Back in 2011, a team of scientists, science educators, and policymakers began drafting new guidelines for science education in the US, which debuted this past winter as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). For the most part, they focus on “critical thinking and communication skills”—on teaching the “habits and skills that scientists and engineers use day in and day out,” and not just long lists of facts.
You’re probably thinking, “This sounds great!” After all, there’s plenty of evidence that America’s science education is lagging behind other countries, and these kinds of standards hadn’t been updated in almost 15 years, which, by the timescale of scientific progress, is about a century. And what could be more important than teaching critical thinking to young people?
Not everyone is pleased. Over at WORLD magazine this past week, Casey Luskin’s argument for why conservative evangelicals should be distressed about the new standards offers a useful portrait of how anti-evolution writers stoke fear—and a helpful demonstration of why the NGSS is so badly needed.
Luskin is an attorney, a writer, and a staff member at the Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think-tank. (I recently reviewed a book by Luskin’s boss. In what might seem like a conflict of interest, Luskin did, too.) Writing under the title “Darwinian Dictates,” Luskin explains:
Public education curricula in the United States have traditionally been controlled by local and state boards of education, but under newly crafted national guidelines called the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), K-12 public school students across the country may learn essentially the same uniform science curriculum, one that proselytizes for Darwinism.
This is a masterful invocation of Big Government, tossed with a helping of creationist rhetoric, and topped with the implication that Darwinism is a competing religious ideology (now they’re proselytizing to us?).
Let’s leave aside the evolution-creation stuff for a minute, though, in order to note the sheer deceptiveness of the implication that the NGSS is some kind of federal imposition.
Sure, it’s a national standard. But it’s a national standard that was drafted in partnership with a group of states—twenty-six, to be exact, including liberal bastions like Tennessee and Arkansas—and, in order to be implemented, it has to be approved by individual states, i.e., by the “local and state boards of education” that do, indeed, control our education system. The NGSS’s motto is “For states, by states,” and, you guessed it, it’s not even a federal program, as the lede implies, but an independent organization endorsed by such radically liberal entities as Exxon Mobil, Dupont, and Merck.
It’s perfectly understandable that the public school system frightens members of some religious groups. Unless you can afford to opt out, it’s a mandatory, non-religious institution that will play a significant role in your kid’s upbringing. Luskin, though, isn’t so much expressing these fears as playing on them. His actual concern, it seems, is that “the NGSS drafting process excluded Darwin-skeptical groups and invited pro-Darwin advocacy groups like the National Center for Science Education.”
That exclusion has been going on for a while, of course. But Luskin does have new cause for worry. His particular brand of evolution-questioning thrives in a culture where very few people can tell you what a testable hypothesis is, and where we get serious arguments by highly educated people that “the Bible is a textbook of science.” It’s time for us to have classes that emphasize those “habits and skills” that inform the scientific method, with its high standards of evidence and deep skepticism. And that’s something Luskin has good reason to fear.