Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Trying To Make Science Education Extinct

In a bold move to show that no idea is so wrong that it can't be tried over and over again, religious conservatives on the Kansas Board of Education have voted once again to re-define science and evolution by adding Creationism to the science classroom. Such was tried twice before, only this time "Intelligent Design" has been substituted for "Creationism".

From Red Orbit:

The new standards say high school students must understand major evolutionary concepts. But they also declare that the basic Darwinian theory that all life had a common origin and that natural chemical processes created the building blocks of life have been challenged in recent years by fossil evidence and molecular biology.

In addition, the board rewrote the definition of science, so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena.

The sad part of this, besides it being the third time the Kansas Board of Education has made this mistake, is that Kansas actually allows religious advocacy groups to write its school board policy. The new standards were written by members of the Intelligent Design Network and basically reflect the same tired pseudo-science that I.D. proponents have been spewing for the past ten years.

The really dangerous part of these new standards is the re-writing of the school board's definition of science to remove "natural" as the qualifier for what makes an explanation scientific. Science is, by definition, the study of the natural world. Intelligent Design believers have attempted vigorously to change the definition of science in order to accommodate their phony "theory".

It's difficult not to feel some sense of loss, particularly for the students of Kansas, who have to live with the reality of a school board more interested in currying political favor with religious fundamentalists than in providing a sound education. Creation myths have their place in a school curriculum; just not in the science classroom. Intelligent Design is nothing more than a scientific-sounding attempt to justify God over science, which is pointless. If God created the natural world, then evolution is part of that creation. Intelligent Design is not science, nor is it even theology.

What Intelligent Design really is, and, moreover, what the whole antagonism towards evolution represents, is the discomfort many conservatives have with the idea that humans are not the center of the universe. Intelligent Design has nothing to do with God; it has to do with human arrogance. It's the arrogant belief that humans must have been specially created and thus are morally superior to all else that exists. It's also arrogance that leads the Intelligent Design disciple to proclaim that anything science can't explain in 2005 must be God's work. That approach to science was left behind hundreds of years ago and should remain a relic of our pre-Enlightenment past.

A further aspect of this degradation of educational standards in Kansas is its impact on standardized tests:

The new standards will be used to develop student tests measuring how well schools teach science. Decisions about what is taught in classrooms will remain with 300 local school boards, but some educators fear pressure will increase in some communities to teach less about evolution or more about creationism or intelligent design.

"What this does is open the door for teachers to bring creationist arguments into the classroom and point to the standards and say it's OK," said Jack Krebs, an Oskaloosa High School math teacher and vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science, which opposes the changes.

This aspect of it is both ignorant and dishonest. The premise here is that by changing only the state testing standards, it effectively leaves the decision of what to teach in the hands of local school districts. That way, the state board can blame the local boards when the schools start graduating students that can't compete in certain scientific fields because of a faulty education. It also makes certain that any local school board that chooses to provide a good science education to its students may leave them without the mythology education needed to pass the state's standardized tests. Of course, given that the essentials of Intelligent Design can be learned in about 10 minutes by the average 3rd grader does mitigate the latter risk somewhat.

The good news in all of this is that school board elections in Kansas are swiftly approaching, so perhaps the voters in Kansas will once again set their elected school board straight. Religion has no place in the science classroom and trying to blur the line between the two only weakens both areas of study. Evolution is a foundational theory of modern science and the only theory that explains the development of life on Earth. Intelligent Design is Biblical Creationism stripped of all its colorful mythology and intended to trick the average American into questioning established science. Putting it into a school science curriculum is unfair to those students wishing to have careers in science one day. And that's a real shame...

The fine students of Kansas deserve better from their school board.

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