So-called religious fundamentalists are under fire these days for supposedly undermining science education in public schools by questioning Darwin’s theory of evolution.
But as Weekly Standard contributor Pamela R. Winnick points out (thanks, Number 2 Pencil and Right-Wing Nuthouse, for the tips), it’s politically correct science textbook publishers who ought to be facing a few Scopes Trials for feeding young people inaccurate information, suppressing the contributions of physicists and biologists who happen to be white males, and even feeding the kids creation myths (although always non-Western creation myths, not the Book of Genesis) instead of sound science.
“Thus, a chapter on climate in a fifth-grade science textbook in the Discovery Works series, published by Houghton Mifflin (2000), opens with a Native American explanation for the changing seasons: ‘Crow moon is the name given to spring because that is when the crows return. April is the month of Sprouting Grass Moon.’ Students meander through three pages of Algonquin lore before they learn that climate is affected by the rotation and tilt of Earth–not by the return of the crows.
“Houghton Mifflin spokesman Collin Earnst says such tales are included in order to ‘connect science to culture.’ He might more precisely have said to connect science to certain preferred, non-Western, or primitive cultures. Were a connection drawn to, say, a Bible story, the outcry would be heard around the world.”
Winnick’s article is a catalogue of horror stories: Another volume of the Discovery Works series devotes half a page to Navajo physicist Fred Begay but not a single word to Albert Einstein. Biologist Clifton Poodry merits a photo in Clenco/McGraw-Hill’s middle-school textbook “Life Science” (2002), not because he made any important scientific contributions (he didn’t) but because he was born on the Tonawanda Seneca Indian Reservation. James Watson and Francis Crick, the discoverers of the double-helix shape of the DNA molecule, aren’t even named in that book. In another textbook, Marie Curie rates a page and a half of text, while her husband, Pierre Curie, who shared the Nobel Prize with her is “relegated to the role of supportive spouse,” Winnick writes.
The science-publishers’ agressive multiculturalism, designed to encourage minority children to become scientists, is the brainchild of the National Academy of Science, Winnick writes:
“In 1995, the academy published the National Science Education Standards, which, according to academy president Bruce Alberts, ‘represent the best thinking . . . about what is best for our nation’s students.’ The standards (which explicitly place religion on a par with ‘myth and superstition’) counsel school boards to modify ‘assessments’ for students with ‘limited English proficiency’ by, for example, raising their scores. They tell teachers to be ‘sensitive’ to students who are ‘economically deprived, female, have disabilities, or [come] from populations underrepresented in the sciences.’ Teachers should especially encourage ‘women and girls, students of color and students with disabilities.'”
Hand in hand with the censorship and the grade-rigging solicitousness for politically favored groups has gone an increasing sloppiness about the intellectual rigor that is supposed to be the essence of scientific methodology:
“A study commissioned by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in 2001 found 500 pages of scientific error in 12 middle-school textbooks used by 85 percent of the students in the country. One misstates Newton’s first law of motion. Another says humans can’t hear elephants. Another confuses ‘gravity’ with ‘gravitational acceleration.’ Another shows the equator running through the United States. Individual scientists draft segments of these books, but reviewing the final product is sometimes left to multicultural committees who have no expertise in science.”
“Members of the scientific elite are occasionally heard blaming religion for the sorry state of science education. But it isn’t priests, rabbis, or mullahs who write the textbooks that misrepresent evolution, condescend to disadvantaged groups, misstate key concepts of physics, show the equator running through the United States, and come close to excising white males from the history of science. Young Americans need to learn science, and they need to distinguish it clearly from Algonquin myth.”