12 August 2005

Kansas BOE wants to lie to students - Part 2

The second entry in what is starting to look like a long series of posts on the Kansas BoE's attempt to uneducate their students comes from the same page in the standards as the item I discussed yeaterday:

c. Patterns of diversification and extinction of organisms are documented in the fossil record. Evidence also indicates that simple, bacteria-like life may have existed billions of years ago. However, in many cases the fossil record is not consistent with gradual, unbroken sequences postulated by biological evolution.
[italics denotes material added by the BoE in this revision]
There are many different ways that this statement could be considered to be objectionable. For the moment, I am going to focus on only one of them: the contrast between this statement, and the motives that the BoE claims on page iv of the Standards:

Regarding the scientific theory of biological evolution, the curriculum standards call for students to learn about the best evidence for modern evolutionary theory, but also to learn about areas where scientists are raising scientific criticisms of the theory. These curriculum standards reflect the Board’s objective of 1) to help students understand the full range of scientific views that exist on this topic, 2) to enhance critical thinking and the understanding of the scientific method by encouraging students to study different and opposing scientific evidence, and 3) to ensure that science education in our state is “secular, neutral, and non-ideological.”
In particular, I'd like to emphasize "objective" number one: "to help students understand the full range of scientific views that exist on this topic". One has to wonder why, if that is actually one of their objectives, they decided to parrot a highly objectionable creationist claim about the fossil record while simultaneously ignoring a real scientific controversy that covers the same material.

There have, in fact, been (and are) some scientists who feel that the fossil record indicates that evolution has not been a continuous, gradual process. Instead, they feel that the paleontological evidence supports a mode of evolution that they refer to as "punctuated equilibrium", in which a species does not appear to change substantially for long periods of change. Scientists who feel that the fossil record supports punctuated equilibrium more than continuous evolution do not doubt that evolution is a real phenomenon - the differences of opinion involve the pattern and process of evolution, not whether or not biological evolution has occurred. To put it another way, in addition to those who question whether or not the fossil record is consistent with a gradual evolutionary process, there also who question whether or not evolution should be expected to always (or even normally) be a constant, gradual process - at least in geological terms.

It is difficult to understand how the members of the Kansas Board of Education could be unaware of this issue - it has even gotten attention in creationist publications. In order to simply be ignorant about the scientific debate that punctuated equilibrium sparked, the KBOE would have to be totally and completely oblivious of a topic that has been prominently discussed in both the popular and scientific literature for over two decades.

It is possible that the majority of the KBOE are gibbering idiots when it comes to any actual knowledge of evolution, of course. However, that would hardly be an admirable quality in a group of people who are actively trying, against the advice of countless real scientists, to change the way evolution is being taught. Such ignorance could, at this point in time, only be willful in nature, and is no more excusable than outright dishonesty - particularly from those in a position of such responsibility.

Personally, I doubt that the KBOE majority is ignorant. They are simply determined to paint the theory of biological evolution in as unfavorable a light as possible. They have reluctantly determined that they cannot remove evolution from their curriculum, and that they cannot add a blatantly religious alternative. So they have, instead, decided to make sure that any mention of evolution is offset by as much creationist drivel as they can sneak into the curriculum as "evidence against evolution."

"[S]ecular, neutral, and non-ideological". Sure. You have to give them credit for that much, anyway - they are every bit as honest about their motives as they are about science.
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