Publicly funded parochial school in Fort Collins, Colorado?

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I have not seen the new movie, “Waiting for Superman,” but I have read a handful of articles about it, most notably those I detail in the Appendix, and I strongly suspect that it is a puff piece that blames the teachers for the supposed failure of the American education system and recommends charter schools as a panacea. Speaking of puff pieces and charter schools reminded me that one of our faithful readers directed me to this very amateurish article in the Fort Collins Coloradoan. The article reads like advertising copy for the Liberty Common School, a charter school in Fort Collins, Colorado. As nearly as I can tell, most charter schools are in effect private schools operated with public funds; the Liberty Common School is a private religious school operated with public funds.

I do not want to discuss charter schools in general, but I will discuss Liberty Common’s science policy, which reads like a Compendium of Creationist Canards. Under the heading, Principles for Teaching Science, they write,

Science is a particular way of knowing about the world. In science, explanations are limited to those based on observations and experiments that can be reproduced and substantiated by other scientists. Explanations that cannot be based on empirical evidence are not a part of science. … [S]cience cannot comment on the role that supernatural forces might play in such events because such hypotheses cannot be tested and are outside the realm of science.

No one teaches anything to the contrary. Why do they bring supernaturalism into a discussion of science anyway?

- Scientific knowledge is subject to modifications as new information challenges prevailing theories and as a new theory leads to looking at old observations in a new way.

- Some matters cannot be examined usefully in a scientific way. Among them are matters that by their nature cannot be tested objectively and those that are essentially matters of theology.

Again, pabulum.

- No matter how well one theory fits observations, a new theory might fit them just as well or better, or might fit a wider range of observations. In science, the testing, revising, and occasional discarding of theories, new and old, never ends. This ongoing process leads to an increasingly better understanding of how things work in the world, but not to absolute truth.

Ah! Now we get down to brass tacks. Though this statement is technically true and was emphatically true before the development of modern science, it seems extremely unlikely that any mature scientific theory will ever be completely overturned. Rather, it will be extended or shown to be accurate only within a range of validity, as Newtonian physics is accurate with low velocities and largish masses. The theory of evolution, in particular, will not be discarded; descent with modification, which is commonly called evolution, is an established fact, and the modern theory of evolution, which is also commonly called evolution, accounts for descent with modification brilliantly.

· Teachers are encouraged to include discussions of alternate scientific theories and the data that supports and contradicts [sic] existing theories. This is consistent with the Poudre School District policy IMB: “Teaching about Controversial/SensitiveIssues.”

What alternate scientific theories? If they mean an alternative to the modern theory of evolution, there is none. “Alternate scientific theories” is code for casting doubt on a well-established theory and opening the door to creationism. No one who reads that paragraph will think otherwise.

· Students should understand the difference between science based on direct observation and/or experimentation, and historical science, which is based on the study of past events. Historical science can be found in the fields of astronomy,geology, evolutionary biology, and archeology, and has led to such theories as the”Big Bang,” tectonic plate theory, and the theory of evolution. Because it is based on past events, historical science generally depends on a higher degree of inference than science based on direct observation and experimentation.

The idea that inferences based on “historical” science are any weaker than inferences based on direct experimentation is particularly insidious. In science, we use logic and evidence, and scientific evidence that is based on past events is as good as any other scientific evidence and just as amenable to logic. In short, an inference is an inference; you can convict someone of murder by videotaping him committing that murder, or you can use a chain of circumstantial inferences (it was his gun, his fingerprints were on it, he had traces of gunpowder on his hands, he left a footprint, he was seen leaving the building at the right time, he had a motive, and so on) to arrive just as firmly at the same conclusion. Similarly, just as no one has ever seen a living dinosaur, no one has ever seen an electron; we infer the existence of dinosaurs and electrons in precisely the same way. Even so, had we never discovered a single fossil, we still would have developed the theory of evolution based on other lines of evidence; evolution is not a historical science.

