Making Sense of the Veep Candidates
Minnesotans were waiting throughout Friday morning to see if we would once again have a presence on the national ticket of one of the two major parties. Some of us breathed a sigh of relief when Tim Pawlenty was not named (it would leave us with Carol Molnau as governor and Molnau is credited with the failure of the MnDOT to prevent the I35W bridge collapse.)
We, along with the rest of the country, were completely taken by surprise that Sarah Palin of Alaska was the Vice Presidential nominee for the Republican Party. Palin’s biography has been published and there is a great deal of discussion of her background and the shallowness of her experience in government. I’m not going to pile on that. I am also going to leave alone her positions on abortion, stem cell research, abstinence-only education and polar bears. I think that those things are being covered in enough of the media and blogosphere to make it unnecessary here.
No, what I want to approach here is her attitude towards the idea of teaching Intelligent Design along with evolution in science classes. I also want to mention that our own governor of Minnesota, a frontrunner for the Vice Presidential nomination has a similar position on science education. This was a surprise to me, even though Pawlenty had appointed Cheri Pierson-Yecke as the Commissioner of Education when he first took office in 2002. Yecke was the commissioner who had tried to write “Teach the Controversy” into the science standards when they were being reviewed in 2004. She was narrowly defeated in her efforts.
Many people wonder what the problem is regarding teaching the controversy, and accuse scientists of academic suppression when they don’t let Intelligent Design into school standards. Simply put, there is no science to Intelligent Design. Introducing Intelligent Design into the science classroom would be a clear example of a violation of the three-prong Lemon test developed by the Supreme Court in deciding the case of Lemon v. Kurtz. Intelligent Design is religiously motivated (and transparently so) and has been determined to have no secular value.
Sarah Palin said in an interview that the schools should teach both Intelligent Design and the competing theory of evolution (as if there were only one.) She actually didn’t specify the Intelligent Design form of Creationism, but she did say this at a gubernatorial forum in Alaska in 2006 (Anchorage Daily News:)
• PALIN: “Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information. “Healthy debate is so important and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both. And you know, I say this too as the daughter of a science teacher. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject — creationism and evolution. It’s been a healthy foundation for me. But don’t be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides.
Intelligent Design isn’t actually based on information (although they spend a great deal of time mis-using Shannon Information Theory,) and so “giving information” on Intelligent Design would be a disservice to education. Those are the main reasons that I see a problem with Palin’s position. We really should be teaching kids how science is done, and not bring the “origins” and religion debate into it. And evolution as we understand it is based on the same methods of science as chemistry, physics and geology. Hypothesize, research, test, analyze, test again and re-analyze.
Tim Pawlenty said recently (August 31 on Meet the Press🙂
GOV. PAWLENTY: We’ve said in Minnesota, in my view this is a local decision. Intelligent design is something that in my view is a plausible and credible and something that I personally believe in; but more importantly, from an educational and scientific standpoint, it should be decided by local school boards, by–at the local school district level.
I can assure you that this is not the case in Minnesota, and it doesn’t make sense for Pawlenty to claim that local schools are free to set their own standards. He signed the current standards into law (MNSCE’s Judy Budreau:)
In the past, Governor Pawlenty has been unclear about his position on including Intelligent Design in Minnesota classrooms; his first appointment for Commissioner of Education, Cheri Pierson Yecke was publicly supportive of Intelligent Design/Creationism. Dr. Yecke’s appointment was not confirmed, due at least in part to this stand. To Governor Pawlenty’s credit, he signed into law the current Minnesota Academic Standards for Science, which do not contain provisions for teaching Intelligent Design/Creationism.
On the other hand, when several Minnetonka citizens spoke to officials at the Minnesota Department of Education in November and December 2005 to get clarification on whether or not the Minnesota standards allow or encourage teaching ID/Creationism, the reply was always the same: Minnesotans favor local control of school districts and the academic standards allow for this.
Oh, so even though the local control aspect is in contravention to state law, the governor’s office and the Department of Education are enforcing the policy that they want rather than what is in the law. This seems to bean example of the Republican strategy of legislating from the Executive Branch (see the Bush Signing Statements.)
Tim Pawlenty and Sarah Palin were but two of the finalists to be McCain’s running mate, but it was a short list and both of them are in favor of subverting science education. What is going on here? Well, either McCain is unaware of their positions, or he is aware and doesn’t think that this is a problem.
In my mind, the approach to Intelligent Design serves as a bellwether for how a person approaches important issues. The evolution denialists use the same thought processes to establish their positions on origins as do the global warming denialists (I can’t call them skeptics for obvious reasons.) And McCain’s tacit approval by proxy of this sort of thinking process calls into question his ability to choose people who will be able to advise him on science matters.
It also brings up another problem with McCain and who he would choose for his cabinet. If critical thinking is unimportant to him in evolution and climate, how important will it be in economic matters? Will he be willing to examine the effects of tax cuts for the wealthy from an economics standpoint or will he be compelled to follow the Reagan line that the benefits to the wealthiest of such tax cuts will trickle down to the rest of us? Will he be able to exercise reason in foreign policy, or will he continue to take advice from a neo-con lobbyist such as Randy Scheunemann?
The Republican Governors, one chosen and one nearly chosen, send to me a message that McCain’s own power of discernment, which he needs in order to be president is lacking. The President of the United States doesn’t do all the deciding on his or her own. They surround themselves with people we expect to be competent to enact sensible policies. I don’t trust the people McCain favors, and Palin is only one of many problems with McCain.