In January, the Texas State Board of Education voted to remove the requirement that public school textbooks include both strengths and weaknesses in the theory of evolution, thereby making it the unchallenged standard taught to science students. A new bill proposed by State Representitive Wayne Christian seeks to minimize the effect of that decision by saying that students cannot be penalized for not believing certain scientific theories such as evolution.
Opponents of the bill argue that it creates a slippery slope by allowing students to conveniently believe anything they want and still get an automatic pass. Don’t believe in plate tectonics? Pass. Don’t believe in the theory of relativity? Pass. Don’t believe that the earth revolves around the sun? Pass.
“Students could claim they believe anything they wanted in anything in science and if that’s what they say, the teacher would be forced to give that student an A,” said Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science. “That’s how bad this bill is written.”
But if you read the text of the bill (HB 4224), that’s clearly not the case:
(c) Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because he or she subscribes to a particular position on scientific theories or hypotheses;
(d) No governmental entity shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students to understand, analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information.
In other words, students don’t have to believe the theories they’re being taught, but they still need to understand them. A student can’t just sit there and say, “I don’t believe in evolution, so you have to give me an A.” As long as he can pass a test over the material, a teacher who disagrees with the student can’t flunk him simply because they disagree.
Why is that such a bad thing?
I say, if evolution is, in fact, completely true, then what’s the harm in debating its strengths and weaknesses? The point of school is to educate our children, and a big component of education is teaching critical thinking skills, teaching kids how to research, debate, formulate an argument and then communicate that position. To me, allowing for debate about the topic of evolution in school is a perfect opportunity to teach these skills.
This bill — at least as I read it – provides an opportunity for exactly this type of debate. Of course, it doesn’t require the debate, but it at least allows it to occur.
And it’s for precisely that reason that pro-evolution groups are so opposed to it.
Should evolution be debated in public schools?