused a stir in Great Britain because the author argued that humans were descended from monkeys and apes.

The author later identified as Edinburgh journalist and publisher Robert Chambers tried to calm his readers by assuring them that evolution was about progress and improvement. The book became an instant hit. Among those taking note was Charles Darwin, who was busily researching what was to become his signature work On the Origin of the Species in 1859.

We can only speculate whether Chambers would rethink his progress and improvement notion after watching the Texas State Board of Education wrestle with the science curriculum for at least the past 30 years.

On Thursday and Friday, the 15-member board took an incremental step away from dogma-driven curriculum decision-making by tweaking the wording on science curriculum standards.

Before, the standard was that Texas students study the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. After back-to-back votes Thursday and Friday, the board voted to require the state's students to learn to evaluate the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of scientific theories about common ancestry of different species.

It's a subtle change to be sure, but scientists criticized the "strengths and weaknesses" standard as a not-so-subtle encouragement to teach creationism. While board members defending the old standard cried for "balance," we can't help but wonder what their reaction would be to subject creationism to the same "strengths and weaknesses" standard formerly applied to evolution theory.

Champions of evolutionary theory and creationism both claimed some sort of victory Friday, but disinterested observers looking at the two standards might strain their eyes searching for big differences. A final vote on the new standard is scheduled for March.

The fact is that there isn't a big difference. It's a small skirmish in a long battle for how Texas public schools students are taught. The battle won't be decided quickly or easily. The Thursday and Friday votes moved the board away however slightly from a time when narrow ideologies trump science and the studied opinions of scientists and educators. Texas has evolved into an important player on the national and world stage. The people who presume to oversee its educational policy should evolve along with it.