19 January 2009

Knowing kids

The Texas State Board of Education will meet this week to have public hearings on K-12 science standards for the next 10 years. The Austin American-Statesman has an article about it.

Ken Mercer, a member of the State Board of Education, says that excluding the phrase about strengths and weaknesses "raises a huge red flag about academic freedom and freedom of speech" by essentially telling students that they are not qualified to ask questions about scientific theories, he said.

Mercer uses the concept of academic freedom in a weird way. Academic freedom is about what instructors do research on and say in class, not what students can ask.

"I'm hoping for a 10-5 vote, with a strong majority on whatever we go with, whatever's best for the kids," Mercer said.

I strongly suspect an 8-7 vote. Everything I have read indicates that about seven of the State Board of Education members are unlikely to change their opinions.

"I know the kids of today, and if you tell kids not to ask questions, you lose your credibility," he said.

That Mercer says "kids of today" suggests he really might not know them as well as he'd like to think. When I was younger, that's sure what "you kids today" signaled to me. But I digress.

Mercer provides no evidence that anyone has said the science standards should limit what students can ask. The science standards more to do with things like what textbooks can be purchased, and what topics are covered.

Meanwhile, while some in the state fret about evolution, some Texas A&M University faculty have apparently done some interesting research showing evolution in real time in yeast. I say apparently, because this is a press release with no indication of what journal is publishing this work.

And there's an engaging article on transitional fossils over at Science News.

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