Lucky LaRue, Altoids That Bite, 2009. At the South Austin Popular Culture Center. This is the kind of weirdness we like. There are kinds not so likeable. Used with permission of the artist. Image source: redbubble.com
it hurts a bit that I’ve never been to weird Austin, Republic of Texas. Alas for me: Everyone I know who’s been there says it’s a fine weird town. But perhaps some in Austin should work to make it a bit less weird. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for weirdness. I would even call myself pro-weird. But there is a class of weirdness that doesn’t belong anywhere, even in Austin: creationist weirdness.
Texas has hard a tough time with creationist forces, with teachers who want to “teach the controversy” where there is none; with a governor who denies evolution, calling it a theory that’s “out there”; with a state school board that tries to tell science publishers how science works. They’ve had their battles, and so far they’ve turned out well. In fact, they thought it was over: In August, the Texas Freedom Network declared “A Final Victory for Science” in light of the adoption of first-rate supplemental materials for science educators.
Now it appears that science education in Texas may be in trouble again. According to a post published Monday by the National Center for Science Education, “At its most recent meeting, the Texas state board of education considered a proposed schedule on which new science textbooks would be adopted in 2013, in time for classroom use in 2014.”
What does this mean? According to the TFN, it means Texas could soon be dragged “back into the textbook wars over evolution.”
The fear is warranted. Earlier this year, when the relatively small-scale process of choosing supplementary materials was being conducted, concerted efforts were made to “correct” the adopted materials by a creationist on the review panel. Happily, the effort was stymied and the citizens of Texas retained their hold on real science education.
Or at least they retained their hold on real science textbooks. Good textbooks are a necessary but not sufficient condition for successful education of any kind. Also required are teachers who are not afraid to teach. And that is a far more difficult problem, and more widespread.
According to a study published by Science in January, only 28% of all biology teachers consistently teach evolution, 13% consistently teach creationism (intelligent design), and 60% waffle around in the middle somewhere, consistently failing to present evolution as the fully-established scientific theory it is. Among the 60% are those who “teach the controversy,” fooling kids into thinking that what is not science, is science; that science and opinion are interchangeable; and that there is scientific disagreement about evolution, when in fact there is none.
Bad textbooks are sometimes a problem. Teachers who do not understand science or are themselves creationists or are simply afraid are a deeper problem. Where does all of this start?
I’ll tell you: In our churches. Many churches are responsible for perpetuating the lie that evolution is scientifically controversial; many are responsible for painting science as intrinsically godless; many actively work against science education. But many more sit by in silence, not asking questions about evolution, thinking it doesn’t matter or being afraid of the answers.
Now for a little good news: earlier this year, the John Templeton Foundation put nearly one million of its dollars into local churches, with the goal of bringing science inside the church by empowering parishioners — mostly science professionals — who have personally reconciled the claims of science and their religious commitments. These churchgoers will be leading classes on evolution in their churches, advising church staffs on how to incorporate science into curriculum at all levels of instruction, holding forums in churches on a range of scientific topics, and generally bringing the excitement of modern science to congregations everywhere.
Including, I presume, Texas. Here’s to all those in Austin and in less weird cities across the country who are working on legislatures, on school boards, on faculties, and yes, even in churches, to end the tiresome war between science and religion.