Under Principles for Teaching Evolution, they continue

· A clear and accurate description of terminology will be taught. The term”evolution” has become highly politicized and often misused to include a very broad spectrum of processes; [sic] from genetic mutation to gradual change over time to the origin of the human species. It is essential to distinguish between manifestations of evolution which can be directly observed and reproduced in the laboratory (microevolution of prokaryotic cells) and those which cannot be experimentally reproduced and involve a higher level of inference and historical science (macroevolution, origin of species[,] etc.).

See above, under “historical science.” The claim that microevolution is somehow real but macroevolution cannot happen is not supported by any scientific investigation. To the contrary, there is no clear demarcation between microevolution and macroevolution, and macroevolution is usually little more than a long sequence of microevolutions.

· In this context it is important to note that many biology textbooks present all aspects of evolution—from microevolution to macroevolution—as being equally supported by experimental and empirical evidence. Liberty will strive to accurately present the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory and seek textbooks which present a more scientific and unbiased analysis of evolution.

Again, a creationist canard. Microevolution and macroevolution, to the extent that the distinction is meaningful, are equally well supported by lines of inference from taxonomy, genetics, the fossil record, biogeography, and more. It is inexcusable to claim that textbooks written by experts in their fields present unscientific and biased analyses of evolution.

· Discussions of evolutionary theory can lead to discussions of whether or not supernatural forces play a role in the mechanism of evolution or the origin of life. These topics extend beyond the scope of science and will not be taught at Liberty Common School.

I am gratified to read that last sentence.

For comparison, I checked out another charter school, the Peak-To-Peak Charter School in Boulder. I could not find a science policy, but I found this no-nonsense description of an advanced-placement biology course:

Science 90: Advanced Placement Biology: 10 credits. Weighted. Prerequisites: Science 20 or 25 and Science 30 or 35 and departmental approval. This is a full-year course in general biology as commonly offered to college freshmen. The course prepares students to take the AP Biology exam in the spring. Students will explore molecules, cells, heredity, evolution, organisms, and populations. The themes of science as a process, energy transfer, continuity and change, relationship of structure to function, regulation, interdependence in nature, and science, technology, & society are woven throughout the course. The course places a heavy emphasis on laboratory investigations, with 12 required labs designed specifically for AP Biology. Students in this course are expected to take the AP Biology exam.

Not a word about supernaturalism, teaching the controversy, macroevolution, alternate scientific theories. Why not? Because not one of those topics is relevant to teaching biology in a public school. Why then does Liberty Common have an explicit science policy, and why does it single out biology almost exclusively? I can’t read their minds, but I can suggest two possible reasons: First, to send a coded message to parents who want creationism taught to their children. Second, to cover their collective flanks, so that when they are challenged they can say that they told the school district all along what they intended to do and they were permitted to do so.

Acknowledgments. Jason Wiles, Kim Johnson, Richard Hoppe, and Paul Gross read and commented on this article, but I alone am responsible for any errors or omissions.

Appendix. I do not want to review a movie I have never seen, but I recommend these articles about “Waiting for Superman”: Dana Goldstein in The Nation, Rick Ayers in the Huffington Post , Gail Collins in the New York Times, and Brent Staples in the New York Times. It is a bit off task (after all, what is an Appendix for?), but I would like to allow Gail Collins the last word:

But plot-wise, the movie seems to suggest that what’s needed is more charter schools, which get taxpayer dollars but are run outside the regular system, unencumbered by central bureaucracy or, in most cases, unions. However, about halfway through, the narrator casually mentions that only about a fifth of American charter schools “produce amazing results.”

In fact, a study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that only 17 percent did a better job than the comparable local public school, while more than a third did “significantly worse.” …

Then there’s the matter of teachers’ unions. Guggenheim is the man who got us worried about global warming in “An Inconvenient Truth.” In his new film, the American Federation of Teachers, a union, and its president, Randi Weingarten, seem to be playing the role of carbon emissions. The movie’s heroes are people like the union-fighting District of Columbia schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, and Geoffrey Canada, the chief of the much-praised, union-free Harlem Children’s Zone.

“I want to be able to get rid of teachers that we know aren’t able to teach kids,” says Canada.

That’s unarguable, and the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program has turned out to be a terrific engine for forcing politicians and unions and education experts to create better ways to get rid of inept or lazy teachers. But there’s no evidence that teachers’ unions are holding our schools back. Finland, which is currently cleaning our clock in education scores, has teachers who are almost totally unionized. The states with the best student performance on standardized tests tend to be the ones with the strongest teachers’ unions.

