Constitution Society
7793 Burnet Rd #37
Austin, TX 78757
512/374-9585
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