Tag Archives: creationism

The Dinosaurs On Noah’s ark

Just shoot me now.

A column in the Arizona Republic newspaper reports that the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction has added a member to that state’s panel charged with reviewing science instruction in Arizona’s public schools.

And what eminent scientist or respected academic has been chosen for this important panel?

Here is a bit of instruction from a guy Superintendent Diane Douglas tapped to help review Arizona’s standards on how to teach evolution in science class:

The earth is just 6,000 years old and dinosaurs were present on Noah’s Ark. But only the young ones. The adult ones were too big to fit, don’t you know.

“Plenty of space on the Ark for dinosaurs – no problem,” Joseph Kezele explained to Phoenix New Times’Joseph Flaherty.

Flaherty reports that in August, Arizona’s soon-to-be ex-superintendent appointed Kezele to a working group charged with reviewing and editing the state’s proposed new state science standards on evolution.

Joseph Kezele, it turns out, teaches (his version of) biology at Arizona Christian University, and serves as president of the Arizona Origin Science Association.   The article describes him as “a staunch believer in the idea that enough scientific evidence exists to back up the biblical story of creation.”

Douglas has been working for awhile now to bring a little Sunday school into science class. This spring she took a red pen to the proposed new science standards, striking or qualifying the word “evolution” wherever it occurred.

Douglas wants the theory of Intelligent Design taught alongside the “theory” of evolution–a desire that confirms her total lack of understanding of the scientific method and scientific terminology.

A scientific theory is not the equivalent of a wild-ass guess. Scientific theories grow out of and are based upon groups of hypotheses that have been repeatedly and successfully empirically tested. Only after sufficient evidence has been gathered in support of those hypotheses will a theory be developed to explain the phenomenon in question.

Even then, scientific theories (unlike religious beliefs) remain subject to falsification–continued empirical testing to support or disprove the hypotheses upon which the theory depends. If a theory cannot be rejected, modified or confirmed by such empirical testing, it isn’t science.

Other beliefs may or may not be true (that sunset is beautiful!), but that doesn’t make them science.

Meanwhile, the new appointee to the panel reviewing Arizona’s science standards has already convinced the others to change the description of evolution from “the explanation for the unity and diversity of organisms, living and extinct” to “an” explanation–in other words, one “theory” among others.

As the columnist concluded,

So much for long-established scientific theory.

Kezele told Flaherty that there is enough scientific evidence to back up the biblical account of creation. He says students should be exposed to that evidence. For example, scientific stuff about the human appendix and the Earth’s magnetic field.

“I’m not saying to put the Bible into the classroom, although the real science will confirm the Bible,” Kezele told Flaherty. “Students can draw their own conclusions when they see what the real science actually shows.”

Because, hey, Barney floating around on Noah’s Ark.

Kezele told Flaherty that all land animals – humans and dinosaurs alike — were created on the Sixth Day.

And there was light and the light was, well, a little dim for science class, if you ask me.

The only good news here is that Douglas initially won the Superintendent’s office by a single percentage point, barely survived a recall effort, and decisively lost the 2018 Republican primary.

The bad news is, there were people in Arizona who voted for her.

Another Disastrous Appointment

If Americans agree about anything, it’s probably about the importance of education. Although there is substantial disagreement on what a “good” education looks like (guiding intellectual enlightenment ? teaching marketplace skills?), it is widely assumed that better education is an important part of any solution to our social ills, especially poverty.

There can be no equality of opportunity so long as disadvantaged children are trapped in substandard schools, especially under-resourced urban schools in majority-minority districts. Education reform efforts are recognition of that reality.

Despite the number of such reform efforts over the past several years, no one has yet developed a magic formula that consistently turns underperforming schools into academic success stories. We do, however, have a lot of experience with reform efforts that haven’t worked—several of which have made things worse.

Which brings me to President-elect Trump’s choice of Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary.

Douglas Harris, an economics professor at Tulane, has been a proponent of charter schools and a researcher of school reform. Friday, he published a scathing column in the New York Times, titled “Betsy DeVos and the Wrong Way to Fix Schools.”

