critical thinking applied to religion?

Once again the question of teaching creationism in Louisiana public schools comes up for a vote today. The thing I cannot understand is the proponents of creationism are arguing the inclusion of religion in school curriculum as promoting student’s ability to engage in “critical thinking”, helping them to distinguish evolutionism from creationism. Well this is a fallacious application of critical thinking since this method “in its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness…Critical thinking varies according to the motivation underlying it. When grounded in selfish motives, it is often manifested in the skillful manipulation of ideas in service of one’’s own, or one’s groups’’, vested interest. As such it is typically intellectually flawed, however pragmatically successful it might be. When grounded in fairmindedness and intellectual integrity, it is typically of a higher order intellectually, though subject to the charge of “idealism” by those habituated to its selfish use.”

BESE expected to take up controversial science instruction act today
by Bill Barrow, The Times-Picayune
Tuesday January 13, 2009, 7:48 AM

Wrangling continues today at the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education over the rules and regulations that will govern how public schools implement a 2008 measure intended to allow teachers to use materials to supplement textbooks on subjects such as evolutionary biology.

Some of the original opponents of the Louisiana Science Education Act are reprising their arguments that the rules may fail to prevent science teachers from including the Judeo-Christian creation story or discussion of “intelligent design,” the idea that life and other features of the universe are best explained as having an intelligent cause.

Supporters of the law are not happy either, saying that the latest draft rules gut the act and ignore the Legislature’s intent. A leading policy fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle group that publishes educational materials and has advocated for the Louisiana law, called the proposed science instruction guidelines unconstitutional.

The two sides, which met last year in passionate legislative hearings, are expected to present their cases this morning at a meeting of BESE’s Student/School Performance and Support Committee. That panel deferred action on the matter in December. Its agenda for today includes a revised draft. The end product could be forwarded to the full board for its consideration Thursday in Baton Rouge.

The law allows local school boards to approve supplemental materials — without BESE’s prior approval — that foster “critical thinking” in the teaching of science. But the state board retains the power to ban specific materials, either by pre-emptive declaration or after a citizen challenges locally approved material. The law includes a clause stating that the intent is neither to promote nor discriminate against any religious doctrine.

The proposed BESE rules essentially repeat that language, including the statement that “materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science classes.” That goes further than the Legislature intended, according to John West of the Discovery Institute, which publishes materials that discuss “strengths and weaknesses” of Darwinian theory. “The bill was silent on intelligent design,” West said.

West also disputes a passage in separate teaching guidelines that reads, in part: “Faith refers to the beliefs that are accepted without empirical evidence,” whereas science challenges ideas in ways “quite different from most religious beliefs.” West, who repeated his 2008 statements that the law is not about injecting religion into public science curriculum, said the passage violates constitutional protections of religious freedom and expression.

Barbara Forrest of the Louisiana Science Coalition, meanwhile, is displeased that the latest draft does not include a line it featured in an earlier version: “Religious beliefs shall not be advanced under the guise of encouraging critical thinking.” That line is taken almost verbatim from an Aug. 27, 2008, memo from state Superintendent Paul Pastorek to local school boards and local system superintendents. The memo is Pastorek’s most extensive public comment on the matter.

Forrest also argued that the board should not approve new additions that require BESE to conduct a public hearing for a local school board and “interested parties” to defend material that is challenged. West, however, says such an addition would give local boards the chance to back up their decisions.

A Discovery Institute representative is trying to travel to Baton Rouge for today’s hearing, West said. He also confirmed that his group has continued advising the Louisiana Family Forum on the law. The Baton Rouge-based organization often pushes for more religious expressions in the public sphere. The Forum’s executive director, the Rev. Gene Mills, did not return a request for comment.

and the decision was made today…

BESE panel approves science guidelines
by Bill Barrow, The Times-Picayune
Tuesday January 13, 2009, 11:37 AM

BATON ROUGE — The state school board took the near-final step today in approving new rules for how local school systems can introduce supplemental materials into science lessons on topics like evolutionary biology, global warming and cloning.

But just what practical changes the Louisiana Science Education Act will yield inside the classroom — and whether the state might eventually find itself embroiled in more litigation over religion in public schools — remains a topic of debate.

As adopted by a key board committee, the rules essentially restate the law’s intent to let local school boards approve supplemental materials without prior approval from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The state board, however, can issue statewide prohibitions of specific materials and also make judgments on any locally approved supplements that are challenged by a citizen. The rules also echo a clause in the law stating the Legislature did not intend to promote or discriminate against any religious doctrine or religious belief, which some critics say is disingenuous.

The primary debate this morning concerned whether to include an additional clause forbidding materials that “teach creationism or intelligent design or advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind.” The board voted 10-0 to remove that language and approve the rest of the document intact.

The act, sponsored by Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, does not mention creationism or intelligent design, though much of the wrangling since the initial introduction of the bill has revolved around those topics. The 10-0 vote — with the full board participating in the committee’s debate — followed an evenly divided 5-5 vote on a motion to delay action on the matter. The unanimous vote suggests that Thursday’s full meeting of the board will be a mere formality.

Some leading social conservatives hailed the rules passage as a major victory. “The children of Louisiana were well served by this action,” said the Rev. Gene Mills, executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum and an original advocate of the bill. Mills said the law is not about advancing the Judeo-Christian version of creation, but encouraging students and teachers to engage in open discussions.

Louisiana State University biology professor Kevin Carman said that already occurs in science classrooms, but is only productive when the methodology sticks to empirical evidence. “I don’t believe in evolution,” he said, emphasizing the word “believe.” “I am convinced by the supporting facts.”

Another backer of the legislation, meanwhile, supported striking the reference to creationism and intelligent design but said the remaining rules still are unnecessarily specific, tying the hands of local school boards. Southern University law professor Michelle Ghetti argued that the rules allow any citizen to challenge materials that a local board approves, when courts often grant standing to file complaints only to an individual who can demonstrate harm.

Board member Chas Roemer, meanwhile, said the rules remain confusing, even with striking specific references to creationism. Roemer pointed to a clause requiring “materials must be scientifically sound and supported by empirical evidence.” While not expressing his own opinion on that clause, he said it is in conflict with Mills’ and others’ push for alternative views to enter the classroom. “We haven’t settled anything,” he said. Roemer urged his colleagues to delay a final vote, but that maneuver failed on the tie vote.

Steve Monaghan, head of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said the entire debate is pointless, because teachers already are free to use materials besides textbooks. “This is a solution without a problem,” he said. Mills, however, said some teachers and students are intimidated and feel they are unable to question what is presented in certain classroom materials.

Monaghan said by next school year, BESE will be dealing with challenges to “inappropriate materials” that local officials have approved. Whatever the board might decide could be thrown into court, he said.

Board member Dale Bayard, chairman of the committee, conceded that teachers already can use supplemental materials, but he called the policy debate “healthy.” As for the potential for litigation, Bayard said the state has covered itself. “Our teachers know what to teach and what not to teach,” he said.

~ by maringouin on Tuesday, January 13, 2009.

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