The Skeptical Teacher

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

Implications from Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 17, 2009

Well, now that the dust seems to have settled in the latest round of what I’m calling the Texas Science Wars, it is worth examining in more detail how things shook out.

At the time of the adoption of the current standards, I was guardedly optimistic about the outcome. Upon further analysis, however, I think that the creationists on the Texas BoEd have yet again muddied the water of science education in an attempt to give their ideological & religious allies cover for pushing nonsense in science classrooms (and, by extension through their textbook adoption, to other states as well).

Here is a quick synopsis from the National Center for Science Education on the topic…

Consequences of the flawed standards in Texas?

Since the March 2009 decision of the Texas state board of education to adopt a set of flawed state science standards, media coverage has increasingly emphasized the possible consequences. As NCSE previously reported, although creationists on the board were unsuccessful in inserting the controversial “strengths and weaknesses” language from the old set of standards, they proposed a flurry of synonyms — such as “sufficiency or insufficiency” and “supportive and not supportive” — and eventually prevailed with a requirement that students examine “all sides of scientific evidence.” Additionally, the board voted 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 result, NCSE’s executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, was “a triumph of ideology and politics over science.”

However, there is a silver lining here, folks. Apparently, there are plenty of Texas state legislators – both Democratic and Republican – who are getting fed up with Gov. Perry and his allies on the religious right constantly embarrassing the state of Texas with their anti-scientific agenda…

The board’s antics seem to have caught the attention of legislators in Texas. There are now no fewer than six bills in the Texas legislature — HB 710, HB 2261, HB 3382, SB 440, SB 513, and SB 2275 — that would reduce the state board of education’s power. As the Wall Street Journal (April 13, 2009) reported, “The most far-reaching proposals would strip the Texas board of its authority to set curricula and approve textbooks. Depending on the bill, that power would be transferred to the state education agency, a legislative board or the commissioner of education. Other bills would transform the board to an appointed rather than elected body, require Webcasting of meetings, and take away the board’s control of a vast pot of school funding.” To be sure, it is not only with respect to evolution that the board’s actions have been controversial, but the recent decision about the state science standards seems to have been the last straw.

And the importance of having some kind of legislation to check the Texas BoEd cannot be over-stated. Here’s why not…

Unless such a bill is enacted, it seems likely that the board will pressure textbook publishers to dilute the treatment of evolution in the biology textbooks submitted for adoption, probably in 2011. As Lauri Lebo explained in a story on Religion Dispatches (April 14, 2009), “With almost $30 million set aside in the budget, Texas is second only to California in the bulk purchase of textbooks. But Texas, unlike California, approves and purchases books for all the state’s school districts. Publishers often edit and revise textbooks in order meet the specific demands of the Texas board members.” NCSE Supporter Kenneth R. Miller, coauthor (with Joe Levine) of several widely used textbooks published by Prentice-Hall, told the Wall Street Journal that “We will do whatever we think is appropriate to meet the spirit and the letter of Texas standards,” but firmly added, “We will never put anything in our books that will compromise our scientific values.”

And even if that legislation fails, there is already talk of the potential legal & constitutional ramifications of the new Board standards…

Lebo discussed the possibility of litigation over the board’s decision: “Now the issue is whether there is enough prima facie evidence to challenge the Constitutionality of the wording now, or wait for the textbook review process in two years.” It is not surprising that she thought of the possibility, since she wrote a book, The Devil in Dover (The New Press, 2008), about the Kitzmiller case, which she covered for a local newspaper, the York Daily Record. That newspaper’s report (April 6, 2009) on the situation in Texas opened with a noteworthy quotation from one of the eleven plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller case, which established the unconstitutionality of teaching “intelligent design” creationism in the public schools: “Steve Stough was silent. He had just heard a passage from Texas’ new public school science standards, and was processing. Then: ‘Oh —-,’ he said. ‘That’s intelligent design without using the nomenclature. It really, truly is.'”

Could Texas turn into the next Dover? Or will Louisiana get there first? We’ll find out – stay tuned…

5 Responses to “Implications from Texas”

  1. […] Original post by mattusmaximus […]

  2. […] mattusmaximus placed an observative post today on Implications from Texas « The Skeptical TeacherHere’s a quick excerptThe BBC 4 radio channel just aired a program with Brian talking about Carl Sagan, and it’s terrific. Beautifully done, with personal insights, quotations, and interviews with Sagan, it’s well worth an hour […] …. But Texas, unlike California, approves and purchases books for all the state’s school districts. Publishers often edit and revise textbooks in order meet the specific demands of the Texas board members.” NCSE Supporter Kenneth R. Miller, coauthor (with Joe … […]

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