The choice of Ms. DeVos might not seem surprising. Mr. Trump has, after all, proposed $20 billion to finance “school choice” initiatives and Ms. DeVos supports these ideas. Yet of all the candidates the transition team was apparently considering, Ms. DeVos has easily the worst record.

As one of the architects of Detroit’s charter school system, she is partly responsible for what even charter advocates acknowledge is the biggest school reform disaster in the country….

Detroit is not only the lowest in this group of lowest-performing districts on the math and reading scores, it is the lowest by far…. The situation is so bad that national philanthropists interested in school reform refuse to work in Detroit….Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of five states with declining reading scores.

In contrast, Harris points to New Orleans. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the city replaced most of its schools with charters; after a poor start, the state took over a third of them and revamped the system, increasing oversight and preventing cherry-picking of students.

After the reforms, the city’s standardized test scores have increased by eight to 15 percentile points and moved the district from the bottom to almost the state average on many measures. High school graduation and college entry rates also seem to have improved significantly, even while suspensions, expulsions and the rate of students switching schools have all dropped. Detroit and New Orleans represent radically different versions of school choice — and the one that seems to work is the one that uses the state oversight that Ms. DeVos opposes.

Harris notes that New Orleans is also important because it is the only city in the country in which charter school results can be compared to results for school vouchers, the approach Ms. DeVos prefers.

In a study my center released this year, researchers found that the statewide Louisiana voucher program had exactly the opposite result as the New Orleans charter reforms. Students who participated in the voucher program had declines in achievement tests scores of eight to 16 percentile points. Since many of these students received vouchers through a lottery, these results are especially telling.

Ms. DeVos is a long-time financial supporter of the extreme Right, believes schools should teach Creationism, and has been a generous donor to anti-LGBT groups. She is a rich ideologue who has been described as “an enemy of public education.”

Michigan blogger Ed Brayton, who has observed her at close range for several years, is blunt; “Putting her in charge of the Department of Education is like making Al Capone the chief of police.”

This choice is a disaster for schoolchildren—and especially for low-income children.

 

 

What the Hell is Happening at Ball State?

For those readers who don’t live in Indiana, Ball State University is one of the state’s public universities–and lately, the source of some disquieting events.

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I only know what I read in the media, and I do understand how easy it is to get a distorted picture from what the media chooses to highlight. Still, there are some very troubling signs coming from Muncie, Indiana.

First, there was the Professor who reportedly championed creationism in a science class.  The course itself was unobjectionable, once you got beyond the incredibly turgid description; “a seminar investigating physical reality and the boundaries of science for any hidden wisdom within this reality which may illuminate the central questions of the purpose of our existence and the meaning of life.” However, there were reports that the instructor was actively proselytizing and endorsing a Christian viewpoint rather than discussing scientific inquiries. Since Ball State is a public university, such endorsement–if verified– would violate the Establishment Clause.

The controversy made the news again when the professor was awarded tenure.

Eric Hedin, the associate professor of astronomy and physics at Ball State University who was investigated in 2014 for allegedly teaching intelligent design, has earned tenure. That’s despite claims that he was proselytizing in a science class and the university’s strong affirmation of the scientific consensus around evolution in light of the allegations.

Despite the concerns–and negative publicity– raised by the allegations, the university subsequently hired Guillermo Gonzalez,  who had written a book in support of intelligent design, to teach astronomy and physics classes.

Intelligent design is religious doctrine; it is not science. Hiring two advocates of a doctrine overwhelmingly rejected by science to teach science is, at best, worrisome.

Then in January of this year, the Muncie Star-Press announced the sudden resignation of the University’s President.

 Ball State University’s board of trustees accepted the mysterious, sudden and unexpected resignation of President Paul Ferguson during a special meeting at the university’s Indianapolis Center on Monday.

The suddenness of the resignation–and the Board’s unwillingness to offer any explanation for it–generated a number of damaging rumors, including rumors of University financial problems. To date–unless Google and I missed it–there has still been no explanation.

Now, we have news of a major grant to the University by the Koch Brothers and Papa John Schnatter of Papa John’s Pizza notoriety.  In March, they donated $3.25 million to Ball State to create the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise.

