Science and the sole finalist for TUSD superintendent
H.T. Sanchez has several needed qualities should he become TUSD superintendent: a forceful personality, a passionate emphasis on listening to and respecting others, sometimes eloquent speech, and an air of being open and candid.
These positive qualities make it hard to imagine that the sole finalist for TUSD superintendent would not understand science or not know the meaning of knowledge. However, if you carefully study Sanchez's words at his public forum last Wednesday, as I have, it is difficult to reach any other conclusion.
"So in the end with science, evolution, you know creationism, global warming, they're all perspectives," said Sanchez as he answered questions from the audience. "I think our job is to put the information before students and let them make up their own mind, not to indoctrinate them. I don't believe in that."
It is a given that schools shouldn't indoctrinate. But science, evolution and global warming are much more than "perspectives," or points of view. "Information," which Sanchez frequently mentioned in his two-hour talk, is not the same thing as "knowledge," which Sanchez seldom mentioned. And in his quote, Sanchez, perhaps unintentionally, has fallaciously equated the teaching of science – or any other knowledge – with indoctrination.
In making his argument that scientific knowledge is a "perspective," Sanchez cited the belief people once held that the earth was flat. "Somebody decided to disagree with that," he said, "and guess what, they were right."
Sanchez is right that knowledge is not immutable. However, even if knowledge changes as the result of new evidence, methods, or insights, it still is different than a "perspective." Knowledge is based on inquiry that includes gathering observable and measurable evidence, formulating hypotheses, and testing them. A "perspective," to the contrary, may be based on nothing more than a single experience, a feeling, faith, or the opinion of somebody you trust.
I am concerned that somebody seeking the top job in the largest school district in Southern Arizona hasn't thought more rigorously about such fundamental concepts as how knowledge is different than opinion, how teaching science is different than indoctrination, how "putting the information before students and letting them make up their own minds," while very appropriate in their choosing a career, is inadequate when it comes to their understanding how the earth and human life were created.
As I said in my first sentence, Sanchez has several attractive qualities. Based on his apparent success elsewhere, I even suspect that his actions as an educator are more sophisticated than his rhetoric at the community forum would indicate. But as much as I want to believe it is true, that is only speculation.
The TUSD Governing Board can help me – and the rest of the community – to determine whether my favorable speculation is accurate. Before deciding whether to hire Sanchez, the board should initiate a discussion with Sanchez about his views on the difference between knowledge and "perspectives," and on whether he really believes creationism is as acceptable a scientific explanation as evolution for the origin of the earth, human life, and the universe.
This discussion would be fair to Sanchez – he needs to know whether he agrees with the beliefs and values of the community he may be moving to. And it would be fair to the students and employees of TUSD, as well as the community, who all need to know whether they agree with the beliefs and values of the man who may be TUSD's next superintendent.
Jim Kiser is a former editorial page columnist and editorial page editor for the Arizona Daily Star. He has undergraduate and graduate degrees in education from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Stanford University.