Texas must implement factual science standards

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The great battle of the teaching of science in Texas schools — one that has been long-fought and has recurred nearly every year often just over the wording of a single section — comes down to a single issue: to teach creationism or to teach evolution. These standards are set to decide the quality of children’s education throughout the state, so choosing science-backed evolution should be easy. But this being Texas, and the Texas Education Board being run by conservatives, this isn’t always the case.

This year, the battle ended with the decision of a single word, “evaluate,” being excluded from the curriculum. The debate over this word, and others similar to it, was over the connotation it brought. Critics of the term believe it allows for students to question the validity of the evolutionary theories taught in biology classes, giving way for the teaching of creationism. Proponents of it argue that the language allows students to consider all sides of evolution science, as if fiction, otherwise known as creationism, should be revered as fact.

Either way, the fact is that the Texas Education Board has spent an entire year on this battle. An entire year has been spent
debating what comes down to a few words in curriculum standards, the inability to use a single word when discussing evolution.

Those committed to the teaching of empirical truths could’ve spent this year tackling larger issues within the Texas science curriculum. Celebration on the part of liberals who believe that by striking a single word from curriculum standards they’ve won a battle over creationism is unfounded. Nothing tangible has been gained. It’s still far too easy for Texas educators to stray from science and teach creationism or religious-based information to students as fact in science classrooms.

Within the Texas science standards provided by the Texas Education Agency, the teaching of “biological evolution” is listed in the high school biology section. But this is never fully defined or fleshed out. Without a full definition of what this means, it could allow for the argument that multiple sides to evolutionary science exist, one of them being creationism, and that they should all be taught in the classroom.

And while within the biology standards, “Students should be able to distinguish between scientific decision-making methods ... and ethical and social decisions that involve science,” the issue of religion is danced around. Without fully discussing religion, which for many is the backbone of ethics in our society, these standards allow for the possibility of the teaching of creationism and the origin of life in nonscientific ways. The refusal to explicitly ban the word “religion” in the science standards allows for it to be brought into biology classrooms and presented as on par with science. 

Instead of celebrating a victory over the striking of a single word from the science standards, Texas state legislators and those on the Texas Education Board should be fighting to make actual change to the standards. They should include a passage about religion and resolve that it has no place in a classroom discussion on biology. They should fully define the term “biological evolution,” giving it only the grounds to cover actual evolution. Religion and creationism have no place in a science classroom, and we need to do more to prevent them from being taught as fact in Texas.

Berdanier is a philosophy junior from Boulder, Colorado. Follow her on Twitter @berdanier. She is a senior columnist.