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When Neutrality isn’t Neutral

The news of Chris Comer’s suit against the Texas Education Administration claiming she was forced out illegally should come as no surprise to anyone. The reasoning behind the dismissal clearly silly, and the explanations did not ring true as the real reasons she was asked to resign.

But as a moderate who likes to see not just both sides of an issue, but all the various gradients between, I want to comment on the idea of neutrality as it applies in this case. While I like moderation, there are some very definite cases where the “right” position will be at one end of the spectrum or another.

The essence of moderation as I use the term is to identify the full width of the spectrum of possibilities, and then intelligently select the appropriate point. I see at least two types of spectra one might find in such a case. One is a spectrum that balances several valid claims, with varying priority given to these various options. The other is a spectrum that may lead from valid to invalid, with the only necessary choice being to identify the valid end.

I see health care policy as an example of the first kind of spectrum. There are a wide variety of ideas and you can even divide them up into various spectra, considering costs, who are the providers, who are the payers, and so forth. You have valid goals (providing health care to those who need it, making sure that finances are adequate, not forcing one person to pay for the foolishness of another) that need to be balanced, and you might find many positions for which good arguments can be made, but you have to decide on one policy. I think this is a good place to exercise moderate thinking.

For a possibly non-controversial example of the other kind of spectrum, I would suggest an aircraft wing. Now I realize that more than one shape can produce lift, but if one assumes a particular general design there are going to be very few workable shapes, and there will be one that will provide the best lift in combination with other factors in that set of circumstances. You can create a spectrum from a large rock to a carefully shaped wing, but you wouldn’t want to be “moderate” or “neutral” about your choice.

And therein lies the problem for the “neutrality” of the Texas Education Administration in this case. The issue is not between multiple equally scientific (tested, validated, published, etc.) ideas that might be taught. The conflict is between teaching mainstream science, the consensus scientific view of those who work in the appropriate fields, as opposed to picking up a variety of offbeat ideas.

Now some will say this is not the case. It is a conflict between two equally scientific views, and they are only asking for this one view to be given equal time.

But on what basis should a view that claims to be scientific be given a place in the public school science classroom? Should it be true if one guy with a PhD claims it is true? In that case we’d have a rather wild assortment of things to teach. There’s a guy who teaches geocentrism who has a PhD. Should it be anyone who has written a book on the topic? That wouldn’t exclude anything.

How about a certain level of acceptance in the scientific community, specifically by those scientists working in the field in question? Without conducting scientific surveys, that is actually how we work, and if we apply to this topic (ID/intelligent desing vs. evolutionary theory) we will reject ID in the high school classroom and teach evolutionary theory.

The “neutrality” that Chris Comer was expected to maintain was between teaching science and not teaching science, and all things considered, I would have to commend her for making the choice to advocate teaching science. Anything else seems horribly irresponsible.

Which leaves one to wonder about the rest of the Texas Education Administration. One must assume that those in authority want those who coordinate science education in Texas to teach something else. That should make Texas residents–and Americans in general–very concerned.

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  1. jasonmitchell says:

    You missed one factor in your assesment of the ‘neutrality’ policy. Comer was fired for sending an email about why it is illegal to include id/creationsim in public school science curriculum.

    Even if one assumes ‘neutrality’ in the scientific validity of ID vs. Modern Evoultionary Theory, as a public official Comer could not responsibly assume a neutral stance on what is legal vs. what is illegal (constitutional vs. unconstitutional as per SCOTUS)

    When the law/supreme court findings are on one side and creationism/ID is on the other – adhering to Texas’ “neutrality” policy is not ethical

    1. Good point. Thanks for calling it to my attention.

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