We’re talking about the Minnesota Science Standards and we’re talking about nothing less than the Pope Mobile.
Consider the following statement currently part of the proposed Minnesota Science Standards:
The student will be able to explain how scientific and technological innovations as well as new evidence can challenge portions of or entire accepted theories and models including but not limited to cell theory, atomic theory, theory of evolution, plate tectonic theory, germ theory of disease and big bang theory.
Think about this for a moment. The standard is asking that the basic, minimal level at which students should understand science in Middle School and High School … not AP or accelerated … includes the challenge of widely held dogma such as Newtonian Physics, the Periodic Table, and Evolution via Natural Selection. The students are expected to balance, in their introduction to basic science, the idea that cells are what scientists say they are and the idea that cell theory may be wrong. They are expected to compare a basic model of the atom with what … stuff they may think of that is different from the Standard Model in Physics?
Absurd. But of course, it all makes sense if you realize what the purpose of this paragraph really is.
I’ve been talking to Steven Newton over at the National Center for Science Education, and he points out that this wording has all the earmarks of the kind of science standard that can lead to trouble. According to Newton, “This standard may open a loophole for creationist teachers to introduce anti-evolution material into their classrooms.” And I think he’s right.
Newton also feels that teachers who are themselves creationists, and a very large percentage of them, sadly, are essentially being given permission by this wording to introduce a hefty dose of creationism in their classroom. The standards offer no guidelines for implementing this wording that may safeguard against this sort of thing.
Also, notice the explicit mention of evolution as a key theory to spend a little time in class discrediting. Newton told me “…putting evolution in the middle of a list is a creationist tactic similar to last-minute amendments to legislative bills; the additions get carried along for the ride.” Again, I think he’s right on the money.
I asked Steven to suggest alternative wording and this is what he gave me:
“The student should understand that science involves a culture of skepticism and criticism, and that even the most famous and influential scientist must prove his or her new ideas, over and over again, to a hostile and critical audience of his or her peers. Very rarely a new scientific theory displaces long-held scientific views, in a process historian of science Thomas Kuhn called “paradigm shifts.” Examples of this include the Copernican revolution (1543), the Newtonian revolution (1687), Einstein’s theory of relativity (1905), and Wegener’s theory of plate tectonics (1915).”
… although he quickly added that this entire paragraph could just be deleted as well.
For the next couple of days, you can still comment on the standards. See this for details.