Thursday, December 13, 2007

Editorial: Science, not faith, belongs in schools

Editorial: Science, not faith, belongs in schools

Web Posted: 12/10/2007 12:26 AM CST

San Antonio Express-News

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently released the results of a test that assesses science and math skills of students in 30 industrialized countries. The results showed American students scored in the bottom half — worse than their peers from 16 other countries, and better than only those from Italy, Portugal, Greece, Turkey and Mexico.

U.S. students do not reach "the baseline level of achievement ... at which students begin to demonstrate the science competencies that will enable them to participate actively in life situations related to science and technology," the report says. The comparative results for math were even worse.

Many explanations exist for the lagging performance in science by American students. One that cannot be avoided is that some of the adults who are responsible for their science educations don't take science seriously enough.

Christine Comer was a science teacher for 27 years. And for nine years until last month, she was the Texas Education Agency's director of science. She says she was forced to resign because — hold on to your monkey trials — she failed to show impartiality in the debate between advocates of intelligent design and evolution.

Specifically, the Austin-American Statesman reported, she forwarded an e-mail to a pro-evolution group announcing a speech by Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University. Forrest served as a key witness in a Pennsylvania court case that found intelligent design lacked sufficient evidence to be included in a scientific curriculum.

That puts Forrest and Comer at odds with some members of the State Board of Education. "Employees have to be able to work with all the members in a fair way without the perception that they are siding with one group or another," spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe told the newspaper. "That's why it's important for us to be neutral on issues and just to say what the policy is and not to create it ourselves."

Ratcliffe obviously didn't catch the irony of the "create it ourselves" line. The real issue, however, is not group dynamics. There's a place for faith, and a place for science. And the two shouldn't mix in public school classrooms.

Do Texans truly want their educators to be neutral on the teaching of religious faith versus science in schools? If so, then the State Board of Education and the Texas Education Agency are well on their way to making students in Italy, Portugal, Greece, Turkey and Mexico feel proud.

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