66 Comments

That canard about “historical science” was laid out in the original program of the Institute for Creation Research. You can find it in many of their early writings and in the many books written by Henry Morris.

That theme is still being pushed today at ICR and at AiG; in fact, by almost all YECs.

There is an enormous problem with that argument, however. Since it was first articulated as what they apparently think is an irrefutable argument, they have had to defend it with pseudo-science distortions of real science.

That pseudo-science doesn’t work in the real world today.

You can’t take it into the lab and do anything with it, there is nothing you can design and build with it that works, and none of it matches anything in real science that works routinely for the real scientific community.

The only thing their pseudo-science seems accomplish is harvesting rubes who then repeat the garbage as though they have the finest scientific educations in the world.

Living in Fort Collins, I hear people rave about how great this school is all the time, even while their principle launches into religious tirades in the local Op-Ed column every week. I don’t get why people are so willing to excuse shoddy science education, no matter how high their math scores are.

~Rhaco

What alternate scientific theories? If they mean an alternative to the modern theory of evolution, there is none. “Alternate scientific theories” is code for casting doubt on a well-established theory and opening the door to creationism. No one who reads that paragraph will think otherwise.

Or at least no one who is both informed and sensible will do so.

and macroevolution is usually little more than a long sequence of microevolutions.

Or several such sequences that diverge from a common starting point.

Henry J

Microevolution:macroevolution = seismology:plate tectonics.

There is no serious distinction between the processes, just a POV time scale difference.

Chris Lawson said:

Microevolution:macroevolution = seismology:plate tectonics.

There is no serious distinction between the processes, just a POV time scale difference.

Good point.

With any non-equilibrium phenomena, if you observe it on a time scale that is short with respect to the time scales of the processes are taking place, you can study approximately instantaneous snapshots of the evolution of the system and understand each step in the entire process.

That is the way many rapid phenomena are being studied with some of the latest technology.

So why would we expect anything different when looking at snapshots of the processes of “macroevolution” on the time scales of our current human civilizations?

No one who reads that paragraph will think otherwise.

Or at least no one who is both informed and sensible will do so.

I was not as clear as I thought – the paragraph is intended to be read that way by creationists who want to send their children to that school.

Rhacodactylus said:

Living in Fort Collins, I hear people rave about how great this school is all the time, even while their principle launches into religious tirades in the local Op-Ed column every week. I don’t get why people are so willing to excuse shoddy science education, no matter how high their math scores are.

~Rhaco

As a point of contrast check out what Ridgeview Classical has for their biology curriculum. http://www.ridgeviewclassical.com/p[…]carvalho.pdf

Libery Commons only goes throught 9th grade and keeps its test scores up by only having 4% of its population in subsidized school lunches and no students to speak of with 504s or IEPs. Still, it’s not representative for even other charter schools like Ridgeview. It only goes through 9th grade while Ridgeview goes all the way through 12th. Because of this Ridgeview is the more popular charter school that teaches a classical/core knowledge curriculum. The key thing outsiders need to understand is the curriculum of charter schools are controlled by a board of directors who are independent from the Poudre School District school board. My son is currently taking biology at Fort Collins High School and it’s curriculum (and the entire science department) is solid.

Rhacodactylus said:

Living in Fort Collins, I hear people rave about how great this school is all the time, even while their principle launches into religious tirades in the local Op-Ed column every week. I don’t get why people are so willing to excuse shoddy science education, no matter how high their math scores are.

~Rhaco

Because religion in their minds always takes precedence over science. Colorado Springs is another hotbed of fundamentalist nonsense.

A Terminological Niggle: While this may well be a religious school, it is not a parochial school, since it isn’t associated with a particular parish. Directly associating with a particular church congregation would give the game away.