A student group concerned that the grant will purchase influence over curriculum and the Presidential search issued the following statement:

We have reason to believe this will lead to the appointment of a Koch-connected official, as the situation at our university is frighteningly similar to what happened at FSU (Florida State University) where there was an open (presidential) search the same time they were setting up a Koch institute in their department of economics.

The students charge that the Kochs spend millions promoting discredited anti-environmental positions under the aegis of a free-market agenda in order to protect their vast interests in fossil fuels.

George Mason University, Florida State University, Troy University, all of these have been infiltrated by the Kochs. George Mason is now the number one climate-denying institution.

I work at a university, and I know how attractive big grants can be, even when there is no fiscal crisis. Most grants come with no strings attached, and support important research–my own university, like many others, has policies against taking funds unless the accompanying documentation protects academic independence. The stories from Ball State thus far, however, do not describe any conditions that Ball State has attached to its acceptance of the grant.

One would hope that establishment of an Institute on free enterprise would not operate to distort or even affect the teaching of science, including climate science, on the same campus.

Of course, a science department willing to hire creationists may be willing to “adjust”…..

 

 

Government Shekels

Several years ago, when I was conducting research into the “Charitable Choice” provisions of 1992 Welfare Reform (more familiarly known as Bush’s “Faith-Based Initiative”), I interviewed a local pastor who was very skeptical of the prospect of contracting with government to provide social services. His memorable “take” : “With the government’s shekels come the government’s shackles.”

I thought about that pithy observation when I read a couple of recent articles reporting that voucher schools–schools that receive taxpayer dollars–are teaching creationism and other religious doctrines.

A Politico review found that over 300 of these publicly-funded religious schools teach the biblical creation story as fact, distort and misrepresent basic facts about the scientific method and “nurture distrust of science.”

The law in this area is settled, and quite clear: Public dollars cannot be used to teach religious dogma. If and when lawsuits are filed–and the likelihood is that they will be–these schools will have to face the reality of that Pastor’s observation. They have a choice: take the money and teach real science, or forego the money and teach whatever they want.

Whatever one’s view of education vouchers as policy (my view, as readers of this blog know, is pretty dim for a whole raft of reasons), one thing is clear: If private or parochial schools take public dollars, they have to abide by the same constitutional standards that govern public schools.

If they are unwilling to acquiesce to the “government’s shackles,” they will have to give up the government’s shekels.

Here We Go Again

According to the Indianapolis Star,

 Four legislators, including Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, chairman of the Education Committee, say “serious questions have been raised about whether academic freedom, free speech and religious liberty have been respected by BSU in its treatment of professor Hedin, its subsequent establishment of a speech code restricting faculty speech on intelligent design, and its cancellation of professor Hedin’s … class,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Gora.

For those with cloudy memories, the roots of this particular “inquiry” are described here.

Why, exactly, do Hoosier voters are continue to elect people who do not understand the difference between science and religion, the operation of the First Amendment’s religion clauses or the difference between Free Speech and government speech?

Let me spell this out—not that Senator Kruse or his theocratic cohorts will listen.

Academic freedom insulates the academy from the Senator’s own efforts to dictate the content of courses taught by the University. It does not protect a professor who is teaching discredited or inappropriate materials— I don’t have “academic freedom” to teach flower arranging in my Law and Policy classes; a historian does not have “academic freedom” to insist that the Holocaust didn’t occur; and a professor of science does not have “academic freedom” to substitute creationism for science.

Freedom of speech and religious liberty allow Senator Kruse to believe and promote any cockamamie thing he wants. It does not give him—and it most definitely does not give the legislature, which is government—the right to demand (overtly or covertly) that a public university give equal time in science class to an unscientific religious belief.

Can creationism be taught? Sure—in a class on comparative religion, or in a history of science class, or as part of a political science class’s exploration of the ongoing tension between religious orthodoxy and science.

Senator Kruse and his cohorts do raise a question that Hoosier voters should take seriously: When will the General Assembly stop spending so much time on religiously-motivated efforts to marginalize gays, keep women second-class and pregnant, control what Hoosiers drink and when, and teach religious dogma in our public schools? When will they start paying attention to the economy, the quality of life in our state, and the other genuine problems we elected them to address?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not holding my breath.