Wednesday, July 24, 2013

School science is hotly debated in Kentucky

New standards are called 'atheistic,' 'fascist' by some

 This from the Courier-Journal:
Supporters and critics of Kentucky’s new science education standards clashed over evolution and climate change Tuesday amid a high-stakes debate on overhauling academic content in public schools.

Opponents ridiculed the new standards as “fascist” and “atheistic” and said they promoted thinking that leads to “genocide” and “murder.”

Supporters said the education changes are vital if Kentucky is to keep pace with other states and allow students to prepare for college and careers.

Nearly two dozen parents, teachers, scientists and advocacy groups commented at a state Department of Education hearing on the Next Generation Science Standards — a broad set of guidelines that will revamp content in grades K-12 and help meet requirements from a 2009 law that called for improving education.

“Students in the commonwealth both need and deserve 21st-century science education grounded in inquiry, rich in content and internationally benchmarked,” said Blaine Ferrell, a representative from the Kentucky Academy of Sciences, a science advocacy group that endorses the standards.

Dave Robinson, a biology professor at Bellarmine University, said neighboring states have been more successful in recruiting biotechnology companies, and Kentucky could get left behind in industrial development if students fail to learn the latest scientific concepts.

But the majority of comments during the two-hour hearing came from critics who questioned the validity of evolution and climate change and railed against the standards as a threat to religious liberty, at times drawing comparisons to Soviet-style communism.

One parent, Valerie O’Rear, said the standards promote an “atheistic world view” and a political agenda that pushes government control.

Matt Singleton, a Baptist minister in Louisville who runs an Internet talk-radio program, called teachings on evolution a lie that has led to drug abuse, suicide and other social afflictions.

“Outsiders are telling public school families that we must follow the rich man’s elitist religion of evolution, that we no longer have what the Kentucky Constitution says is the right to worship almighty God,” Singleton said. “Instead, this fascist method teaches that our children are the property of the state.”

At one point, opponent Dena Stewart-Gore of Louisville also suggested that the standards will marginalize students with religious beliefs, leading to ridicule and physiological harm in the classroom, and create difficulties for students with learning disabilities.

“The way socialism works is it takes anybody that doesn’t fit the mold and discards them,” she said, adding that “we are even talking genocide and murder here, folks.”

Others cited concerns about costs and student privacy or argued that the standards fail to teach key critical thinking skills. Several pointed to dissenters in the scientific community and said the new teachings will not fully incorporate evidence that may contradict human evolution and man-made climate change.

Daniel Phelps, an environmental geologist who spoke in support of Next Generation, said he was offended by comments suggesting that evolution leads to immorality and “death camps,” calling it a horrible misrepresentation of scientists.

“I’ve actually read this, unlike many of the people who have commented today,” he said. “Everything is actually based on evidence — arguments from evidence are actually given priority in the Next Generation Science Standards.”

The standards, which incorporate all areas of science, were developed over two years through a consortium of 25 other states and input from educators and scientists across the nation.

The Kentucky Board of Education adopted them in June in response to Republican-backed legislation from 2009 that called on state education leaders to better align coursework with other states and improve comparability with national and international benchmarks.

According to the department, Kentucky’s current standards on biological evolution have remained in place since 2006, and the changes will update teachings with the latest research.

On climate change, the department says existing standards address the mechanisms behind weather and climate, but they do not draw an explicit link to human activities. Next Generation will ask middle school and high school students to consider the impact people have on climate.

Kevin Brown, associate education commissioner and general counsel, said comments will be reviewed by department staff and summarized into a statement of consideration with formal responses. Board members will then consider the comments and responses in August and decide whether to make changes or advance the standards to legislative committees for approval.

Key lawmakers have indicated that they will reserve judgment while still researching the changes. Others note that they see little opposition in the legislature.

Singleton said after the hearing that he doesn’t know what effect critical comments might have on the standards.

But Robert Bevins, president of Kentuckians for Science Education — which supports Next Generation — said he expects the board to send the standards forward without changes.

Department officials will continue accepting written comments until July 31.

1 comment:

KY Teacher said...

I've read the new science standards, but I couldn't find the part about genocide and murder.

I also didn't see anything about evolution that isn't already in the ones we're teaching now.