Texas Matters
1:41 pm
Fri January 31, 2014

Should Creationism Be Taught In Texas Schools? One Charter System Already Does

Texas Matters: "Demand response" is helping alleviate drain on Texas power grids. All the Republican candidates for lieutenant governor say they support teaching creationism in Texas public schools and one charter system is defying a Supreme Court ruling by doing just that. Also on this show: Same-sex marriage in Texas? And the new Texas Almanac is out.

Meet the answer to Texas' AC problem: Demand Response

For years Texas has struggled with how to deal with a predicted energy crunch. It looked like there weren’t enough power-generating plants in the state to meet expected demand, but those forecasts have changed -- the state’s supplies now appear adequate.

Despite a growing population and few new power plants, power demand hasn’t grown as fast as expected. For StateImpact Texas, KUT’s Terrence Henry takes a look at what’s behind the new trend. 

Creationism, should it be taught in Texas public schools?

At the recent KERA debate of Republican candidates for lieutenant governor the question was asked about allowing creationism in Texas public schools.

This is despite the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled creationism cannot be taught as a science. The candidates varied in their nuance answers but essentially all agreed that creationism should be taught in Texas public schools.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson: "Now we can discuss whether creationism should be taught in science, or whether it should be taught in comparative religion, or whether it should be taught in social studies -- I don't know the answer to that -- but our children should be armed with more knowledge, not less."

Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples: "I don't think we need to live in a state where we need to apologize for being a Christian. And I believe that creationism can be taught in our public schools in social studies if it violates what the courts have said as a science because it is something that most Texans believe in and our children need to be exposed to this and we shouldn't have to hide from it."

State Sen. Dan Patrick: "You know, our children must really be confused. We want them to go to church on Sunday and we teach them about Jesus Christ, and then they go to school on Monday and they can't pray, they can't learn about creationism. They must really be confused and they have a right to be confused because we, as Christians, have yielded to the secular left and let them rule the day in this country."

Incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst: "I happen to believe, as a Christian, in creationism, but I understand that it alone cannot be taught. I am fine with teaching creationism, intelligent design, and evolution, and then let the student's -- with the advice and council and love of their parents -- decide for themselves which one of the three they believe in."

Texas charter schools already teaching the "science"

Some public schools in Texas are already teaching creationism despite the fact that they are in violation of the Supreme Court ruling – that’s according to science education activist Zack Kopplin.

Kopplin recently wrote in Slate that Responsive Education Solutions charter system, the largest chain of charter schools in Texas, is openly teaching creationism as a science as well as right-wing versions of history and civics.

I reached out to Responsive Education Solutions to give them an opportunity to respond and they declined, but in a statement (which you can read in its entirety at the bottom of this post) said they are following Texas law, which allows the examination of all sides of the scientific evidence relating to the theory of evolution -- both for and against.

I spoke to Zack Kopplin about his article:

"They undermine the theory of evolution, they call it 'unproved dogma with no experimental evidence,' which is not true, and say that leading scientists doubt the theory of the age of the earth, which is also not true. Then they go on to suggest that many scientists see supernatural creation or intelligent design as an alternative and as an equally-valid school of thought in the science community, which is completely untrue. And the goal is to mislead students and make them think that creationism is scientific and that just cannot happen in public schools -- that's unconstitutional and that's bad science."

Also on this episode of Texas Matters:

Is Texas next in the same-sex marriage chain reaction?

Attorney Neal Lane has filed an injunction on the state's ban on same-sex marriage and will be heard in federal court on Feb. 12.
Attorney Neal Lane has filed an injunction on the state's ban on same-sex marriage and will be heard in federal court on Feb. 12.
Credit Ryan Poppe / TPR News

Same-sex marriage has been OK-ed in Oklahoma and they are enchanted with it in New Mexico. That makes two state’s that border Texas finding that laws banning such unions are unconstitutional.

Also recently, the Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly gay mayor of a major city, married her longtime partner, Kathy Hubbard. The couple got married in Palm Springs, California, where same-sex marriage is legal.

Some are asking the question: When will it become legal in Texas?

