28 May 2010

Students JAQing off in class

I know, I know. Even I’m getting tired of me fisking Texas State Board of Education members when they say dubious things about the teaching of evolution.

But for a change, this time it’s not Don McLeroy! Instead, it’s Ken Mercer (pictured), who is interviewed as part of his re-election campaign in District 5.

What is your position on the teaching of evolution?

I get upset when the newspapers say we put religion in the textbooks. It’s a lie. I challenge every editorial board to go online—the standards are online—and find religion in astronomy, chemistry, biology. It is not there.

Mercer is correct. There is no explicit religion in the science standards, although I note he gives no examples of newspapers that have said this. I have not seen any newspapers that claimed this. (I have seen some make mistakes, and have pointed them out.)

What I have read repeatedly is that State Board of Education’s relentless copy-editing of the standards is religiously motivated. I wonder if Mercer would dispute this. I doubt anyone can build a serious case that things like removing references to the estimated age of the universe were done for secular reasons.

I firmly believe kids in America have the right to raise their hands in the classroom and ask honest questions. I was rather shocked that the opposition didn’t want that. It wasn’t just evolution; it was global warming. I was shocked that in America if you’re either for or against those things, the biggest thing is they didn’t want kids to raise their hands and ask honest questions.

Ah, yes.

“Just asking questions.”

Sounds fair-minded. Who will object to students asking questions?

I doubt anyone is concerned about genuine inquiries prompted by curiosity. But notice how Mercer singles out evolution and global warming. These are areas where people often don’t ask honest questions, but indulge in JAQing off. I like this definition of this tactic (to which I’ve added a little emphasis):

The act of asking leading questions to influence your audience, then hiding behind the defense that they’re “Just Asking Questions," even when the underlying assumptions are completely insane.

Second, Mercer skillfully creates the impression that the previous standards did not allow students to ask questions. But that’s not what standards do. Standards are intended to specify content, not the process in a classroom. And no standards ever could specify what students can or can’t ask.

I’ve snipped the rest of his answer to this question because Mercer goes on to repeat his arguments:

  • Newspapers lie (with no actual examples given)
  • Students should just be able to ask questions (particularly about things that conservative Christian Republicans don’t like, like evolution and global warming)

But I just wanted to point out this nice little throw-in near the end:

My biggest quote was, “If our kids do not have the freedom to raise their hands in science class and ask honest questions, then we are no longer living in the United States of America.”

I’m just surprised that he didn’t also say the new Texas education standards help support the troops.

Mercer picture from here.

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