Disclaimer: when I attended real parochial schools in the mid-1950s through early ’60s, the nuns taught decent science, including biology.

fusilier James 2:24

Is there any genuine matter of scientific controversy that can profitably be taught in K-12 science? Or is within the understanding of most people who teach K-12 science? When I was in primary school, the discoveries that confirmed the Big Bang theory had not yet been made. I remember a science book with two drawings and a single paragraph saying there was a Big Bang theory (the drawing on the right showed a bunch of galaxies with arrows meant to show that they were moving apart rapidly) and a Steady State theory (same, without arrows, indicating rest, I suppose) and that scientists had different views on which theory was correct. That was it. That was all we were taught and all we were equipped to understand. Is there any controversy out there now that K-12 students can handle?

CJColucci said: Is there any genuine matter of scientific controversy that can profitably be taught in K-12 science?

I think at the AP level there are subjects you could introduce. But you’d be doing it more as a means of inspiring the kids - “here is an area of research you, too, could contribute to” - you wouldn’t be trying to teach it in detail. In physics you have the so-far-undetected quantization of gravity. In chemistry, I don’t think there is a single, definitive theory of how superconductivity works (yet). In astronomy I think there are debates over the properties of dark energy and matter. And so on. But again, its not like you’d be getting the kids to solve quantum mechanical problems related to superconductivity, you’d just be introducing it.

Are you saying that a publicly funded religious school is perfectly legal?

Karen S. said:

Are you saying that a publicly funded religious school is perfectly legal?

What he is saying is: “I do not want to discuss charter schools in general, but I will discuss Liberty Common’s science policy.”

To my mind, the fact that they even have something called a “science policy” for a K-9 school should be the parent’s first clue that something weird is going on. If you need to go out of your way to explain to parents why you are teaching something the way you teach it, it means you probably aren’t teaching it the way the mainstream does.

Um…in hindsight “K-9” may not give the impression I intended. That should be “K through 9th grade”…not doggies :)

CJColucci said:

Is there any genuine matter of scientific controversy that can profitably be taught in K-12 science? Or is within the understanding of most people who teach K-12 science? When I was in primary school, the discoveries that confirmed the Big Bang theory had not yet been made. I remember a science book with two drawings and a single paragraph saying there was a Big Bang theory (the drawing on the right showed a bunch of galaxies with arrows meant to show that they were moving apart rapidly) and a Steady State theory (same, without arrows, indicating rest, I suppose) and that scientists had different views on which theory was correct. That was it. That was all we were taught and all we were equipped to understand. Is there any controversy out there now that K-12 students can handle?

One I can think of is whether there was a diverse, healthy population of non-avian dinosaurs suddenly wiped out by the K/T comet strike, or if in fact non-avian dinosaurs were already in decline due to factors such as disease and massive volcanic activity, and the K/T event was merely the final blow. A similar issue is whether the North American megafauna were driven to extinction by climate change or the arrival of human hunters. Students should find both of those legitimate controversies to be interesting topics.

The mention of teacher’s unions always gets me. I’ve been teaching for over 30 years in a non-union state and we get the same complaints about teachers. I just have one question; if teacher’s unions are so powerful why is it teachers across the country are among the lowest paid professionals considering the requirements in education and demands on time during the school year. It would seem to me a powerful union could change that. And tenure! What states still offer tenure to teachers under the college level? I’d like to know since tenure is becoming difficult to get even at the college level. I don’t pretent to have the answers I’m just tired of hearing the same complaints based on little or no factual input. In every field you get what you pay for and if a college graduate can make a better living managing a What-a-burger than teaching a science class where do you think they are going to go?

While this may well be a religious school, it is not a parochial school, since it isn’t associated with a particular parish.

Strictly speaking, that’s right, and I considered using the term religious school in the headline. But parochial has come to have a broader meaning, restricted in scope or outlook. Parochial school, however, still means a denominational school, and religious school probably would have been the better locution.

Are you saying that a publicly funded religious school is perfectly legal?

What he is saying is: “I do not want to discuss charter schools in general, but I will discuss Liberty Common’s science policy.”

No, I am saying a little more than that. In fact I would not mind discussing charter schools in general, but it seems way off task for the Panda’s Thumb, and I would prefer we not get into that topic.

Rather, I wanted to establish that Liberty Common is in reality a religious school. Its science policy is a case of protesting too much, methinks. Is it legal? I would say clearly not, but there is no telling how the current right-wing majority on the US Supreme Court could distort reality to legalize schools like Liberty Common.

