From Pharyngula we find out that an anti science guy is now in charge of Texas’ education system. The original posting came from Dr. Joan Bushwell’s Chimpanzee Refuge and concerns Don McLeroy, newly appointed chair of the Texas state board of education. Helpfully, a link to his website was provided. His emphasis is “clear thinking”. Since my emphasis is on clear liquid thinking, I reckoned I oughta take a crack at this. After all, he’s a dentist so this is something I can probably sink my teeth into. Let’s see what crowning wisdom we can glean from his site:
Filling the mind with knowledge and facts is, in fact, the special task given to education.
Thus, the most amazing “orthodoxy” which dominates the educational establishment “leviathan” today is the slighting of “facts and knowledge” for emphasis on problem-solving and critical thinking. Problem solving and critical thinking are secondary skills. Before one can think and solve he must first have something to think about.
Surgeons must be drilled and saturated in the facts of anatomy before they problem solve with a scalpel. Yet today there is a real bias in the public schools to de-emphasize knowledge and facts.
Again, for a child, the years before puberty are the golden time to learn, to be exposed to myriads of facts, to be trained in arithmetic, grammar and spelling.
In spite of this, each of these areas have been a battleground at the State level where the dogmatic “orthodoxies” have been challenged by the “back-to-the-basics” advocates.
What we need in our schools is a real commitment to filling our children’s minds with knowledge, facts and experiences; this is the school’s job; no one else is going to do it; it is what parent’s expect.
“Clear Thinking” will be the result.
First I would expect that somebody in charge of education should know the difference between a possessive and a plural, but we’ll put that aside. He seems to want to focus on filling kids’ minds with facts, ready to regurgitate at the drop of a standardized test I’ll bet. To the demphasis of critical thinking skills. Although, looking through the rest of his web site, I suppose I can understand why he wants less emphasis on critical thinking skills, as browsing around his web site would seem to indicate that critical thinking is not one of the tools in his tool box. I agree that facts are important. It is important to know what the structure of our government is. It is important to know what evolution is and how it explains the origin of species. It is important to know where seasons come from, what the chemical structure of various elements are and how the human experience has been reflected in art, poetry, and philosophy through the centuries. Critical thinking does not take a back seat to all this knowledge though. It is vitally important. One must be able to assess the accuracy of assumptions. One must be able to follow a logically coherent argument that follows from those assumptions. One must be able to look at statistical data and be able to derive correlative inferences, or not, from the data. For example, what is the statistical likelihood of being involved in a terrorist attack in the U.S.? Should you be living in constant fear? Can one draw a valid statistical correlation between lung cancer and smoking? Between a decrease in piracy and global warming? Our survival as a robust democratic system depends on the ability of the populace to think. To not only know many things, but to be able to use this knowledge and discover or create new knowledge.
Moving on through the site, we come to his thoughts on intelligent design. If I may sum up succinctly, his argument is that science, in particular, “Darwinian evolutionists” assume that nature is all there is and this assumption is wrong, that we’re all trapped into thinking this way, and there has been much evidence to show that “Darwinism” is wrong. First of course, much has been learned about evolution and how it works since Darwin. This peculiar authoritarian nomenclature is typical of creationist thinking. Next, of course, we don’t assume everything is materialist in nature. We simply have no evidence to suggest it is otherwise. If there was some type of interaction a god had with the universe, that would be something scientific methods would be able to ascertain. The fact that none have been observed strongly suggests that no such interactions exist, thus rendering a god, if not nonexistent, at least pretty useless from our perspective. He claims there is strong evidence against “Darwinism”, which I take he means evolution. I am aware of no such evidence. On the contrary, I am aware of mountain ranges of evidence that do support evolution and the evidence continues to accumulate. Instead of presenting actual evidence, or doing any real science to support the case for creation or intelligent design, I see a lot of hand waving and political maneuvering. Credible evidence to support their case must not consist of saying, we don’t understand how to get from point A to point B, therefore a designer must have been involved. Often in those arguments, the path is later revealed through rigorous scientific means and the argument is mooted. He seems to further fly in the face of well supported scientific consensus when he states that only a shaky hypothesis. I suppose if one wanted to go through his arguments one by one, each could be easily dismantled. I’ll save that fun for another time. So, Don McLeroy demonstrates that he does not know how science works, and yet he is in a position of authority in education.
Next, click on the “Educational Philosophy” and then click on “Abstinence is the Only Safe Message” link. He is a proponent of teaching only abstinence only programs. It is true that by abstaining one will not get STDs or pregnant. But, human nature being what it is, one must be realistic about what it is what people are actually going to do. Evidence shows that this type of program by itself simply doesn’t work, as discussed here. Once again, Don McLeroy is determined to hold to beliefs contrary to the evidence and displays a lack of having applied a little critical thinking to the problem.
So I can only conclude that instead of education in Texas is on very shaky ground. I feel sorry for the potential crippling of all those young minds. What makes this especially dangerous to the rest of the country is the influence Texas has on textbook publication.