On February 12 a federal judge in San Antonio has agreed to hear a case filed by two same-sex couples in Texas seeking to overturn a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, their lawyer said on Wednesday.

Two days shy of Valentine’s Day, the court will hear arguments in the case seeking to nullify a 2005 amendment that defines marriage as solely "the union of one man and one woman."

You might think Texas conservatives who oppose same sex marriage are feeling the walls closing in on them, but you would be wrong. Jonathon Saenz of Texas Values says the despite what many are seeing in the main stream media same sex marriage is losing the fight in the culture war.

The Texas Almanac is out. Horray!

Every two years the Texas State Historical Association publishes a volume crammed full of comprehensive facts, figures, lists, maps and other information about the Lone Star State.

Elizabeth C. Alvarez is the Texas Almanac’s editor.

::Letter from Response Education Charter Schools CEO Chuck Cook::

Dear Partners in Public Education:

Today, an article appeared on Slate.com entitled, “Texas Public Charter Schools Are Teaching Creationism,” which purports to report the results of one college student’s “investigation into [ResponsiveEd’s] dishonest and unconstitutional science, history, and ‘values’ lessons.”  It is the latest article by Slate regarding creationism in Texas public schools.  See “Showdown over Science in Texas: Creationists Corrupted State Education Standards and May Push Evolution out of Textbooks.”

Needless to say, we take accusations of dishonest and unconstitutional practices very seriously.  Because ResponsiveEd has been entrusted by the public to operate public charter schools, we wanted to take this opportunity to briefly address the most serious accusations made by Slate and welcome further dialogue with you in the coming days.

Science

Slate begins its article by asserting that ResponsiveEd’s science curriculum “both overtly and underhandedly discredit[s] evidence-based science [(i.e., the theory of evolution)] and allow[s] creationism into public-school classrooms.”  

Regarding the assertion that ResponsiveEd discredits the theory of evolution, our science curriculum does examine all sides of the scientific evidence relating to the theory of evolution—both for and against—just as we are required to do by the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Biology.  In fact, the State of Texas requires all schools, “in all fields of science, [to] analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations . . ., including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.”  19 TAC § 112.34(c)(3)(A).  Ultimately, it is these Texas science standards that Slate wishes to overturn, believing that they “were designed to compromise the teaching of evolution” and provide “a back-door way to enable teachers to attack evolution and inject creationism into the classroom.”     

Regarding the assertion that ResponsiveEd improperly “allow[s] creationism into public-school classrooms,” the answer is no.  What follows is every reference to creationism contained in ResponsiveEd’s lessons on evolution.  

For many years, the answer given [to the question of the origin of life] was fairly standard: most people believed that God created everything.  In the mid-1800s, this idea was challenged by men such as Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin.  Their work provided scientists with the theory of evolution by natural selection.  This added a new idea to the discussion and gave nonreligious scientists a way to explain the diversity of life on the planet without resorting to creation. . . .

In recent years, these two schools of thought —creationism and evolution—have been at conflict in schools, universities, and scientific circles.  Some scientists and educators have attempted to bridge them through ideas such as intelligent design and theistic evolution.  However, none of these theories is accepted by every scientist, natural philosopher, or educator.  In this Unit, you will be able to review the evidence for the theory of evolution and decide on your own position.  You will want to analyze and evaluate the evidence and every statement made in the discussion. . . .

Still, for many, supernatural creation (either by God or some other supernatural power) of the first cell is a more plausible explanation.  Some people think aliens brought the first living cell to earth or it came on a meteorite, but that still would not explain how that first living cell on earth came into existence.

There is much research to be done in this area of origins.  Until more concrete answers are found, questions on how life originated will continue. . . .

When it comes to the subject of evolution, emotions often run high.  Chances are, you might have heard about some of this controversy in the news.  Much of this controversy centers on whether other theories on the origins of life besides evolution, such as intelligent design or creationism, should be presented in public schools. . . .

As was explained to Slate last November, ResponsiveEd’s “science curriculum teaches evolution, noting, but not exploring, the existence of competing theories.”  