Matt Young said: Rather, I wanted to establish that Liberty Common is in reality a religious school. Its science policy is a case of protesting too much, methinks. Is it legal? I would say clearly not, but there is no telling how the current right-wing majority on the US Supreme Court could distort reality to legalize schools like Liberty Common.

Hmmm…to my mind their policy is like LA’s law: hypothetically there are ways to implement it without running afoul of the Constitution, so we have to wait and see. Do I think by “strive to accurately present strengths and weaknesses” they’re going to talk about whether gentic drift plays a greater role in speciation than natural selection? No. Everyone knows what they mean. But I think its bland enough that it would be hard to challenge it legally until they actually use it to teach creationism.

You never know…maybe their administration is crazy like a fox. Throw the creationist dog whistles in some school manual in order to appease fundie parents, then do nothing with it and just teach straight science. Just call me the eternal optimist. :)

Perhaps someone should pull a Mt. Vernon and get their hands on some of the handouts and student notes.

eric said:

Hmmm…to my mind their policy is like LA’s law: hypothetically there are ways to implement it without running afoul of the Constitution, so we have to wait and see. Do I think by “strive to accurately present strengths and weaknesses” they’re going to talk about whether gentic drift plays a greater role in speciation than natural selection? No. Everyone knows what they mean. But I think its bland enough that it would be hard to challenge it legally until they actually use it to teach creationism.

Fort Collins isn’t alone in this approach in Colorado. There are several of these charter schools just like this in other school districts. IANAL, but it appears to me that they survive on the basis of standing. The mostly well-to-do parents who send their kids to these schools want them to get a free religious education, and will not oppose even blatant violations of the separation of church and state. Parents who actually are looking for a solid education for their offspring stay well clear of this kind of charter school, and this produces an environment where there is nobody with standing (a direct harm to the person) to complain.

I’ve always viewed it as an annoying theft of tax dollars by groups containing the more vocal folks demanding we “Reduce Government Spending” in everything else.

The “charter school” movement, while undeniably encompassing many individually excellent teachers and institutions, seems to ultimately amount to an effort to move some funding dollars for public schools into the pockets of non-contributory private investors.

It would be most unfortunate, but not surprising, if charter schools were to be exploited as a loophole for taxpayer funding of divisive, sectarian science denial as well.

I am an entrepreneur and investor, and I am a strong believer in the high value of private investment and the profit motive for provoking activity that benefits humanity, and that would not otherwise occur, under the right circumstances. I am also in favor of the right of people to buy and sell things, subject to reasonable regulations for the public good, if they want to.

Having said that, only a deranged ideologue believes that whatever is private is better than whatever is public.

My impression is that charter schools try to avoid teachers’ unions. An intriguing question is what kind of pay, benefits, and stability they offer to teachers.

While it is true that greater ability to fire at will could in theory allow more rapid elimination of blatantly abusive or incompetent teachers, it is equally true that the overall quality of teaching will go down, not up, all else being equal, if pay and benefits are reduced. In fact, an ever-present threat of firing for something that is not directly in an employee’s control, such as student test scores, tends to be a morale-reducer even for the best employees. Industries like professional athletics can use a model that incoporates summary dismissal for performance even by an employee who shows up and works hard, but that is because such industries offer tremendous rewards to the successful, to offset the risk of pursuing such a path. A recruitment strategy of attracting people to compete to be “the best” in a field that carries a high risk of dismissal nearly always requires high pay for successful competitors - otherwise the best won’t even show up to begin with. The fantasy that teaching will be improved by maintaining or reducing pay and benefits for teachers, but increasing dismissals, is a contradiction of basic economics. If you make the job worse, all else being equal, even worse people will be attracted.

Science cannot comment on the role that supernatural forces might play in such events because such hypotheses cannot be tested and are outside the realm of science.

No one teaches anything to the contrary.

