Evolving Landscapes

August 13th, 2008

Two articles today got me thinking today (because you know I wouldn’t have been thinking otherwise).

The first, from SF Gate, described the recent decision allowing the University of California to reject high school credits for courses using textbooks that don’t meet the accepted admissions standards. Rejection of course credits can ultimately block the admission of students to the University.

It’s too bad that some students can be kept from attending a school because of decisions that their teachers and school boards make. However, admissions standards are used for a reason, namely to be sure that students are prepared for the next level of their education. And, if a student has been taught inadequately it will at best be difficult for them to do well within the university environment. Allowing such students entry to a university would be a disservice not only to those students, but to the university environment as a whole.

Unfortunately, the case in question is being turned into a religious freedom issue rather than the simple matter of standards that it really is. The textbooks being rejected leave out evolution in favor of Creationism or focus on “supernatural” causes/events. The plaintiffs in the case argue that these texts aren’t incorrect, they just present an alternative view of science and/or history.

Ok, so if that’s the case, I should be able to start a school that teaches only from texts promoting the history and science of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Unicorns. Or, maybe I teach my home-schooled kids from texts that contain the history of the human race as being cultivated by aliens. Either way, I should expect that my students will gain entry to the UC system as long as they have good grades (and test scores, and of course, the appropriate extra-curricular activities).

It seems like the plaintiffs have the following view on getting into a STATE FUNDED university: it doesn’t matter what you learn, as long as you learn something.

I’ll stop with that soapbox now before I become even more snarky.

The second article that caught my eye was an editorial in the New York Times promoting the teaching of evolution in schools. The author lays out several great reasons why teaching and learning about evolution is important. In the process, she uses several examples of evolution in action to make her points. Unfortunately, I have to be the nit-picky scientists and point out that many of those examples are not necessarily evolution, but rather adaptations. Still, the ideas in the essay are solid. Many thanks to both the author and the New York Times for defending the teaching of evolution in schools by publishing the piece.

Finally, this all brought me to consider an interview with the US President on NBC I saw the other night. During the interview, Bob Costas did a pretty good job of asking hard-hitting questions, and Mr. Bush talked fairly openly about his visit to China. Three answers stood out to me, and I thought them especially telling of the President’s mind-set as he ends his tenure:

“…I think you should look at the relationship as one of constructive engagement, where you can find common areas like North Korea and Iran. But also be in a position where they can respect you enough to listen to your views on religious freedom and political liberty.”

Why just religious freedom? Why not personal freedom?

“…if you are a religious person you understand that once religion takes hold in a society it can’t be stopped.”

Uhhh… what? Excuse me, did he just say what I think he did? Sounds a little like zealotry to me.

“I went to church here. And I’m sure the cynics say ‘Well, you know, it was just a state sponsored church.’ On the other hand, and that’s true, it gave me a chance to say to the Chinese people, religion won’t hurt you, you ought to welcome religious people. And it gave me a chance to say to the Chinese government, ‘Why don’t you register the underground churches and give them a chance to flourish?’ And he listened politely. I can’t read his mind, but I do know that every time I met with him, I pressed the point.”

Right. So, he disrespected the beliefs of the Chinese President and the ruling party in order to promote his own religious views while acting as the President and official representative of the United States, which officially doesn’t promote religion what with the separation of church and state and all that silly stuff. And, he did it over and over again.

Thank you, Mr. President, for your efforts.

3 Responses to “Evolving Landscapes”

  1. Stefan on August 14, 2008 2:33 am

    Hi Kirsten,

    I’m writing in response to your comment that Olivia Judsons’s examples of evolution are really just examples of adaptation.

    Adaptation is exactly a result of evolution. Small changes over time that increase the survivability in that environment of the organisms in the population, is largely caused by natural selection.

    Kindest regards and thanks for the great work you do for promoting science.

  2. Scott_A on August 14, 2008 6:04 pm

    I think the solution to the textbook dilemma is pretty straight forward.

    A. By default, accept the coursework from the kids who learned from the accepted textbooks. Test a random sample of these students to provide a reference for category B. (see next)

    B. By default, _don’t_ accept the coursework from the kids who learned from the unaccepted textbooks. However, then the UC MUST give those students a chance to take an impartial test (which is standardized against the results from a random sampling of students in category A) to see if they were adequately prepared to continue in the UC system and receive credit for their previous studies.

    In this manner, California still dissuades schools from using flaky textbooks, but doesn’t overly penalize the students who happened to win the crappy lottery of going to a nuts-o school. If those students are able to go to a goofy school and _still_ manage to learn what they need to know through insightful reason, sheer personal determination, good teaching, or commendable parental involvement, etc, then they shouldn’t get shat upon twice by the education system. Give them a chance to prove they belong – and then feel justified in tossing out those who truly aren’t prepared.

  3. dh on October 30, 2008 11:59 pm

    Are you implying the FSM hangs out with Unicorns? ‘Cause I don’t think that’s correct.

    It’s OK to be a little snarky when you’re right.

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