Saturday, February 02, 2013

Open Letter to Arizona Senator Judy Burges

Recently, Judy Burges of the Arizona senate, along with some senatorial colleagues, put forth an “strengths and weaknesses” bill for passage by the legislature. The bill, SB 1213, reads in part:
The state board of education, the department of education, county school superintendents, school district governing boards, school district superintendents, school principals and school administrators shall not prohibit any teacher in this state from helping pupils understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.
This is classic language from the Discovery Institute. The idea is to contrive “weaknesses” in evolution and other related disciplines and then promote the idea of teaching alternatives to them. In all of the cases of which I am familiar, the “weaknesses” turn out to be incorrect interpretations of data, such as “No transitional fossils” or “natural selection cannot increase genetic information.” I have drafted a letter to Senator Burges. It reads:
Dear Senator Burges,
Although not a resident of the state of Arizona, I am concerned by the text of the bill being promoted in the legislature (SB 1213) that has, as its intent science instruction. For one thing, I assumed that it was axiomatic that one of the primary purposes of the public schools was to, in the words of the bill "help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to becoming intelligent, productive and scientifically informed citizens." Consequently, the promotion of this bill seems redundant and, unless you are concerned that this is not happening in the Arizona public schools, I am curious why such legislation is necessary.
Additionally, I am concerned that, of all of the scientific disciplines that would fall under this kind of legislation, only certain ones dealing with the life sciences are being singled out for special treatment. If the purpose of this bill is to produce scientifically literate students, then surely such a bill would strive to be comprehensive, including other disciplines for which there are theoretical constructs such as Newtonian and quantum physics. I am further concerned that such a bill will give cover to the teaching of scientifically unsound concepts such as young-earth creationism, as has happened in Texas.
As I indicated at the beginning of my letter, I am not a resident of Arizona but I also know that properly educated students coming out of Arizona affect the scientific enterprises of the country as a whole. Therefore, I ask that you either rethink the wording of your bill to include other scientific disciplines or withdraw the bill as being unnecessary. Thank you for your time.


James Kidder, Ph.D.
Knoxville, Tennessee
I never received a response to a letter I wrote Barbara Cargill of Texas. I doubt I will get one from Senator Burges. We shall see.

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