Well, I dunno about that. The question is complicated by the ambiguity of the term “supernatural”. But certainly causes claimed to be supernatural can be tested. All that’s required is that the hypothesis be well-formed enough to have clear expected outcomes that distinguish it from other hypotheses. James Randi does this sort of thing all the time (except, of course, that the proponents adjust their hypotheses post hoc). You might want to redefine “supernatural” so that it means “incapable of being tested”, but that’s not the usual sense. Some supernatural hypotheses are testable, and others aren’t.

harold said: It would be most unfortunate, but not surprising, if charter schools were to be exploited as a loophole for taxpayer funding of divisive, sectarian science denial as well.

The ACSI v Stearns case provdes an interesting “solution” to the problem of how one might keep privatized sectarian schools aligned with actual science (and history, etc…). To wit: CA gives a significant college admissions incentive to CA students who take University-approved courses. Thus while the private schools can teach whatever the heck they want, parents who want their kids to have a better chance of getting into UCLA, Berkeley, etc… are incentivised to ensure the school pays attention to what the University system says the schools should be teaching.

I have no idea how much of an impact this may have on private school curricula but it is an interesting idea. My guess is the number of parents/students who want a strictly fundamentalist education so they can go on to Bob Jones U. is much smaller than the total number of students actually attending private religious high schools.

John Harshman -

For example, intercessionary prayer has been tested extensively and found to have no independent benefit in medicine. There have also been quite a lot of scientific tests of psychic power claims (all with negative results). So supernatural claims can indeed be tested.

Typically such research can be funded and published only when the particular supernatural claims have some sort of implied materialistic benefits for powerful interests. The psychic power testing was mainly a product of the cold war. The implied benefit of intecessory prayer research was, of course, that the tiniest statistically significant positive effect (which might have happened by coincidence if they had hit the lottery) would be massively exaggerated and misrepresented in the media, and claimed to justify all sorts of wide-reaching social and political policies completely unrelated to the original research. Whereas negative results could be predicted to be ignored.

(Obviously, “proximal intercessory prayer” (i.e. supporters that the patient is aware of praying) can have benefits that are easily explained without the need to reference the supernatural (placebo and potential benefits of positive psychological experiences)).

Agreed and that’s really the only way you should discuss scientific controversies. A relatively recent classic case in point is the extraterrestrial origin of the K/P (formerly K/T) mass extinction, which still has some notable refuseniks in the scientific community, especially amongst some paleontologists:

eric said:

CJColucci said: Is there any genuine matter of scientific controversy that can profitably be taught in K-12 science?

I think at the AP level there are subjects you could introduce. But you’d be doing it more as a means of inspiring the kids - “here is an area of research you, too, could contribute to” - you wouldn’t be trying to teach it in detail. In physics you have the so-far-undetected quantization of gravity. In chemistry, I don’t think there is a single, definitive theory of how superconductivity works (yet). In astronomy I think there are debates over the properties of dark energy and matter. And so on. But again, its not like you’d be getting the kids to solve quantum mechanical problems related to superconductivity, you’d just be introducing it.

I missed reading your comment before making mine. I was a bit surprised and annoyed with the American Museum of Natural History’s special exhibition “Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries” since the final section on mass extinction seemed to have bent over backward too much to critics of the Alvarez et al. hypothesis which was subsequently confirmed by Hildebrand ahd his colleagues back in the late 1980s and early 1990s:

Aagcobb said:

CJColucci said:

Is there any genuine matter of scientific controversy that can profitably be taught in K-12 science? Or is within the understanding of most people who teach K-12 science? When I was in primary school, the discoveries that confirmed the Big Bang theory had not yet been made. I remember a science book with two drawings and a single paragraph saying there was a Big Bang theory (the drawing on the right showed a bunch of galaxies with arrows meant to show that they were moving apart rapidly) and a Steady State theory (same, without arrows, indicating rest, I suppose) and that scientists had different views on which theory was correct. That was it. That was all we were taught and all we were equipped to understand. Is there any controversy out there now that K-12 students can handle?

One I can think of is whether there was a diverse, healthy population of non-avian dinosaurs suddenly wiped out by the K/T comet strike, or if in fact non-avian dinosaurs were already in decline due to factors such as disease and massive volcanic activity, and the K/T event was merely the final blow. A similar issue is whether the North American megafauna were driven to extinction by climate change or the arrival of human hunters. Students should find both of those legitimate controversies to be interesting topics.

