The new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were released in April of 2013. They are not requirements, but they will have a major influence on textbooks and state curricula for years to come.
One of the goals was to help students have a deeper understanding of a few basic core ideas rather than focus on a lot of unconnected ideas. Another goal was to teach the core ideas at increasingly advanced levels from K-12 and to integrate them with scientific and engineering practices and with concepts from the different disciplines.
These were reasonable goals, except that the core ideas in both life science and earth & space tilted heavily toward naturalistic evolution and the effects of human activities on the environment. Two of the NGSS core ideas are to teach biological evolution and the evolutionary history of the earth. Another core idea is to teach how human interactions are changing the earth. These are three of the most controversial topics in science, and they are to be taught to students for 12 years with virtually no discussion of scientific challenges to them.
These core ideas reminded me of the reason for the months of emotional hearings in the Texas Board of Education a few years ago. The lengthy debate was over whether or not to allow students to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution. In the end, the Board majority removed the terms “strengths and weaknesses”, but stood firm in deciding to allow students to “analyze and evaluate scientific explanations” relating to the subject of origins.
Most states do not allow scientific challenges to Darwinian evolution to be taught. This seems to be a schizophrenic approach to science, because the current National Science Education Standards (NSES) have a clearly stated proposal for how to deal with rival theories and handle disagreements about explanations.
“It is part of scientific inquiry to evaluate the results of scientific investigations, experiments, observations, theoretical models, and the explanations proposed by other scientists. Evaluation includes reviewing the experimental procedures, examining the evidence, identifying faulty reasoning, pointing out statements that go beyond the evidence, and suggesting alternative explanations for the same observations. Although scientists may disagree about explanations of phenomena, about interpretations of data, or about the value of rival theories, they do agree that questioning, response to criticism, and open communication are integral to the process of science. As scientific knowledge evolves, major disagreements are eventually resolved through such interactions between scientists.” (p. 171)
This is an important standard, but it seems to only refer to certain areas of science. It is quite interesting to note that it does not apply to the ongoing creation/evolution debate about whether the earth, the universe, life and humans arose naturalistically or supernaturally.
Science topics that seek to answer questions about how or why things operate in nature as they do are known as operational sciences. This is the majority of what one would find in a science textbook. The NSES standard quoted above can easily be applied to all kinds of operational sciences. The open debates and analyses of these studies are the reason why scientists have enjoyed a high level of credibility for so many years. As new discoveries were proposed, debates and critiques eventually weeded out poor explanations and identified valid strong explanations.
Science topics that seek to reconstruct the earth’s past history and answer questions about “where we came from” are known as historical sciences. Students are merely instructed in these fields according to the “officially sanctioned” explanations. These versions always agree with naturalistic Darwinian evolution. Scientific challenges and alternative explanations for origins are vigorously opposed by national science education groups.
Darwinian evolution has been taught as a no-debate subject for many years, but NGSS are now including the geological evolution of the earth as a core idea. Topics such as climate change and man made changes in the environment are usually taught in the same manner without considering scientific challenges to the “official” explanation.
Many parents are skeptical of devoting even more time to Darwinian evolution and controversial environmental issues and making them core ideas in science starting with kindergarten.
If this is a concern, now is the time to begin conversations with state political and educational leaders. This is also the time for Christian schools and homeschool parents to take a good look at how recommended national standards might be about to follow the path of UK schools and become required national standards. States still have the final say in how their state curricula will be written, but they will be under great pressure to conform to NGSS unless they hear from many parents and concerned citizens.