Tuesday, July 27, 2010

South Carolina Textbook Controversy redux?

Over in the State of Louisiana the second string in the LFF bow has been fired, it's at the textbooks for teaching science classes. It sounded vaguely familiar so I dug up a couple of old posts and reviewed them. Remember South Carolina's issue with textbooks? Looks very familiar, but a slightly different tactic. Rather than recruit a couple of Creationists to do an . . . ill-advised review, the LFF is asking for parents and the public to make their pseudo-complaints known. I guess they figures numbers will count especially since they have no substantive complaints.

The story posted on The News Star called "Proposed Textbooks to be Scrutinized" is a little scary, especially since at least one of the people planning to do the 'scrutinization' has already gotten his mind made up. Here are several quotes from the article from West Monroe resident Mickey Cleveland and my comments in italics after each one:

  • "We want evolution taught, but we want the fallacies in the theory taught as well," What fallacies is he talking about? I am not aware of any fallacies -- plus if there are any, who is the best people to identify them? Folks with the training and educational background in the subject, that's who!
  • "There have been outright lies that have been perpetuated throughout the years." Cleveland said that as technology improves, more scientists and mathematicians are questioning Darwin's theories of evolution. This is straight out of the Discovery Institute marketing material -- and I have said numerous times there is not one shred of evidence to show there are many scientists or mathematicians questioning the theory of evolution!
  • "Darwin said that if things can be proven against my theory, then my whole theory breaks down," he said. "Darwin didn't have the microelectronic microscope. We are able to see inside of atoms. The DNA is so complex that mathematicians are saying that there is no way that macro evolution occurred. Science is proving creation. The Darwin quote is correct and in fact many of the details of Darwin's work were later found to be incorrect-- but none of those details are taught. The modern theory of evolution does not rely on those details. The overall concept of Natural Selection is true and that was first put forth by Darwin and substantiated by many others. plus there are no mathematicians that have published one single solitary mathematical paper proving there is no way for evolution and speciation to have happened -- there is lots of opinion papers saying things like that, but not one mathematician has proven it!

Do any of his statements sounds familiar? Well let us not forget that this isn't the first attack on science textbooks, not even in Louisiana. As noted by Barbara Forrest in "Louisiana Creationist Textbook Addendum Rejected in Tennessee" the LFF, one of the writers of the anti-science legislation called the Louisiana Science Education Act, also publishes some 'guidelines' on how to review science textbooks. They went further and

"In September 2009, working with the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), an affiliate of Focus on the Family, Charles H. Voss was instrumental in persuading the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to adopt a creationist-friendly procedure for reviewing complaints about the use of creationist supplementary materials in public schools."

Voss' Text add-ons sounds a lot like Mr. Cleveland's objections. Which should be no surprise since these add-ons have been brought up any number of times. The bottom-line question is who are the best people to review curriculum material? In my opinion it is certainly those people training in the discipline. Biologists should be reviewing and suggesting material for the biology classroom. English majors should be doing it for English, Math for Math, and so on. These are the best people for determining what is appropriate for a particular subject area, what areas of the subject should be taught at what grades, what textbooks should be used and how well do they cover the subject area, and what are the qualifications for people who are going to teach a subject. These folks are the best source of information on a particular subject area!

Please read up on Barbara Forrest's "Combating Creationism in Louisiana Public Schools" is addresses many of the common objections and it a great way to be prepared when these pseudo-objections come up. It might seem a little dated, being from 1997. But then Creationists arguments haven't changed much since William Paley in 1802 now have they?

Now some folks might be upset that I am not giving parents and the public their due in textbook selection. They are right. Yes, parents and even the public should be involved in the education process. But there reaches a level of specialized knowledge to properly evaluate textbooks that most folks are not going to have. I have reviewed many textbooks in my own specialty of Information Technology, but I would be a poor choice to evaluate biology textbooks even though I am extremely interested in the subject. My insights would probably cause more damage than harm.

I hope the Livingston Parish school district does the smart thing, but I am worried that the organization of the pseudo-complainants might overwhelm them. It will be certainly something to keep an eye on! The State, in the form of Jindal signing the bill, and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education have caved into Creationist interests groups, specifically the LFF and the Discovery Institute. These people should not be driving science education, hell they shouldn't even be driving the school bus taking kids to school! But that is the first you are facing, good luck!

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