It would be a mistake to associate all charter schools with a profit motive (are there any like that left?) or potential sectarian agenda. There’s plenty of evidence after all that chunks of traditional districts in the right parts of the country have caved to the same sorts of parent pressures as well. I’m more familiar with charter school laws in the upper midwest, and I’m not aware of any particular ability to extract profit or any significant religious bent. As a teacher whose been both in a union and at a charter school. I vastly prefer the charter school despite a pay gap because we have abandoned the antiquated union-management-parent trifecta. Teachers sit on the board and it eliminates this wrangling over who isn’t doing the job. While there is undoubtedly weasel wording in Liberty Commons statement, as others have noted without knowing how it ended up in place, it’s not completely fair to tar and feather just yet. For example the Conceptual Physics book by Paul Hewitt talks about supernatural explanations not being relevant to scientific explanations. Particularly when you get to talking about particle physics it helps to be clear that the imagination involved in predicting a particle no one has measured before is very different from a faith based system.

As bad as it is, it was worse in 1999. http://www.biology.colostate.edu/in[…]/ajax/39.pdf Note this from a paper from two Colorado State profs.

A CASE STUDY IN FORT COLLINS, COLORADO

It is perhaps not surprising that when Kansas caught the antievolutionary flu in the summer of 1999 (see the Kansas Citizens for Science web page: www.kcfs.org), Colorado soon after caught a cold. In fall 1999 we were contacted by parents whose daughter attended Liberty Common School, a charter school within our local Poudre School District in Fort Collins, Colorado. The charter granted Liberty Common governance by a separate board with extensive parental input, under the promise that Liberty Common would provide an alternative (the Core Knowledge curriculum) enriched in science and mathematics. The concerned parents showed us Liberty’s policy on teaching evolution; we present the full text here because it is similar to what could be seen in other school districts:

Principles for Teaching Evolution

As with other topics, we will adhere to the Core Knowledge Sequence for determining when the theory of evolution is introduced to students (7th grade) and which subtopics should be covered. This subject will not be taught in earlier years.

Human evolution is not listed in the Core Knowledge Sequence or the Colorado Model Standards for Science. Therefore, this will not be a topic of instruction at Liberty Common School.

Discussions of evolutionary theory can lead to discussions of whether or not supernatural forces play a role in the mechanism of evolution or the origin of life. These topics extend beyond the scope of science and will not be taught at Liberty Common School. (See also: Colorado Model Standards for Science 3.4, which states: ‘‘This content standard does not define any student expectations related to the origin of life’’).

This policy is not intended to restrict the teaching of evolution as outlined in the Core Knowledge Sequence or limit the scientific discussion of related topics.

This policy, the day-to-day lessons taught in biology, and discussions with the school administrators convinced the parents that Liberty Common School was backing away from a full presentation of evolution. They worried about the overall state of science teaching if evolution were excluded, particularly in a school emphasizing science and math. The parents therefore filed a complaint with the District.

After consulting with the science coordinator of the Poudre School District, we agreed with the parents’ concerns and decided to become involved. We and our colleagues wrote letters and editorials to the local newspaper about the Liberty Common evolution policy. Our department hosted a public lecture on creationism and science education by Dr. Eugenie Scott (Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education), to which we invited local science teachers, principals, and members of the School Board. As a result of our visible involvement in the complaint against Liberty Common School, a member of the District School Board asked to meet with University evolutionary biologists, and four of us spent two hours briefing him on evolution, science education, and legal issues surrounding the creation-evolution debate. We went through the Liberty policy line-by-line, pointing out insidious turns of phrase. For example, the policy’s second paragraph is correct in pointing out that Colorado science standards do not mention human evolution. The science standards likewise fail to mention the evolution of whales, maize, mushrooms, and bacteria, but specifically excluding them from a science curriculum would be absurd.

