In all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.
So far, so good. The statement has all the right buzz-words, no problem, right? Wait, hold the phone, not so fast, says Jonathan Osborne, the chair of science education at Stanford University in this commentary on EdWeek.
As I read I kept getting distracted. Every so often I found myself checking to see if I had not experienced a serious transporter malfunction. Like when I read this statement:
Science education seeks to offer students an understanding and vision of a body of knowledge that is beyond question.
How did I get from EDWeek to the Onion? But no, I am still on EdWeek. Then I read this:
After all, the stock in trade of the school classroom is knowledge that has been placed beyond doubt.
Huh. I stopped reading and started scrolling. Surely there has to be a snark tag somewhere. No snark tag? This is a serious commentary? So I found my place again and continued reading. Oh, now I get it. He's not really talking about science learning vs. science doing. It turns out that Dr. Osborne considers that seemingly innocuous statement to be code.
Let's look at the statement again.
In all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations (my bold) by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.
According to Dr. Osborne, the phrase “scientific explanations” is code for “evolution.”
The political intent is evident. There is only one theory that the supporters of this view wish to see analyzed and critiqued
Did the writers of the standards really have only one theory in mind? Perhaps we can draw some conclusions from definitions of terms repeated throughout the standards document. First, science.
(2) Nature of science. Science, as defined by the National Academy of Sciences, is the "use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena, as well as the knowledge generated through this process." This vast body of changing and increasing knowledge is described by physical, mathematical, and conceptual models. Students should know that some questions are outside the realm of science because they deal with phenomena that are not scientifically testable.
Seems to me there might be some code in there. If “scientific explanations” means evolution, wouldn't “questions outside the realm of science” mean creation?
Next term, scientific theory.
(C) know that scientific theories are based on natural and physical phenomena and are capable of being tested by multiple independent researchers. Unlike hypotheses, scientific theories are well-established and highly-reliable explanations, but may be subject to change as new areas of science and new technologies are developed
Then I looked at the context of the “code” statement. How exactly did the Texas educators hope students would apply the critical thinking skills developed by examining all sides of scientific evidence? The section containing the “code” statement starts out
(3) Scientific processes. The student uses critical thinking, scientific reasoning, and problem solving to make informed decisions within and outside the classroom.
Since students are expected to spend 40% of their instructional within the science classroom actually doing science, they are going to have to learn to make some decisions. Those decision-making skills, it is hoped, will serve the students well outside the classroom.
Section 3 then starts with Dr. Osborne's code statement.
A. In all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations (my bold) by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.
So first comes the acquisition of scientific skills and next comes the application.
(B) communicate and apply scientific information extracted from various sources such as current events, news reports, published journal articles, and marketing materials [written text] ;
(C) draw inferences based on data related to promotional materials for products and services
The standards repeat the same definitions and expectations within each of the major subject headings, even to the extent that, for example, Section 3A under Aquatic Science is the same Section 3A under Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Earth and Space Science, Environmental Systems, Integrated Physics and Chemistry, and Physics—word for word eight times.
Finally, Dr. Osborne defends the inclusion of Darwinian evolution in the curriculum.
Darwin’s place on the school science curriculum is justified because it meets two fundamental criteria.
I presume that he would agree the inclusion of any other topic in the science curriculum also meet both “fundamental criteria.”
First, it is a “big idea”—one that dominates and frames the discipline. For the life sciences, anyone who does not understand its major principles and tenets would be as illiterate as someone studying English who has never heard of Shakespeare.
No argument there. I would add, perhaps provocatively, that the study of English literature should likewise include the many literary allusions from the Bible.
Second, within the scientific community it is not up for discussion. And, as it lies beyond criticism, it is hard to see what value any attempt to evaluate critically the evidence and logical reasoning on which it rests would serve.
Scientifically speaking, pretty much everything is always up for discussion. There are no end of science explanations, once “no longer up for discussion,” that the scientific community later pitched. Nothing within science is beyond criticism.
Creationists may argue that the biggest idea is God, and a God such as they postulate would certainly be above criticism. The pot does not complain to the potter. But that is precise why creationism is not science. “It does not matter how big the idea, if it is not falsifiable, it is not science,” so said a scientist (personal communication), not a science educator.
Whatever modifications scientists may make to Darwinian evolution in the future, Charles Darwin's place in the science curriculum forever is assured. If it should happen (perish the thought) that Darwinian evolution should find its way to the scientific waste bin as a scientific theory, it will always be around as scientific history.
The Texas standards specifically address evolution:
(7) Science concepts. The student knows evolutionary theory is a scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life. The student is expected to:
(A) analyze and evaluate how evidence of common ancestry among groups is provided by the fossil record, biogeography, and homologies, including anatomical, molecular, and developmental;
(B) analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record;
[(B) analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record;]
(C) analyze and evaluate how natural selection produces change in populations, not individuals;
(D) analyze and evaluate how the elements of natural selection, including inherited variation, the potential of a population to produce more offspring than can survive, and a finite supply of environmental resources, result in differential reproductive success;
(E) analyze and evaluate the relationship of natural selection to adaptation and to the development of diversity in and among species; [and]
(F) analyze and evaluate the effects of other evolutionary mechanisms, including genetic drift, gene flow, mutation, and recombination ; and [.]
(G) analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell.