The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘theocracy’

Creationism in Charter Schools: A Follow-Up

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 30, 2014

My most recent post - Texas Charter Schools Teaching Creationism? - outlined news that the charter school network in Texas is using public tax dollars to push religious dogma (specifically, fundamentalist Christianity) in public schools.  That, of course, is a real no-no legally, as outlined in the 1987 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Edwards v. Aguillard; it is also a no-no scientifically, as it has been shown, repeatedly and clearly, that creationism is not scientific and therefore shouldn’t be taught as such.

As a follow up to my recent post, I’d like to add on a couple of interesting data points.  The first is an article from Slate.com wherein they outline the fact that this isn’t just a problem in Texas:

Slate charter Creationism Map

Image Source

… A large, publicly funded charter school system in Texas is teaching creationism to its students, Zack Kopplin recently reported in Slate. Creationist teachers don’t even need to be sneaky about it—the Texas state science education standards, as well as recent laws in Louisiana and Tennessee, permit public school teachers to teach “alternatives” to evolution. Meanwhile, in Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Arizona, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, taxpayer money is funding creationist private schools through state tuition voucher or scholarship programs. As the map below illustrates, creationism in schools isn’t restricted to schoolhouses in remote villages where the separation of church and state is considered less sacred. If you live in any of these states, there’s a good chance your tax money is helping to convince some hapless students that evolution (the basis of all modern biological science, supported by everything we know about geology, genetics, paleontology, and other fields) is some sort of highly contested scientific hypothesis as credible as “God did it.” …

As I and others have warned previously, because these questions are settled law (and that settled by the Supreme Court) then any school district participating in these shenanigans is likely to run afoul of some very unpleasant lawsuits.  Well, now it appears that shoe is dropping…

Texas Charter School System’s Use Of Creationist Textbooks Violates The Constitution, Americans United Says

Church-State Watchdog Asks Texas Education Agency To Prohibit Responsive Education Solutions’ Use of Anti-Science Materials Or Revoke Its Charter

Jan 30, 2014

The biology curriculum used by a system of taxpayer-supported charter schools in Texas promotes creationism in violation of the U.S. Constitution, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says.

In a letter today to the Texas Education Agency’s Division of Charter School Administration, Americans United warned officials that Responsive Education Solutions must not be permitted to continue to aggressively undermine the theory of evolution while receiving public funds. Americans United told the agency to either prohibit the use of this curriculum or revoke Responsive Education Solutions’ charter.

“The U.S. Supreme Court said more than 25 years ago that creationism is a religious dogma that cannot be promoted by public schools,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It amazes me that we are still fighting this battle in 2014, yet here we are.” …

Yup, here we are… once again… fighting a battle in the 21st century against those with an outdated and defunct 18th century view of science.

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Texas Charter Schools Teaching Creationism?

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 27, 2014

You have to give it to creationists, they certainly are persistent.  And none seem to be more persistent than those creationists in Texas who continue to evolve their tactics in an effort to insert their religious fundamentalism into the public schools at the expense of students’ education in science and critical thinking in general.  As our friends at the National Center for Science Education report, the newest battle front appears to be in the Texas charter school system:

“When public-school students enrolled in Texas’[s] largest charter program open their biology workbooks, they will read that the fossil record is ‘sketchy.’ That evolution is ‘dogma’ and an ‘unproved theory’ with no experimental basis. They will be told that leading scientists dispute the mechanisms of evolution and the age of the Earth,” according to Zack Kopplin, writing in Slate (January 16, 2014). “These are all lies.”

Kopplin’s article reports on his investigation into Responsive Ed, which operates more than sixty-five charter schools in Texas, Arkansas, and Indiana, and receives more than $82 million in public funds to do so. Examining workbooks used in Responsive Ed’s schools, Kopplin concluded, “These workbooks both overtly and underhandedly discredit evidence-based science and allow creationism into public-school classrooms.”

Among the claims that he cited as problematic: that there is no “single source for all the rock layers”; that “[s]ome scientists” question the established age of the earth; that evolution cannot be tested; that there is a “lack of transitional fossils,” which is a “problem for evolutionists who hold a view of uninterrupted evolution over long periods of time.” The section on the origin of life quotes Genesis 1:1.

Responsive Ed’s vice president of academic affairs was quoted as saying that the curriculum “teaches evolution, noting, but not exploring, the existence of competing theories.” Unreassured, Kopplin commented, “Bringing creationism into a classroom by undermining evolution and ‘noting … competing theories’ is still unconstitutional,” citing the Supreme Court’s 1987 decision in Edwards v. Aguillard.

Asked for his appraisal of the situation, NCSE’s Joshua Rosenau commented, “Some people don’t realize that the First Amendment applies to charter schools just as much as to any other public school. Teaching creationism or other sectarian religious claims as if they were science is wrong anywhere, but it’s especially bad to use tax dollars to force one person’s religion onto school kids.” … [emphasis added]

I wanted to emphasize the wording in bold above: when many people hear the term “charter” school, they mistakenly think that it means the school is private.  Thus, if it is a “private charter” school, then they can teach whatever they wish, right?  Wrong.

In the United States (and last I looked Texas was still part of the Union), a charter school is one which is a kind of public/private partnership; but the key point is that charter schools are still a part of the public school system.  And as such, they must adhere to the same rules as the rest of the public school system, the key one in this case being that it is against the law to teach creationism as science in public schools.

To my knowledge, while the issue has been clearly hashed out in the courts involving cases of the broader public school system, I don’t know of a case yet where this question has come up in a charter school system.  If I had to gamble, I would bet that the courts would rule against creationists in such a case specific to charter schools; but, despite all that, it seems that the creationists in Texas are happy to spend taxpayer money in what is certain to be a futile attempt to circumvent both the law and good science education.

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Big Win for Science Education in Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 27, 2013

I have written here many times in the past about how creationists have tried to use the textbook adoption process in Texas to attempt to dumb down science texts. And the recent textbook adoption process wrapping up in Texas is no different; even if you don’t live in Texas, this is potentially an issue for your school district, because since the textbook market is so large, book publishers often feel pressure to change their textbooks nationwide based upon feedback and criticism from the Texas Board of Education. And, unfortunately, too many times in the past creationists and other science-deniers have been successful in their efforts.

However, this time I am more than happy to report that the creationists in Texas have lost, and they’ve lost big time. And that means it’s a big win for the rest of us :)

Our good friends at the National Center for Science Education have a full report, which I list below in two parts:

Texas Creationists Beware: The Posse’s Comin’

By Josh Rosneau

After last month’s Texas textbook vote, I was ready to declare total victory. I wrote:

“It’s a joy to be able to report on a sweeping victory for science education in Texas, and to be able to give an eyewitness report of the fight over the textbooks that will be used in that massive textbook market for years to come.”

But there was a shoe left to drop, a panel that the board would appoint to review a disputed list of purported errors in the Pearson/Prentice-Hall Biology textbook written by Ken Miller and Joe Levine. As New York Times reporter Motoko Rich explained:

“The Texas Board of Education on Friday delayed final approval of a widely used biology textbook because of concerns raised by one reviewer that it presents evolution as fact rather than theory. …

the state board, which includes several members who hold creationist views, voted to recommend 14 textbooks in biology and environmental science. But its approval of “Biology,” a highly regarded textbook by Kenneth R. Miller, a biologist at Brown University, and Joseph S. Levine, a science journalist, and published by Pearson Education, was contingent upon an expert panel determining whether any corrections are warranted. Until the panel rules on the alleged errors, Pearson will not be able to market its book as approved by the board to school districts in Texas.”

Well, the panel of experts has returned with their conclusions to the Board, and the news is good. The NCSE has a full rundown:

A final victory in Texas

… As NCSE previously reported, at its November 22, 2013, meeting, the board quarreled about whether to heed a review panel’s criticisms of Kenneth R. Miller and Joseph Levine’s popular biology textbook, published by Pearson, but decided to adopt it, contingent on the outcome of a further review by a panel of three outside experts. Subsequently, the names of the experts were divulged: Ronald Wetherington, a professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University and a recipient of NCSE’s Friend of Darwin award; Arturo De Lozanne, a professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology at the University of Texas, Austin; and Vincent Cassone, a professor of biology at the University of Kentucky (and formerly at Texas A&M University). As NCSE’s Joshua Rosenau commented at the Science League of America blog (December 11, 2013), “it’ll take about 5 minutes for them to dismiss the claims leveled against Pearson’s Biology.”

According to TFN, “A Texas Education Agency (TEA) spokesperson told us that it has forwarded the panel’s report to Pearson. TEA won’t release the report publicly until Pearson has had a chance to review it, but our sources said all three panelists dismissed the claims of factual errors and recommended no changes to the textbook.” Assessing the outcome, TFN contended, “The panel’s approval of the Pearson textbook essentially marks the end of efforts by anti-evolution activists to hijack this year’s science textbook adoption. Throughout the process, they and their board allies — including [the board's chair Barbara] Cargill — tried to pressure publishers into watering down and distorting the science on evolution and climate change. They failed completely when publishers resisted their pressure while TFN, the National Center for Science Education and other science education advocates rallied support for the textbooks.” …

So if you’re looking for a worthy organization to donate to for your end-of-the-year giving, and you value good public science education, I suggest donating a few bucks to the NCSE. It’ll be money well spent :)

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ALERT! Creationists Are Back in Texas Textbook Review

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 1, 2013

I just received the following update from the Texas Freedom Network regarding the upcoming review of science textbooks for Texas public schools; it seems that the creationists are at it, yet again.

Note, even if you don’t live in Texas, this is a big deal because the textbook market for Texas is so large that many publishers will adjust all of their books for many other states to fit Texas standards rather than publish different versions.  So if creationists in Texas can influence science textbooks there, it could very well be reflected in your local schools.

Read on for more info:

Alarm Bells Are Ringing: Creationists Get Influential Positions in Texas Science Textbook Review

It looks like the Lone Star State’s reputation as a hotbed of anti-science fanaticism is about to be reinforced. At least six creationists/”intelligent design” proponents succeeded in getting invited to review high school biology textbooks that publishers have submitted for adoption in Texas this year. The State Board of Education (SBOE) will decide in November which textbooks to approve. Those textbooks could be in the state’s public school science classrooms for nearly a decade.

Among the six creationist reviewers are some of the nation’s leading opponents of teaching students that evolution is established, mainstream science and is overwhelmingly supported by well over a century of research. Creationists on the SBOE nominated those six plus five others also invited by the Texas Education Agency to serve on the biology review teams. We have been unable to determine what those other five reviewers think about evolution.

Although 28 individuals got invites to review the proposed new biology textbooks this year, only about a dozen have shown up in Austin this week for the critical final phase of that review. That relatively small overall number of reviewers could give creationists even stronger influence over textbook content. In fact, publishers are making changes to their textbooks based on objections they hear from the review panelists. And that’s happening essentially behind closed doors because the public isn’t able to monitor discussions among the review panelists themselves or between panelists and publishers. The public won’t know about publishers’ changes (or the names of all the review panelists who are in Austin this week) until probably September. Alarm bells are ringing.

Following are the six creationists/evolution critics we have identified so far on the biology review teams:

  • Raymond Bohlin is vice president of vision outreach for Probe Ministries in Plano and a research fellow for the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute promotes the pseudoscientific concept “intelligent design” over evolution. Founded in 1973, Probe works “to present the Gospel to communities, nationally and internationally, by providing life-long opportunities to integrate faith and learning through balanced, biblically based scholarship.” Bohlin has a doctorate in molecular and cell biology from the University of Texas at Dallas, making him a star performer for anti-evolution groups. He is listed as a “Darwin Skeptic” on the Creation Science Hall of Fame website. Probe and the Creation Science Hall of Fame promote a fundamentalist, literal interpretation of the Bible’s creation story. We know that Bohlin is in Austin this week to participate in the biology review panel meetings.
  • Walter Bradley is a retired Baylor University professor of engineering who coauthored a book, The Mystery of Life’s Origins in 1984, that essentially launched the “intelligent design” movement. “Intelligent design” suggests a scientific basis for creationism (creationism dressed up in a lab coat). Bradley, founding fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, is also listed as a “Darwin Skeptic” on the Creation Science Hall of Fame website. He is participating in the biology review panel meetings this week.
  • Daniel Romo is a chemistry professor at Texas A&M University and is listed as a “Darwin Skeptic” on the Creation Science Hall of Fame website. We don’t know yet whether Romo made it to Austin for the biology review panel meetings.
  • Ide Trotter is a longtime standard-bearer for the creationist movement in Texas, both as a source of funding and as a spokesperson for the absurdly named creationist group Texans for Better Science Education. Trotter, listed as a “Darwin Skeptic” on the Creation Science Hall of Fame website, is a veteran of the evolution wars at the SBOE and is participating the biology review panel meetings this week. He testified before the board during the 2003 biology textbook adoption and again in 2009 during the science curriculum adoption. In both instances, Trotter advocated including scientifically discredited “weaknesses” of evolution in Texas science classrooms. Trotter, who has a doctorate in chemical engineering, runs his own investment management company and served as dean of business and professor of finance at Dallas Baptist University. He claims that major scientific discoveries over last century have actually made evolutionary science harder to defend:

    “The ball is rolling and it’s going downhill. There are not enough forces on the side of Darwinism to keep pushing it back uphill forever.”

  • Richard White, a systems (network) engineer in Austin, testified at an SBOE hearing on the proposed science curriculum standards on March 25, 2009. At the time, he advocated the inclusion of phony “weaknesses” of evolution in Texas science standards:

    “…These are all well-known scientific problems with modern evolutionary theory, and they do not exhaust the list. The entire list is a very long one.”

    White went on in his testimony to insist that teaching the mainstream scientific consensus concerning evolution without also presenting its alleged “weaknesses” amounted to forcing religious dogma on students. We don’t know whether White is participating in the review panels this week.

  • David Zeiger is a seventh-grade teacher at a Christian private school in North Texas. He holds a biochemistry degree from the University of Texas at Dallas. In 2009 he and his wife, Heather, opposed removing from the state’s science curriculum standards the requirement that students learn about so-called “weaknesses” of evolution. Creationists has used that requirement to insist that publishers include discredited arguments challenging evolution, such as supposed “gaps” in the fossil record. We don’t know whether Zeiger is participating the review panels this week.

We’ll have more on this soon.

The state board is scheduled to hold its first public hearing on the textbooks at its September 17-20 meeting in Austin. The board has scheduled a final vote on which textbooks to adopt for November.

If you want students to learn real science in their science classrooms — not discredited creationist arguments that will leave them unprepared for college and the jobs of the 21st century — then join thousands of Texans who have signed our Stand Up for Science petition here. The Texas Freedom Network will keep you informed about the textbook adoption this year and what you can do to stop anti-science fanatics from undermining the education of Texas kids.

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“The Revisionaries” PBS Documentary on Texas Textbooks

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 30, 2013

If you’ve been following the ongoing saga over the years that is the Texas Board of Education and their textbook adoption process, then you no doubt understand that there has been a far-right conservative faction of people who have attempted to push their ideology (including creationism) into Texas public schools.  Now the recent history of this saga has been chronicled in a PBS documentary titled “The Revisionaries”.  I encourage you to take the time to share and watch this important documentary, which you can do online here until February 27th:

The Revisionaries

“Somebody has got to stand up to experts!” — Don McLeRoy, former Texas BoEd member

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Stephen Colbert PWNs Don McLeroy, Creationist Crank from Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 26, 2012

If you know who Don McLeroy is (and if you don’t, read up on him here), then you know he is quite notorious for being reality-challenged.  In what I can only describe as a stroke of comedic genius, Stephen Colbert interviews McLeroy on the Colbert Report.  Enjoy :)

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Texas State Board of Education Actually Votes IN FAVOR of Evolution!

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 23, 2011

In a bit of good news regarding the ongoing Texas evolution/creationism textbook battles, the pro-science side scored a major victory today!  You may recall that in recent years there has been a big conflict in Texas regarding the issue of material presenting (or not presenting) evolution in state textbooks.  This is also a national issue because the market for textbooks in Texas is so large that many publishers write their textbooks to cater to that market, and the rest of the country just has to follow along.  Well, due to the downturn in the economy, Texas didn’t purchase new textbooks (which would have likely been influenced by creationist nonsense, due to the idiocy of the previous BoEd); instead, the current BoEd has decided to purchase supplemental materials for Texas schools.  And here’s where the cause for celebration comes in: the BoEd voted today unanimously (8-0) to accept scientifically-accurate supplements!

The National Center for Science Education reports more details :)

Victory for evolution in Texas

Pop the champagne corks. The Texas Board of Education has unanimously come down on the side of evolution. In an 8-0 vote, the board today approved scientifically accurate high school biology textbook supplements from established mainstream publishers–and did not approve the creationist-backed supplements from International Databases, LLC.

“This is a huge victory for Texas students and teachers,” said Josh Rosenau, NCSE programs and policy director, who testified at the hearings this week. In his testimony, Rosenau urged the board to approve the supplements–recommended by a review panel largely composed of scientists and science educators–without amendments, and to reject International Database’s creationist submission. The board did just that, and asked for only minimal changes to the approved supplements.

In hearings yesterday, NCSE members and allies showed up in force. At least four times as many people testified in favor of the supplements as written, versus those opposing the supplements or demanding significant changes. …

This just goes to show you that if we in the skeptical and pro-science community are persistent, unite, and organize, then we can affect real, substantive change!  Who would have thought – with all of the lunacy coming out of Texas regarding evolution and education in the last few years – that we would have seen such a resounding victory (not one board member voted against these scientifically-sound supplements – NOT ONE!) on this subject?

Let’s not rest on our laurels, folks.  You can bet the creationists and their religiously fundamentalist allies won’t rest; they’ll be looking for their next opportunity to push their pseudoscientific nonsense in public schools as soon as we aren’t watching.  So stay vigilant!

 

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Creationists Try New Tactic in Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 4, 2011

Well, you have to give creationists credit for one thing: they are incredibly persistent.  Despite the fact that in Texas the creationists were defeated at the election polls, and they were also defeated on the question of textbook selection, they still keep trying to come up with ways to minimize and/or erase good science education in Texas public schools.

Here’s the latest twist: when the creationists fail to get what they call “supplemental materials” (read: creationist literature & books) into the curriculum via textbooks and whatnot, they try exactly the same thing using a different medium – the Internet.

The National Center for Science Education has more details – read on:

Creationist materials submitted in Texas

Materials “laced with creationist arguments” have been submitted for approval by the Texas state board of education, charged the Texas Freedom Network and the National Center for Science Education in a joint press release issued on April 25, 2011. As the press release explains, “The Texas Education Agency has made available on its website science instructional materials — all of them web-based — that publishers and other vendors have proposed for high school biology classes across the state. Materials approved by the state board in July could be in Texas science classrooms for nearly a decade. An initial review by NCSE and TFN has revealed that materials from at least one vendor, … International Databases Inc., promote anti-evolution arguments made by proponents of intelligent design/creationism.” …

Folks, be on the lookout.  As I said, these creationists are persistent, and if you let your guard down for one second, they’ll take advantage of your schools at either the local or state level.

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Oppose Texas Theocratic Threats to Nationwide Education

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 11, 2010

I just wanted to pass along a very well-worded action alert from the folks over at the Secular Coalition for America

****************

Don’t Let a Few Theocrats Have a National Effect on Public School Curricula

A few theocratic members of the Texas State Board of Education—already infamous for their moves to indoctrinate Texas students with creationism in science classes—are falsely asserting a theocratic basis to America’s founding and removing, of all people, Thomas Jefferson from a list of influential thinkers. [Read more about this situation at the Texas Freedom Network's website]

A handful of religious extremists can affect schools across America. Because other big states like California and New York do not impose statewide standards in the same way, Texas is one of the largest statewide textbook markets. Texas uses some of its $22 billion education fund to buy or distribute a staggering 48 million textbooks annually—which strongly inclines educational publishers to tailor products to fit Texas standards.

The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association have developed (and the Obama administration has embraced) common core educational standards, but they apply only to math and English language arts. As the New York Times recently noted, some basic, factual subjects, such as evolution may be deemed “controversial” in the 21st Century’s educational environment. If standards are to exist, federal financial incentives must apply with equal force to science and history just as they do for math and English. To do otherwise is to succumb to the pressure of religious extremists.

Let’s make sure our community’s voice is heard.

Write your Member of Congress now! Tell them that if they support national education standards and incentives for math and English, they should support standards that are just as strong for science and history, regardless of pressure from religious extremists.

Secular Americans believe that every student deserves to learn science and our nation’s history as they actually are, with no bias for or against any ideology or religion. Religious creation myths have no place in science classes, and religiously-based revisions and indoctrinations should be equally unwelcome in history classes. We should not be afraid to set standards because of religious extremists.

******************

Amen to that :)

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Texas Voters Give Creationist Don McLeroy the Big Texas Boot

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 12, 2010

It seems that our friend on the Texas State Board of Education, Don McLeroy – who is infamous for his repeated attempts to water down the teaching of evolution in particular & science in general in Texas schools, has finally gotten his come-uppance… he has lost his seat on the Texas BoEd in the Republican primary.  The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has a good breakdown of what happened (below), but I think the long story short of it is that people in Texas are fed up with the creationists attempting to spread their extreme & divisive ideology through the public schools… at least, I hope that’s the case.

Here’s the take down by the NCSE…

In the March 2, 2010, primary election, avowed young-earth creationist Don McLeroy narrowly lost his bid to be the Republican candidate for the District 9 seat on the Texas state board of education. As the Dallas Morning News (March 3, 2010) reported, “The fiercely contested race pitted McLeroy, a dentist from College Station and member of the board’s social conservative bloc, against [Thomas] Ratliff, a legislative consultant and son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff,” who is viewed as likely to side with the moderates on the board. There is no Democratic candidate for the seat, so Ratliff is expected to be elected in November 2010.

Originally elected to the board in 1998, McLeroy was persistently determined to undermine the treatment of evolution in Texas’s public schools. During the debate over biology textbook adoption in 2003, he was one of the four members of the board who misused the state science standards to oppose adopting the eleven textbooks under consideration. His attacks on science education — including his endorsement of a book that described parents who want their children to learn about evolution as “monsters” — were in part responsible for the state senate’s refusal to confirm him as chair of the board in May 2009, as NCSE previously reported.

McLeroy’s assault on evolution came to a head during a meeting of the board in March 2009 when he declaimed, in a now notorious moment, “Somebody’s got to stand up to experts!” (Video is available on NCSE’s YouTube channel.) Unfortunately, a majority of the board did so, voting to amend the Texas state science standards to add a requirement that students examine “all sides of scientific evidence” and to add or amend various standards in a way that encourages the presentation of creationist claims about the complexity of the cell, the completeness of the fossil record, and the age of the universe.

The board’s revisions to the standards were widely deplored, with the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology describing it as “a step backward” and the Austin American-Statesman (April 1, 2009) editorially complaining, “Don McLeroy, Dunbar and others have turned the education board into a national joke. But when it comes to teaching Texas children, what they have done is not funny.” But McLeroy was unabashed. “Our science standards are light years ahead of any other state when it comes to challenging evolution,” he told the Washington Monthly (January/February 2010), adding, “Evolution is hooey.”

Well, Don McLeroy may think that “evolution is hooey” but the voters of Texas have spoken, and McLeroy is history :)

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