The third paragraph of the policy uses a twist of words. Although some may prefer to use religious contexts to discuss or understand nature, religious objections cannot be used to exclude teaching scientific evidence for evolution. We pointed out that this twist was reserved specifically for the teaching of evolution. Chemistry, physics, and mathematics also could lead to discussions of the role of the supernatural, yet these areas of science were not excluded. We believe our time was well spent. Eventually the School Board ruled that the second and third provisions would restrict the teaching of evolution at the school and would violate Liberty Common School’s science education charter. The school has now modified its policy, and has a curriculum that specifically includes evolution. How well the new policy is carried out deserves continual attention.

As a result of the efforts above on October 23, 1999 the Poudre School District School Board declared that Liberty Common violated their charter by not teaching evolution and had to modify their policy. We now see the cdesign proponentist version.

Chris Lawson said:

Microevolution:macroevolution = seismology:plate tectonics.

There is no serious distinction between the processes, just a POV time scale difference.

I like that.

You might want to modify this last one if you are interested in reaching the non-technical. I had to ask my actuary wife what “stochastic” meant.

Isn’t it the technical term for “random chance”? :p

You might want to modify this last one if you are interested in reaching the non-technical. I had to ask my actuary wife what “stochastic” meant.

Alleles can also change in frequency for stochastic reasons.

= traits in a population can just drift, randomly, when there are no selective pressures on them.

is that easier?

stochastic in this sense simply referring to “unpredictable”, as opposed to selective reasons, which would be “deterministic”.

regarding Concern Troll, and “evolution is just a theory”–

When I was in junior high, the first biochemical support for the double helix structure of DNA was just coming out, and Mary Leakey’s discovery of “Zinj” was the hottest topic in paleontology. Lucy was still in the ground; nobody had a clue how the genetic code worked; and mitochondrial Eve wasn’t even a twinkle in Allan Wilson’s eye.

And creationists were already droning on about “evolution is just a theory.”

Absolutely, today’s school children should be taught that evolution isn’t a boring list of facts to memorize; it’s a dynamic, productive scientific– theory! In the course of their lifetimes, that theory is going to help reveal astonishing new facts that nobody today can even imagine. And they, today’s children, will be the ones to make the new discoveries.

But the key to the future is to master today’s knowledge, and learn where the important questions are for further research– not to repeat mindlessly creationist drivel that hasn’t produced a single worthwhile idea in over half a century.

Ichthyic said:

You might want to modify this last one if you are interested in reaching the non-technical. I had to ask my actuary wife what “stochastic” meant.

Alleles can also change in frequency for stochastic reasons.

= traits in a population can just drift, randomly, when there are no selective pressures on them.

is that easier?

Yes, lovely.

hoary puccoon Wrote:

regarding Concern Troll, and “evolution is just a theory”–

A bit OT, but I have been thinking lately about Michael Denton, and why he parted company, in an apparently mutual agreement, with the anti-evolution activist community (aka the “big tent”). Most of the latter to this day cite his 1985 book “Evolution, A Theory In Crisis” approvingly, while conveniently omitting his later (1998) book Nature’s Destiny, where he corrects most of his earlier misconceptions, and concedes common descent, if not Darwinian evolution.

While his change of position is the obvious reason for the parting (and it’s not just the common descent part because Michael Behe is still welcome in the tent), I think the selection of the title of his 1985 book provides a clue that, even then, he was not following the “party line” of anti-evolution pseudoscience. Calling evolution “a theory in crisis” suggests that not all theories are in crisis, and somewhat undermines the “only a theory” argument, which deliberately confuses the colloquial definition (“all theories are mere guesses, and probably wrong”) with the one used by science.

Whenever anyone calls evolution “only a theory,” one way to reply is a sarcastic: “Yes, it is ‘only’ the only reasonable explanation for the multiple lines of independent evidence. All other attempts to date are not even a theory, and their own promoters often even admit it.” Note: that might knock some reality into those who just mindlessly parrot the sound bite, but skilled anti-evolution activists will just Gish-gallop to another long-refuted falsehood.

Even Larry Moran, not noted for his sufferance of fools, concedes that Michael Denton was sincere and trying to put forth honest arguments. They were WRONG arguments, but Denton wasn’t engaging in willful trickery.

“Willful” not being the same as “deliberate”, incidentally – people get willful enough, they convince themselves of their own frauds.

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on October 3, 2010 5:14 PM.

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