11 August 2005

Kansas BOE wants to lie to students - Part I

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Kansas Board of Education has given preliminary approval to a set of science standards that have a strong anti-evolution bias. This bias becomes apparent literally before page one of the standards, and is apparent in any number of ways. Previously, I blogged on a change in language early in the document that singles out evolution, making it appear to be more dubious than other theories listed. Today, I am going to begin to examine some of the actual standards and benchmarks most affected by the KBOE's efforts to "improve" the way evolution is taught in their state. This will be the first in a series of posts looking at the specifics, since there are way, way too many objectionable areas to cover in a single post.

I'm going to start with an addition that demonstrates true chutzpah. (For those of you not familiar with the Yiddish term, it is difficult to translate directly, but can best be described as the quality displayed by a man who craps on his neighbor's doorstep, then knocks and asks to borrow some toilet paper.) Kansas' contribution to the art of chutzpah is found on page 78 of the standards, which are available as a pdf file on the Kansas Department of Education website:

Additional Specificity: a. Biological evolution postulates an unguided natural process that has no discernable direction or goal.

That "additional specificity" is one of the items added to the standards by the Board of Education. Not satisfied with merely adding all sorts of completely false "evidence against evolution" to their curriculum, the KBoE has apparently decided to follow up by redefining evolution in a way that makes it explicitly atheistic. Apparently, they aren't sure if lying to their students with their bogus examples of "evidence against evolution" will be enough to convince everyone to abandon this "atheistic science", so they have decided to bear false witness about what evolution actually is, means, and implies.

An earlier version of this item, which shows up in one of the balloons on the side, actually had a little more detail:

Deleted: a. The National Association of Biology Teachers statement on teaching evolution acknowledges the unguided nature of the evolutionary process by explaining that the process “has no discernable direction or goal, including survival of a species.” (adopted 1995, revised May 2004).

I do have to admit that the more recent draft is an improvement over this, but only because the newer version contains one fewer lie. The National Association of Biology Teachers statement does not say that. The supporting material does contain that quote, but the usage in the KBOE draft is at least slightly - wait for it - out of context:

Natural selection is the primary mechanism for evolutionary changes and can be demonstrated both in the laboratory and in the wild. A differential survival and reproduction of some genetic variants within a population under an existing environmental state, natural selection has no discernable direction or goal, including survival of a species.

The difference between saying "evolution" and "natural selection" is subtle, but quite real.

There is a also a subtle but important difference between saying that something "has no discernable direction or goal" and saying that something is "unguided". The first statement is a description of a simple scientific fact. The second is a non-scientific, philosophical assessment, and does not necessarily follow from the first.

And this is not an innocent or innocuous mistake. The KBOE has been informed, repeatedly, that the statement in question is dangerously inaccurate:

The eight dissenting members worry that teaching evolution as suggested by the majority of the committee “will necessarily have the effect of causing students to reach an uninformed, but ‘reasoned’ decision that they, and all other human beings, are merely natural occurrences, accidents of nature that lack intrinsic purpose.” In reality, nothing in the standards suggested by the writing committee would cause students to reach such a conclusion. Ironically, only the statements suggested by the eight dissenting members would actually produce such a misconception: “1. a. Biological evolution postulates an unpredictable and unguided natural process that has no discernable direction or goal. (p. 14).” It is clear that the eight authors of the minority report strive so mightly to mislead students as to the meaning of evolutionary theory in order to “balance” their own distortions with a non-naturalistic (supernatural) story of origins that lies entirely outside the realm of science.
Kenneth Miller, review of Science Standards
Additional Spec. 1a. The Revisers use the NABT statement as a citation for the
following: “Biological evolution postulates an unpredictable and unguided natural process that has no discernable direction or goal. Actually, the NABT statement is:
“The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of biological evolution—an unpredictable and natural process of descent with modification that is affected by natural selection, mutation, genetic drift, migration and other natural biological and geological forces.”

Thus it is factually untrue that the NABT statement contains any wording concerning guidance, direction, or goal. This is disingenuous, at the least, on the part of the Revisers.
E. O. Wiley, review of Science Standards

5) (p. 14) Proposed change: “1. a. Biological evolution postulates an unpredictable and unguided natural process that has no discernable direction or goal. [see NABT Statement on teaching evolution]”
All scientific theories, including evolution, remain silent about “guidance”. Weather processes may be guided by a Deity, yet all meteorology assumes is that weather can be explained by appeals to highs and lows and cold fronts, etc. whether it is “guided” or not. Furthermore, the NABT statement does not support this proposed change, as the NABT statement mentions nothing about “guidance”.
Douglas Theobald, review of Science Standards

Those three are just a sampling from a set of reviews of the proposed standards that are available on the Kansas State Department of Education website. It is possible, if not probable, that some of the members of the KBOE have not actually read those reviews of their changes, since they admitted that they didn't read the standards, either. Ignorance and gross incompetance, however, are not exactly the best of excuses for the garbage that the KBOE is trying to teach innocent students.

The new public mantra f0r the religious, anti-evolution bigots may be "teach the controversy" or "teach the evidence against evolution", and it might sound appealing, but that's not really what they are asking. What they are asking is that they be allowed to take your tax dollars and use them to lie to your children so that their narrow-minded beliefs will not be hurt by the harsh winds of reality. They have no honor, no shame, and if they feel that their motives are pure, no morals when it comes to choosing their methods. But they are popular enough to win elections. They should scare you. They certainly scare me.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis. I look forward to your future posts concerning these changes.

