So far it’s a good news / bad news story. The Texas Board of Education did vote to drop the requirement that weaknesses of scientific theories be taught. This is good news. Students will no longer be taught that Intelligent Falling is an alternative to the Theory of Gravity because gravitons, while predicted, have never been observed. Oh yeah, silly me, this clause was only used to teach that Creationism was an alternative to evolution.

However, several amendments have been introduced and tentatively passed, including one the board agreed to which states that students shall “analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of the cell.” That rather opens up the anti-evolution rhetoric. A second amendment provides for teaching that there are different estimates for the age of the universe. While this is true (currently science says the universe is 13.7 billion years old, give or take 0.12 billion years), I suspect the intent is to allow the introduction of biblical estimates closer to 10,000 years old.

So while the general science guidelines have been tightened up, there are still some intentional holes poked in the lid to allow religion to be taught as science.

Dan Quinn of the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network put it well. He said the board “slammed the door on creationism, then ran around the house opening up all the windows to let it in another way.”

The final votes on these amendments are today, so there’s still some hope that sanity will prevail. The board is pretty evenly divided. Seven of the board’s 15 members are closely aligned with social conservative groups and have openly voted and advocated for teaching Creationism as science. Therefore, the remainder of the board has to unify against them for the amendments to fail. Personally, it seems that the mere notion that people’s social convictions are driving science education policy should be a wake-up call to somebody.

Stay tuned…

UPDATE: Quoted from a press release issued by the Texas Freedom Network

TFN President Kathy Miller: Texas State Board of Education Adopts Flawed Science Standards

The word “weaknesses” no longer appears in the science standards. But the document still has plenty of potential footholds for creationist attacks on evolution to make their way into Texas classrooms.

Through a series of contradictory and convoluted amendments, the board crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks.

We appreciate that the politicians on the board seek compromise, but don’t agree that compromises can be made on established mainstream science or on honest education policy.

What’s truly unfortunate is that we now have to revisit this entire debate in two years when new science textbooks are adopted. Perhaps the Texas legislature can do something to prevent that.

This just sucks… I guess I’m supposed to feel good that it could have been worse. But somehow it seems that ignorance shouldn’t be what you’re fighting when you’re talking about school curricula. So much for leaving no children behind.

FINAL UPDATE: For further analysis of what the implications of the outcome in Austin are, you should read this and this.

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