The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘higher education’

Institute for Creation Research Loses Texas Lawsuit Over “Master’s” Degree in Creation Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 23, 2010

In a bit of good news from our friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), it appears that the young-earth creationist organization called the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) has lost its court battle in Texas against the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board.  Apparently, ICR was suing the Board for it refusing to recognize the ICR’s “Master’s” degree in science education.  If ICR had called it a Master’s degree in pseudoscience education, then perhaps things would have gone differently 😉

Anyway, read on for the full update from NCSE on this welcome development…

The Institute for Creation Research suffered a significant legal defeat in its lawsuit over the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board’s 2008 decision to deny the ICR’s request for a state certificate of authority to offer a master’s degree in science education from its graduate school. A June 18, 2010, ruling in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas found (PDF, p. 38) that “ICRGS [the Institute for Creation Research Graduate School] has not put forth evidence sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact with respect to any claim it brings. Thus, Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on the totality of ICRGS’s claims against them in this lawsuit.”

As NCSE’s Glenn Branch explained in Reports of the NCSE, “When the Institute for Creation Research moved its headquarters from Santee, California, to Dallas, Texas, in June 2007, it expected to be able to continue offering a master’s degree in science education from its graduate school. … But the state’s scientific and educational leaders voiced their opposition, and at its April 24, 2008, meeting, the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board unanimously voted to deny the ICR’s request for a state certificate of authority to offer the degree.” Subsequently, the ICR appealed the decision, while also taking its case to the court of public opinion with a series of press releases and advertisements in Texas newspapers.

The issue was not, strictly speaking, about accreditation, but about temporary state certification, which would have enabled the ICR graduate school to operate while it sought accreditation. When in California, the ICR graduate school was accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, which requires candidate institutions to affirm a list of Biblical Foundations, including “the divine work of non-evolutionary creation including persons in God’s image.” TRACS is not recognized by the state of Texas, however, and after the ICR moved from Santee, California, to Dallas, Texas, the ICR expressed its intention to seek accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Finally, the ICR filed suit against THECB in 2009, accusing it and its members of imposing “an unconstitutional and prejudicial burden against ICRGS’s academic freedom and religious liberties.” The prolix style of the ICR’s initial complaint — which the Dallas Observer (April 20, 2009) quipped “reads kind of like stereo instructions” — was apparently continued in its subsequent documents; the court complained, “It appears that although the Court has twice required Plaintiff to re-plead and set forth a short and plain statement of the relief requested, Plaintiff is entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and full of irrelevant information” (p. 12).

In summary, the ICR claimed that THECB’s actions violated its rights to free exercise, free speech, and equal protection, its rights to procedural and substantive due process, and its rights under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as that “Standard 12” — the civil regulation on which THECB’s decision was based (19 Texas Administrative Code sec. 7.4(14)) — was vague. The court found merit in none of these claims. With respect to the free exercise claim, for example, the court found that “the Board’s decision was rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest, and there is no evidence the decision was motivated by animus toward any religious viewpoint” (p. 24).

Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

“Creation Science” Degree in Texas?

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 21, 2009

Wow, just when you think that creationists couldn’t get any more crazy with their arguments and tactics, they surprise you.  According to this article, there is a bill that has been introduced in the Texas House which would allow the Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research to actually grant science degrees!  And guess what they want these degrees to be in?  Could it be actual science based upon evolution?  Nope, the ICR wants to be given the right to grant science degrees based upon creationist pseudoscientific nonsense.  You can’t make this stuff up.

According to the article…

If House Bill 2800 is enacted, it will make ICR exempt from state regulations thereby allowing them to grant science degrees. As put by NCSE, the bill will “exempt institutions such as the Institute for Creation Research’s graduate school from Texas’s regulations governing degree-granting institutions.”

In other words, the creationist nutjobs at ICR are attempting to get special privileges which would allow them to get the benefit of granting science degrees without actually meeting the requirements of science. I guess their strategy is that if you can’t win the game, just try to change the rules.

But there’s more…

According to ICR’s Web site, they “[equip] believers with evidence of the Bible’s accuracy and authority through scientific research, educational programs, and media presentations, all conducted within a thoroughly biblical framework.” To that end, it seems, they take discoveries and force them into current biblical understandings of… things.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at statements like these. These creationist nutjobs literally believe that evidence in nature should be ignored if it contradicts their view of the Bible! Wow, talk about being disconnected from reality.

