“strengths & weaknesses” — harmless in Texas?

photo by Andrew Rogers, Daily Texan Staff

Garrett Mize (photo by Andrew Rogers, Daily Texan Staff)

On the website of the Texas Freedom Network, “africangenesis” comments:

Ed Darrell, I doubt you can trace the failure of Texas schools to the “strengths and weaknesses” language which has been around a couple of decades.

Jonathan Saenz (identified by TFN as “director of legislative affairs for Plano-based Free Market Foundation, the Texas affiliate of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family) and members of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) made a big deal of this argument. When asked by SBOE members if they had evidence that the language has done damage, the university science instructors and professors replied that they didn’t have the kind of evidence that would come from systematic studies, but they did know from their teaching experience that Texas high school graduates have been very poorly educated on what science is and how it works.


SBOE member Terri Leo -- District 6: Spring, TX

Some witnesses testified that Texas science teachers have been intimidated from teaching science, and several said their HS science teachers had avoided evolution altogether. The “strengths and weaknesses” language is obviously not the exclusive cause of this situation, but it is a key element in maintaining the regime of untruth that evidently has harmed Texas science education over recent decades.

Here’s one example from a student (Garrett Mize, who’s now a junior at UT-Austin):

Audio clip (mp3) of testimony by Garrett Mize, and questioning by SBOE member Terri Leo (intervening testimony and dialogue deleted)

Added November 29: There are now audio files of the whole thing (in seven parts, aligned with the TFN blog pages) posted here on this blog.

That post also links to wiki pages for building up an annotated review of the proceedings, indexed by times and speakers.


  1. africangenesis
    Posted November 23, 2008 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    What is the evidence that the strength and weaknesses language is “a key element in maintaining the regime of untruth”?

    I went to your example link, and Garrett Mize did not seem particularly ignorant of evolution nor did he relate evidence that teachers had been intimidated from teaching science. What was that link supposed to be an “example” of?

  2. Posted November 23, 2008 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    africangenesis asks

    What was that link supposed to be an “example” of?

    It’s an example of the testimony given in the SBOE meeting by people who have been students and/or science teachers in Texas during the last 20 years. In particular, this one is an example of a student testifying that his HS science teacher had avoided evolution altogether. I am sure that there are students in college who have learned about evolution despite not studying it in high school; but Mize did not demonstrate much knowledge of biology in his testimony, anyway — that’s not what he testified about.

  3. africangenesis
    Posted November 23, 2008 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    My bad, I was looking at the link to Daily Texan article, not the audio clip. Garrett’s testimony was not very good, he admitted that because the teacher didn’t teach evolution that he “assumed” she was afraid to do so. He didn’t even have heresay evidence, something the teacher said to him or anything.

    If evolution is central to biology, what did Garrett do in that class for a year? Perhaps it was something like biochemistry, which is also central to biology, or organ systems or phylogeny, or metabolism or photosynthesis or ecology.

    But he wants to claim that weakness language prevents teachers from teaching science.

  4. Posted November 23, 2008 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    “africangenesis,” I really do appreciate your latest comment. It warrants a substantial response. I’m not sure when I’ll have a chance to get to that, but I promise that I will.

  5. Richard Whitson
    Posted December 22, 2008 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    I don’t understand why ID proponants want to make an issue of “wekness” when their own interpretation of the word allows that any piece of yet undiscovered physical evidence along the evolutionary chain constitutes this “weakness”. By their own measure then, any theory other than evolution is a total theory of “weakness”(yes, incuding ID!) because there is no physical evidence supporting these supernatural theories. Since there is no reason to teach any theory that is a complete “weakness” that has no, none, zero strengths, evolution is clearly the science to teach because of the reality of it’s strengths.

  6. Posted December 22, 2008 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Rick

    In the post on Barbara Cargill — TX SBOE’s “Science” teacher, you can see this quote, with more of the context:

    A sound teaching strategy is to allow them to discuss multiple aspects of controversial subjects. For example, when evidence for universal common ancestry in the fossil record is taught (i.e. scientific strength), then the contradictory evidence showing the huge gaps of missing transitional fossils in the record must also be presented (i.e. scientific weakness).

    Apparently, by her logic, gaps in the fossil record count as “weaknesses” that contradict the fossil evidence that we do have!

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