As if to remove any remaining doubt that its readers may have regarding ResponsiveEd’s guilt, Slate boldly asserts that “[o]utright creationism appears in Responsive Ed’s section on the origins of life.”  Not only that, Slate explains, “[i]t’s not subtle.”  The evidence presented by Slate to support its accusation?  “The opening line of the workbook section [on the origins of life], just as the opening line of the Bible, declares, ‘In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.’”  For some reason, Slate chooses to not present the quote in context, which would have demonstrated to any objective reader that the curriculum was simply providing examples of competing theories on the origin of life.  The entire quote reads as follows:

5. ORIGIN OF LIFE

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

In the beginning, a meteorite, with a cell from a faraway galaxy, hit the earth. . . .

In the beginning, aliens visited earth to try a new experiment.  The aliens left behind a living cell, with all the capabilities to evolve into life.

In the beginning, free-floating molecules in the primordial seas spontaneously organized to form the first cell.

So far we have looked at natural selection, microevolution and macroevolution, speciation, and other aspects of the theory of evolution.  All of these processes involve one form of life changing into another form of life.  However, none of these ideas answers the question, “How did life begin in the first place?”  Perhaps the more important question is, “How did the first cell come into being?”  Remember, in order for something to be alive, it has to have a cell.  As we learned in Unit 2, cells are very complex.  Even a simple one-celled bacteria is quite complicated.  In this Lesson, we will explore some of the theories evolutionary biologists have about the origin of life.

While context may not always be convenient, it is everything.  

In summary, ResponsiveEd strongly disagrees with Slate’s implication that the Texas state standards requiring schools to critique and examine all sides of scientific theories—including the theory of evolution—is unconstitutional.  We also disagree that any reference to creationism in our science curriculum violates any state or federal law, including the United States Constitution.

A complete copy of ResponsiveEd’s science lessons regarding evolution is available to you upon request.  We welcome your review and input.

History

---- Slate then turns to ResponsiveEd’s teaching of history.  While Slate claims that it “discovered problems” with ResponsiveEd’s history course, it does not go so far as to assert that the course violates any standard, regulation, or law.  A complete copy of ResponsiveEd’s history course is available to you upon request.  

Partnerships

------ Slate then proceeds to describe in sensational detail some of ResponsiveEd’s past and present associations.  Among those named are Character First, Accelerated Christian Education, Dr. Donald Howard, and Dr. Ronald Johnson.  What is Slate’s purpose is mentioning these relationships?  The not-so-subtle message to the reader is simple: Because ResponsiveEd has been (or is) associated with these organizations and people, it is unable to operate a public charter school in compliance with its charters and the laws governing charter schools.  The strained argument goes something like this, ResponsiveEd must be violating its charters or the law because it uses material from Character First, whose founder is Mr. Tom Hill, who is a “follower of Bill Gothard, a minister who runs the Institute in Basic Life Principles, a Christian organization that teaches its members to incorporate biblical principles into daily life.”  The argument does not stand up to scrutiny.  Instead, attention should be given to the actual Character First materials utilized in ResponsiveEd’s schools—materials of which ResponsiveEd is very proud.

------ As applied to me, according to Slate’s reasoning, ResponsiveEd must be incapable of meeting our contractual and legal obligations because I, as the CEO of the organization, am a professed Christian, attend church each week, have a degree in religion, have worked at a Christian rescue mission, and have worked at Accelerated Christian Education.  Once again, the logic fails.  I would suggest that the pertinent inquiry is ResponsiveEd’s actual operations, not the personal beliefs of some of our past and present associations.

After reading Slate’s scathing representation of the above individuals and organizations, one might think that ResponsiveEd’s natural reaction would be to distance ourselves from them.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  ResponsiveEd greatly values the contributions that have been made to its academic program by its past associations and current partners and strongly disagrees with the implication that such associations and partnerships make us incapable of complying with our charters and applicable law.

Conclusion

----- Slate concludes its article by calling ResponsiveEd “an internal threat to the charter movement.”  In contrast, we believe that we have had a meaningful contribution to the charter movement and we believe our track record supports this belief.  

This letter is presented to you because we appreciate the trust you have put in us.  Please do not hesitate to contact me directly should you have any questions or wish to review any of our materials more closely.      

Thank you,

Chuck Cook

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