Weakened Science Education in South Carolina

South Carolina’s The State gives a question and answer article about the just-adopted state science standards and their coverage of evolution. The changed standards include language that says, “Summarize ways that scientists use data from a variety of sources to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.”


South Carolina has been lauded nationally for its science standards. How will this affect the state’s rating?


Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a conservative think tank that advocates school choice and charter schools, does evaluations of teaching standards. South Carolina’s science standards earned an A from the foundation in December 2005.

In February, The State newspaper polled five scientists who reviewed those standards on the proposal to alter S.C.’s biology standard to include the “critically analyze” phrase. All five said it would weaken the state’s science education.

It is precisely the “critically analyze” language that is at issue there. Based on the response from the antievolution advocates, one might be confused as to how adding something about “critical analysis” can weaken science education. The answer is that “critical analysis” is antievolution Newspeak for putting the same old bogus arguments against evolution into school classrooms.

Far from delivering an enhanced educational experience to students, the antievolution perversion of “critical analysis” aims to have students uncritically accept long-dead arguments against evolution. This strategy on the part of the antievolutionists works, like some particularly virulent disease agents, at several levels. First, it encourages teachers to simply skip over instruction on evolutionary biology. The mechanism here is that the antievolution conception of “critical analysis” inherently tags evolutionary biology as a controversial topic and requires teachers to promote a particular stance in a socio-political controversy. Many teachers will opt to skip all of it rather than deal with any of it. Second, it inverts the meaning of “critical analysis” in that antievolution proponents propose content that is unchecked, untested, misleading, or simply false to be taught to students as if true, without opportunities for students to learn just how off-base the supposed “challenging” material is. This was clearly seen in the case of the Ohio “critical analysis” lesson plan, whose reviewers plainly recognized the pseudoscientific content within it, but which was still promoted by advocates on the Ohio State Board of Education as a legitimate lesson plan for use in the classrooms. Third, it creates a general attitude of distrust of science and scientists on the part of students. An implicit part of arguments offered as “critical analysis” of evolutionary biology is that mainstream biologists promote evolution and sidestep the simplistic “critical analysis” arguments not because the antievolution arguments are misleading or false, but because the biologists are engaged in promoting a particular worldview and cannot permit competing ideas a foothold.

All these concerns are likely part of what the scientists surveyed by The State meant when they said that South Carolina science education would be weakened. And they are right to think so.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.