NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2011/04/01
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, The antievolution bills in Tennessee advance, but the antievolution bill in New Mexico is dead. NCSE presents a preview of Berkman and Plutzer's Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms, a spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Education claims -- wrongly -- that creationism is included in the Alabama state science standards, and the Indiana Department of Education offers its voice for evolution.
ANTIEVOLUTION BILLS IN TENNESSEE ADVANCE Tennessee's House Bill 368 was passed by the House Education Committee on March 29, 2011, and referred to the House Calendar and Rules Committee, while its counterpart, Senate Bill 893, was discussed but not voted on by the Senate Education Committee on March 30, 2011. These bills, if enacted, would require state and local educational authorities to "assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies" and permit teachers to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught." The only examples provided of "controversial" theories are "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." Among the opponents of the Tennessee antievolution bills are the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, which described HB 368 as "unnecessary, anti-scientific, and very likely unconstitutional"; the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which explained, "Asserting that there are significant scientific controversies about the overall nature of these concepts [i.e., global warming and evolution] when there are none will only confuse students, not enlighten them"; and the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, which charged, "this legislation is not aimed at developing students' critical thinking skills. Rather, it seeks to subvert scientific principle to religious ideology by granting legal cover to teachers who wish to dress up religious beliefs regarding the origin of life as pseudo-science." For the text of Tennessee's House Bill 368 and Senate Bill 893, visit: http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/default.aspx?BillNumber=HB0368 http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/default.aspx?BillNumber=SB0893 For the statements in opposition to the bills, visit: http://ncse.com/news/2011/03/opposition-to-antievolution-bill-continues-tennessee-006541 And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Tennessee, visit: http://ncse.com/news/tennessee ANTIEVOLUTION BILL IN NEW MEXICO DIES New Mexico's House Bill 302 died in committee on March 19, 2011, when the legislative session ended. The bill had been tabled by the Education Commitee of the House of Representatives on a 5-4 vote on February 18, 2011. A version of the currently popular "academic freedom" antievolution strategy, HB 302, if enacted, would have required teachers to be allowed to inform students "about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses" pertaining to "controversial" scientific topics and would protect teachers from "reassignment, termination, discipline or other discrimination for doing so." Its sponsor, Thomas A. Anderson (R-District 29), claimed that the bill was his own, but a detailed comparison provided by New Mexicans for Science and Reason revealed the similarity of HB 302 to model bills drafted by the Discovery Institute and Intelligent Design Network New Mexico. For the text of New Mexico's House Bill 302, visit: http://www.nmlegis.gov/Sessions/11%20Regular/bills/house/HB0302.html For NMSR's analysis of HB 302, visit: http://nmsr.org/hb302evo.htm And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in New Mexico, visit: http://ncse.com/news/new-mexico A PREVIEW OF BERKMAN AND PLUTZER NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer's Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms (Cambridge University Press, 2010). The excerpt is taken from chapter 2 -- "The Public Speaks: 'Teach Both'" -- and discusses "more than a quarter century of surveys of the American public concerning evolution." Berkman and Plutzer summarize, "the majority of Americans favor teaching students a biblical perspective on the origins of life on earth. For most, creationism should be taught alongside evolutionary biology ... However, a fairly sizable minority say they want biblical perspectives to supplant scientific treatments of the origin of species." Endorsing the book, Francisco J. Ayala wrote, "Who should determine whether evolution is taught in the schools and how it is taught? Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms is a thorough investigation of the relative roles played by school boards and the political process, by scientists, and by school teachers. You may be surprised by the answers." And NCSE's Glenn Branch described Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms as "[a] tour de force," adding, "Berkman and Plutzer's analysis of who really decides what is taught about evolution in America's public schools is incisive and insightful, thorough and thoughtful. ... required reading for anyone who wants to understand the evolution wars." For the preview (PDF), visit: http://ncse.com/files/pub/evolution/Excerpt--Berkman.pdf For information about the book from its publisher, visit: http://www.cambridge.org/us/knowledge/isbn/item5010363 CREATIONISM IN THE ALABAMA STANDARDS? A spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Education claims that creationism is presented in the state education standards. Michael Sibley, the department's director of communications, told Fox News (March 24, 2011) by e-mail that the Alabama Course of Study, while not addressing creationism individually, "deals with Theories of Evolution," adding, "Creationism is one of those theories. The Alabama Course of Study presents each of these so that students can draw their own conclusion for themselves." In fact, the Alabama Course of Study: Science for grades 9-12, adopted in 2005, refers (p. 41) to "the theory" -- not "theories" -- of evolution. But the treatment of evolution in the standards is extraordinarily poor, receiving the grade of F in Louise S. Mead and Anton Mates's survey of the treatment of evolution in the science education standards of all fifty states, published in Evolution: Education and Outreach in 2009. Indeed, the word "evolution" itself is explicitly used only once in the Biology Core section of the standards. Moreover, Alabama is the only state to have a disclaimer about evolution, with three different versions appearing in the 1995, 2001, and 2005 editions of the Alabama Course of Study: Science. Although evolution is no longer described as 'controversial' in the 2005 version of the disclaimer, as it was in the 1995 and the 2001 versions, it is the only area of science explicitly identified (p. v) as facing "unanswered questions and unresolved problems" (although the preface adds, "There are many unanswered questions about the origin of life," a phrase from the earlier versions of the disclaimer). The Alabama state board of education required the 1996 version and then the 2001 version of the disclaimer to be affixed to biology textbooks in the state; the recent gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne, who served on the board from 1994 to 2002, was presumably referring to them when he proclaimed, "I fought to ensure the teaching of creationism in our school text books" (quoted by CBS News, May 11, 2010). On November 10, 2005, the board voted to continue to require the affixing of the 2001 version of the disclaimer to biology textbooks. For the Fox News story, visit: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/03/24/alabama-superintendent-denies-claims-bibles-distributed-class For the ACOSS for grades 9-12 (document), visit: http://www.alsde.edu/html/sections/doc_download.asp?section=54&id=6206&sort=4 For NCSE's story about Mead and Mates's survey, visit: http://ncse.com/news/2009/08/evolving-standards-004990 For the ACOSS preface containing the disclaimer (document), visit: http://www.alsde.edu/html/sections/doc_download.asp?section=54&id=9984&sort=4 For the CBS News story, visit: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20004740-503544.html And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Alabama, visit: http://ncse.com/news/alabama A VOICE FOR EVOLUTION FROM INDIANA The Indiana Department of Education explains its position on the teaching of evolution in the Hoosier State. A memorandum on the departmental website explains that evolution is contained in the state science standards. While the department "does not identify science content that should not be taught," the statement continues, "content taught in the area of science must be consistent with the nature of science. ... This means that the explanations for how the world works must be based upon physical evidence and subjected to experimental verification as well as peer review." The memorandum concludes by observing, "The espousing of one faith tradition or set of beliefs over another or others is inappropriate in a public school context." The department's memorandum is now reproduced, by permission, on NCSE's website, and will also be contained in the fourth edition of NCSE's Voices for Evolution. For the Indiana DOE statement (PDF), visit: http://www.doe.in.gov/science/docs/teaching_evolution_in_indiana_schools.pdf For Voices for Evolution, visit: http://ncse.com/voices Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it. -- Sincerely, Glenn Branch Deputy Director National Center for Science Education, Inc. 420 40th Street, Suite 2 Oakland, CA 94609-2509 510-601-7203 x310 fax: 510-601-7204 800-290-6006 firstname.lastname@example.org http://ncse.com Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter: http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd http://twitter.com/ncse NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncse.com/membership