Constitution Society
7793 Burnet Rd #37
Austin, TX 78757
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http://www.constitution.org
textbook@constitution.org

Testimony
of
Jon Roland
President of the Constitution Society
before the
Texas State Board of Education
on textbook evaluation
July 9, 2003

Introduction

Today I will not be addressing errors or omissions in particular textbooks, but rather addressing general deficiencies common to many of them, especially in the biological sciences. Your attention is called to a short article I wrote in 1999, "Evolutionism vs. Creationism", which discusses some of the problems that deserve attention. For other testimony and responses see http://www.constitution.org/reform/us/tx/textbook/textbook.htm.

The following points should be considered as proposed amendments to the TEKS standards. I have also begun to develop suggestions for amendments or additions to those standards that I ask the State Board of Education to consider adopting. The current state of some of my proposals is at http://www.constitution.org/reform/us/tx/textbook/teks_amend.htm.

Recommendations

Scientific method and terminology. The older, imprecise terminology of "theory", "hypothesis", "proof", "fact", "experiment", etc., should be replaced with the more modern and precise terminology of operation, observation, and model. The student should learn to discuss how the utility of a model may be evaluated in terms of its support for explanation, prediction, control, and cost of use, and how to apply the criteria of unity, consistency, refutabilty, and parsimony to selecting from among competing models. The student should learn how to develop models — conceptual, verbal, physical, mathematical, and computer simulation — for arbitrary observation sets without regard for what real-world phenomena the observations may represent, and how to fit models to data. The student should also be introduced to the concepts of complex systems and information theory.

Statistics and error analysis. The student should learn how to use statistics competently, how to reason with statistics, and how to recognize misuses of statistics. The student should be able to calculate observational error and the propagation of errors in calculations. This might begin with discussion of round-off errors and their effects on significant digits over a series of calculations.

Approximation methods. The student should learn how to develop and test mathematical approximation methods, and discuss them in terms of a series of terms which may be subjected to tests for convergence. This could begin with long division as an approximation method and proceed to calculus.

Application of scientific method to "nonscientific" fields. The student should learn how to apply scientific method and terminology to fields not usually associated with it, such as history, government, economics, news reports, language, sports, and the ordinary problems of their own lives. Courses in those other fields should be enhanced with applications of scientific method, especially courses in mathematics.

Modeling for decision support. The student should be introduced to the fundamentals of modeling of complex systems, such as businesses, cities, government programs, and ecosystems, including discussion of feedback loops, equilibria, regression, constraint analysis, nonlinear optimization, symmetry, game theory, public choice theory, and related topics. Tools for computer modeling, which could take the form of strategy games, should be made available and the student encouraged to use them for a variety of complex phenomena, such as competitive diffusion processes.

Evolution and taxonomy. The student should learn to discuss evolution in terms of a system of models of descent relations between pairs of specimens, and leave open the question of whether all such models may be unified into a single descent tree or whether there might be contamination. The student should not be asked to learn a single taxonomic scheme as canonical, but should be introduced to the several schemes and alternative names for taxonomic groups favored by various researchers, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each, especially in the light of recent DNA analyses and evidence of trans-species genetic transfers.

Speedreading, speedmath, speedlearning. So much attention has been devoted to getting students to a minimal level of achievement that we have neglected to take them to the higher levels of which they are capable. In today's world it is not enough to read at 200 words per minute. The more advanced techniques should be part of standard education.

Library, field and internet research and writing. More advanced students are learning this, but it needs to be made a focus for standard instruction. It should also extend to specialized repositories, such as law libraries. The student should learn how to write not only research papers, but do field studies, write legal briefs, and generally do the kinds of work they will need to do in higher education.

For more on the above topics see http://www.constitution.org/cs_devel.htm. This report, with supporting documentation, is available at http://www.constitution.org/reform/us/tx/textbook/03709_sboe.htm


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