7:59 AM  
Blogger Joe Visionary said...

I have been blogging sites that discuss America's involvement in Iraq, and in a strikingly similar manner, it seems that the Conservative/Republican 'thinktanks' play very fast and loose with conventional truths. They're quite prepared to reinvent it.

Your investigation seems to suggest the same.


8:23 AM  
Blogger Boston Dreamer said...

I wonder; will there be a new Scopes trial, this time in Kansas, involving a teacher that refuses to adhere to or manipulates the standards to show how stupid they are?
As an aside, I teach history at a rural high school, and am about to start the Origins of Man and Early Civilization from a historical perspective. And, lucky me, I have 3 vocal young earthers in my class questioning the validity of anthropological research. Can you recommend any resources that would allow me to respond without getting me fired because I 'infringed' on their religious beliefs?
Thanks! I like your blog!

9:51 AM  
Blogger Ed Darrell said...

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly (on PBS) is covering this story this week -- go see: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week841/cover.html

12:02 PM  
Anonymous Dan S, said...

Boston dreamer -

I just got certified (elementary/middle), and have rather limited classroom experience, but for what it's worth:

The PBS Evolution website has a page about minimizing conflict when teaching evolution

Depending where you are, there may be a state or local organization you can contact for advice, something like [state] citizens for science, etc. They might be able to help. There's at least a partial list at the Panda's Thumb Again, probably more of a science thing - but hey . . .

You could talk to other teachers/administration - but you're the best judge of the wisdom of that course of action, depending on circumstances.

My two cents (with no practical experience):
Say something about how people have various religious beliefs, you're not interested in changing anyone's religion, you're teaching what science and history tells us. A little discussion the nature of scientific or historical truth - best guess based on evidence, but not absolute - and *how* we learn these things, what paleoanthropologists or archaeologists or historians do - might be good, depending how things are set up. This lets you address the issue of validity: not because 'the textbook says so' but because of peer review, testibility, sources, evidence, etc.

But: Don't debate - don't go head to head. The students may be familar with creationist literature depicting or advising on this sort of stuff. Most likely, you literally can't win, either way. Explain you're not doing that. It's about the material, not about religion.

And of course, respect.

But again, I'm just guessing. Good luck! If you want, leave a comment at my blog about how it all turns out. (If you have any desire to guest-post about the experience, just ask - I dream of organizing a blog-diary thing for teachers dealing with this issue, but . . . maybe one day.)

It sounds like you're touching on human evolution? Oh boy. I envy your students - we never got that . . . You just *have* to mention Homo floresiensis!

Although we didn't have to start in August! Yikes.

6:14 AM  
Anonymous Dan S. said...

A little more for boston dreamer . . .
Just in case: Talk.origins is a major online resource for this issue.

In a '96 piece in Freethought Today, John Koonz says
"It is possible to avoid much conflict with creationist students and parents by making the course a win-win situation. Once fundamentalist students are made to feel safe from ridicule and reprisals they can actually be an asset. When properly encouraged they will ask interesting questions hoping to expose evolution as a lie. Good. They are being skeptical about fantastic-sounding ideas. That is what a scientist is supposed to do. It helps that I am familiar with all the standard creationist arguments. I want my students to understand that they have a right to question everything they hear. This is important for another reason. A parent would look ridiculous accusing me of brainwashing kids when I am giving extra credit to students for checking on my facts and asking good questions."

6:26 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Just an interesting note, it was also Kansas that fought vigorously to uphold racial discrimination in Brown v. Topeka, Kansas Board of Education. The doctrine they were working to uphold was called "separate but equal." I'm not sure there is a connection but it is an amazing historical irony. I think it has less to do with religion and more with ignorance.

10:44 AM  
Anonymous Pierce R. Butler said...

Joe Visionary is right - and if he looks around further, I suspect he'd find the exact same pattern in Bushevik approaches to abortion & contraception, global warming, gays, depletion of natural resources, and numerous other topics.
Boston Dreamer's quandary (three young-earthers? in Boston?!?) seems beyond any one "resource", though the National Center for Science Education (http://www.ncseweb.org/) is probably the best place to start. BD will certainly need some fancy footwork along the lines of "religion & science deal with different approaches - this class is about the scientific consensus so far". Maybe the trio can be assigned to present their version to the class, so the other students can do the rebutting?

4:08 PM  
Blogger Boston Dreamer said...

Just wanted to thank everybody for the advice about dealing with creationist students. I basically prefaced the discussion by saying that students could believe what they wished to believe, but we were just focusing exclusively on what historians and researchers have discovered and have said about the evidence. I spoke to the biology and physical science teacher for some deeper understanding and explanation of dating methods, and what I could not explain I referred the students to their science teachers.
Overall, the discussion was quite positive and I didn't have the disruption that I was expecting. I did continue to discuss the issue after class with those students who wished to, but it was quite respectful. I think they think I am bound for hell, especially since on top of buying evolutionary theory and the the evidence for an old earth, I revealed that I was Catholic (we had discussed a bit about the fact that some faiths approach the age of man and earth differently from others).
And Pierce, while I wish I was back up North, I am currently at a small rural school in Florida. They still wear that 'other' flag here, if that tells you anything. :/
Thanks again, all, for your help!
Thanks again for your help

8:02 AM  

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