The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Evolution Education: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 11, 2010

In the ongoing fight to promote good science education in the United States, sometimes I think it’s a “two steps forward, one step back” kind of thing.  The U.S. has some of the best universities in the world, and we do a huge amount of cutting edge scientific research in a variety of fields – indeed, our federal budget for scientific research dwarfs that of other nations.  Yet, at the same time, there is a very dedicated creationist movement in this nation which seeks to tear down any kind of science they view as contrary to their fundamentalist religious views. And they’re willing to destroy the scientific education of the country’s young people in the process.

Case in point, here are two recent stories outlining this dichotomy:

1. Hubble Space Telescope shows earliest photo of the universe – This is an example of what I was referencing as the best the U.S. has to offer in terms of cutting edge science.  The HST has generated an optical photograph of the early universe, a mere 600 million years after the big bang (which is very soon after the big bang, since the age of the universe is about 13.7 billion years old).  The photograph shows evidence of the formation of the earliest galaxies in our universe, and it adds yet another layer to our knowledge of cosmic evolution and how the first stars & galaxies formed.  Indeed, it is hard not to be awestruck when contemplating the full implications of such a scientific discovery – here’s the photo…

When understood in the full context of the big bang, the expansion & evolution of our universe, the formation of our own solar system, and the evolution of life on Earth, this is an amazing thing!  As the astronomer Carl Sagan once said, “We are star stuff – a way for the cosmos to contemplate itself.”

I am eagerly sharing this new information with my colleagues, students, and friends & family.  Hopefully, this new discovery will be added to the wealth of knowledge in our public schools’ science curriculum and more students in the future will learn about it.

Alas, sadly, this leads me to my second point…

2. Americans United Warns Louisiana Education Board Not To Adopt Review Policy That Favors Creationism – In some parts of our otherwise enlightened country, there are states where creationists have a choke-hold on the governmental bodies, and they attempt to do everything they can to block & stymie good science education.  In fact, one of the worst offenders is the state of Louisiana, which is being taken to task (yet again) for trying to keep school children ignorant of good evolutionary science while pushing a blatant religious ideology upon them…

A new policy under consideration by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is slanted to favor creationism and should be revised, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Due to lobbying by the Religious Right, Louisiana legislators approved a law in 2008 that allows for “supplemental materials” to be used in public school science classes. The Board has developed a policy for reviewing these materials that is seriously flawed, says Americans United.

“It’s obvious what’s going on here,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Louisiana elected officials are once again trying to undercut the teaching of evolution and slip creationism into science classes. This effort must fail.”

Unfortunately, Louisiana has a history of being a hotbed of creationism, and numerous battles over creationism at the federal level have their origins in Louisiana.  This time, the creationists are attempting to do an end-run around actual scientific & educational experts in an effort to push their religious agenda…

The Board calls for allowing challenged materials to be reviewed by a panel that could easily be stacked with people sympathetic to creationism. It would bypass the expert opinion of the Louisiana Department of Education.

“The proposed procedure for reviewing challenged supplemental material is unnecessarily complicated and appears designed to provide a forum for promoting creationism,” asserts AU’s letter.

The letter notes that the Board’s proposal “would create the opportunity for a show trial with ‘experts’ presenting reports” that attempt to portray creationist supplemental materials as scientifically sound and supported by empirical evidence.

Fortunately, the federal courts in the United States have been very clear about the promotion of such religiously-based, pseudoscientific nonsense as creationism – they view it as a direct violation of the separation of church & state. So I don’t expect this move on the part of the Louisiana Board of Education to last, but in the process there will be numerous students in the Louisiana public schools who will be kept ignorant of good science.

And so it goes, the ongoing battle in my country to insure adequate science education.  We have our victories, and we have our defeats, but in the long run we are, however slowly & haltingly, moving forward.

One Response to “Evolution Education: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back”

  1. Joanaroo said

    The fundamentalist Christians want to turn students into conforming, non-challenging lemmings who won’t think for themselves and only believe in religion to explain everything. Now Texas is going to evangelicalize and Republicanize their textbooks to get their little Christian soldiers to eschew true history and science. Hate to see what the hell these kids are going to grow up to be. Reminds me of a German man who was said to be religious who changed peoples way of thinking to disasterous results in W.W.2.

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