The bad news is that this bill (House Bill 2800) has actually been introduced in the Texas House. The good news is that it has only one sponsor, Rep. Leo Berman, so far, not to mention the fact that the situation is providing a lot of entertainment for skeptics & science allies. 😀

In closing, I really like how Dr. Phil Plait – the “Bad Astronomer” and President of the James Randi Educational Foundation – put it…

stupid it burns

Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Need for Science Teachers

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 7, 2009

I teach high school & college physics, and just this week a colleague of mine sent me a disturbing article in the Chicago Tribune about a crisis in the teaching profession in the state of Illinois. Now, it’s not necessarily the kind of crisis that you might envision – that there aren’t enough prospective teachers on the market. It’s actually the opposite problem – there are too many teachers; at least, there are too many of certain kinds of teachers.

Here are a couple of key excerpts from the article:

The nation’s third-largest city school system [Chicago Public Schools] is seeing a deluge of applications, a phenomenon usually associated with coveted suburban jobs. Applications have doubled in five years—to 23,568 for the 2008-09 school year—fueled in part by the economy but also by a glut of new teachers statewide.

The “overproduction” of teachers is highest in social science, according to the state. Local districts are reporting an oversupply of applicants for elementary school teaching jobs, as well as English language arts and physical education teachers.

This confirms suspicions I’ve had ever since I was getting my certification to teach math & physics many years ago: there are too many education majors or those enrolled in certification programs who are specializing in the humanities such as English & history. But there is something even more disturbing in the article…

Districts also report what they consider to be shortages of qualified teacher applicants, which in 2008 were reported in special education areas, but also in physics, chemistry, math and foreign language.

So the problem is a double whammy – not only are there too many people going into teaching the humanities, but there is a lack of qualified teachers for core scientific & technical subjects such as math, physics, and chemistry!

I don’t know about you, but I see this as a huge problem – especially if it is a common trend throughout the United States (which I suspect it is – see this USA Today article from 2006). If we in the United States are trying to retool our economy to be more forward-looking in the 21st century, then we’re going to need to emphasize basic scientific research & technological development. But where do the scientists and engineers to work on those important projects come from? They come from our educational system.

But when our educational system has too many people wanting to teach English literature and too few people qualified to teach basic physics, how can we possibly expect to educate a workforce that will have the necessary understanding of science & math to be competitive? Without engineers, how can you design & build newer cars, roads, bridges, and infrastructure? Without scientists, how can you do the basic research into alternative energy sources as well as explore other essential questions, such as global warming, medicine, etc?

And this begs an even more fundamental question: Why is it that so many students enrolled in teaching certification programs at U.S. universities & colleges steer away from the physical sciences and mathematics? In discussing this question with my colleague, we speculated on some reasons…

1. Majoring in science and/or math in college is perceived to be very difficult, especially the more mathematical the specific area of science (physics, for example, usually attracts the fewest students of all the sciences). Many U.S. college students choose not to major in science/math because “it isn’t an easy major” or “it’s too much work” compared with other subjects. In all my years of college & graduate school, I cannot tell you how many times I heard fellow students make those sorts of comments. This reflects a fundamental problem – intellectual laziness coupled with a profound lack of work ethic. But why?

2. Sadly, science and math are not respected as much in U.S. society as they were a generation or two ago. Don’t get me wrong – we all love getting on the Internet or playing the latest music on our I-pods. But what is lacking is a respect for and understanding/appreciation of the process of science which leads to the development of those technological marvels. In a way, we’ve gotten so used to being on top that we forgot what it took to get us here. Besides, how can we be surprised that the public image of science is taking a beating when there are constant assaults against our scientific institutions from creationists, New Agers, and sCAM advocates? When the media in this country treat the nonsense of psychics & vaccine deniers halfway seriously, without a hint of critical thinking, why does it shock us that we see the inevitable dumbing down of our educational system regarding actual science?

Without a broader & deeper societal appreciation for science and its methods, how can we expect that enough young people will wish to pursue the sciences, engineering, or science/math teaching as a career path?

This is one reason why I think it is so important for skeptics, critical thinkers, and defenders of science to stand up and speak up. If we are to have any chance of reversing these disturbing trends in science & mathematics education (both in terms of getting good teachers and in terms of educating our kids), then it is incumbent upon us to do our part. If we continue down this dangerous path, then ultimately we will only have ourselves to blame.

Posted in education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

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