New Mexico joins the horde …

NCSE is reporting that a “strengths and weaknesses” bill is on the table in New Mexico. It’s your typical “academic freedom” bill that the DI has been shilling for a while now:

The department, school district governing authorities and school administrators shall not prohibit any teacher, when biological evolution or chemical evolution is being taught in accordance with adopted standards and curricula, from informing students about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses pertaining to biological evolution or chemical evolution.

The following strikes me as a little strange:

Public school teachers may hold students accountable for knowing and understanding material taught in accordance with adopted standards and curricula about biological evolution or chemical evolution, but they shall not penalize a student in any way because that student subscribes to a particular position on biological evolution or chemical evolution.

I’m unsure how this would pan out in a class room. Can a teacher penalize a student for subscribing to the position that evolution does not occur? Or that there is no common descent? Or that the earth is young? All three positions go against “adopted standards and curricula”.

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If it doesn't die in committee, here is the political composition of the New Mexico legislature:

House of Representatives: 45 Democrats, 25 Republicans
Senate: 27 Democrats, 15 Republicans

If, as in Florida, the vote is along party lines, the bill is sunk. If it somehow passes, I would be surprised if Bill Richardson didn't veto it.

It seems to me like the "strange" language is clumsily worded but expresses a reasonably sane idea: teachers can test and grade students on whether they know or understand ideas, but not on whether they believe them. So if, for instance, a student can accurately describe common descent and why it's a compelling idea, they shouldn't be graded poorly because they themselves are uncompelled. I don't have a problem with this; it seems like the line between education and indoctrination. I do, of course, have a problem with singling out evolutionary theory for this kind of critical attention.

Not surprisingly, the sponsor is a republican with a high school education. He should be nowhere near education policy; the last time he took a biology course was most likely 1975. All of these people who have never taught a single class think they know more than professional educators. Maybe we need intelligence tests for candidates.

By MIchael Fugate (not verified) on 03 Feb 2009 #permalink

This is a political rag being waved at The Base. It's essentially meaningless, because (as Peter C points out) teachers are not there to measure the extent to which students 'subscribe' to a position.

In the Freshwater reports on Panda's Thumb, there are references to what is called 'the "This" strategy', whereby Freshawater would point to a reality-based text book and say something like "This says that life began billions of years ago" or "This says humans are related to chimps". In other words, "You and I know they're talking atheist garbage, but I can't say so".

This clause serves much the same purpose but in and of itself is harmless. Teachers can only lead the horse to water, to stretch a metaphor...

By Amadán (not verified) on 04 Feb 2009 #permalink

So, basically, what that second quote above says is:
"You have to listen to what we tell you, but you don't have to believe it"

What a way to get kids interested in science!

".. but you don't have to believe it" is, of course, the first step. It will be followed by, "... but don't believe it", and then by "... you'd BETTER not believe it".

What a kooks.