The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘Texas Board of Education’

Good News from Texas: McLeroy Gets the Boot!

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 29, 2009

For the last few months, I have been following the fight against creationists in Texas on this blog. Well today the side of science & reason won a big fight – the chairman of the Texas Board of Education, noted creationist & right-wing whackjob Don McLeroy, has just lost his bid in the Texas legislature to be confirmed for another term! 😀

McLeroy Fail

This is great news, mostly because it shows that the legislature in Texas seems to have grown a spine and is now standing up to the creationist right-wingers. It seems that McLeroy’s antics and wild statements concerning the nature of science & education have rubbed enough lawmakers the wrong way – I suppose there’s a reason folks like McLeroy try to do their dirty work behind closed doors, because if people saw how they really think they’d rightfully conclude that such people have absolutely no business dictating how children get taught science.

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Progress in Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 4, 2009

In the ongoing soap opera that is the science vs. nonsense battle on the Texas State Board of Education, it seems that the right-wing creationist ideologues are losing.  The Austin-American Statesman published an article that outlines how these nutjobs are finally running afoul of the Legislature in Texas…

Senate confirmation of Board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-College Station, is dead in the water, the Nominations Committee chairman said Thursday.

The House of Representatives approved a constitutional amendment Monday that would move the investment decisions about the $17.5 billion Permanent School Fund away from the board to an appointed council of financial professionals.

And a bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill to take away the elected board’s authority over curriculum and textbooks.

A convergence of high-profile, bloody curriculum battles and controversial comments from some board members caught the attention of the legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, who could leave the somewhat obscure body headless and toothless after this session.

Folks, this is excellent news! 🙂  What it means is that the Texas BoEd could no longer have the capability to influence public school science standards & textbook selection, which is why creationists have targeted it for so long in an effort to push their religiously-oriented pseudoscience.

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More Creationist Shenanigans in Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 21, 2009

Well, there seems to be an interesting mix of sanity & lunacy coming to Texas.  I am referring to the recent effort by creationists with the Institute for Creationist Research (ICR) to demand the state recognize their “Master’s degree in science education.” Needless to say, had the ICR been successful, this would have been an absolute disaster.  Fortunately, the ICR lost their bid with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB).

Well, true to form, the ICR is not going away quietly.  Instead, they are now threatening to sue the THECB…

The complaint, filed on April 16, 2009, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, named Raymund Paredes, the Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and its members as defendants, in both their official and individual capacities, accusing them of imposing “an unconstitutional and prejudicial burden against ICRGS’s academic freedom and religious liberties” (p. 63) and asking the court for declarative and injunctive relief.

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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.”

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Quick Update: Texas Science Standards

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 28, 2009

Well, it seems that the entire Texas Board of Education ordeal is over… for now. In general, I’m pleased with the results: the anti-science fundamentalist creationists didn’t get what they really wanted, but then neither did we on the pro-science side. All in all, I’m willing to call this one a win, mostly because the highly damaging “strengths and weaknesses” language was struck out of the standards!

For a much more detailed account of how the final day of voting (and what a day it was!) for the Texas BoEd on the science standards went, take a look at the live blog of Friday’s meeting over at chron.Commons Blog. It’s a lot to read, but here’s the upshot at the end of the blog post…

What is the bottom line? Did we win or lose? Neither. We got rid of the worst language, but a great deal of qualifying language remains. I am not going to claim either victory or defeat. I realize that Casey Luskin of Discovery Institute will declare complete, unqualified victory, but it is not that for them. Neither is it for us. The standards adopted were generally good, but there are several that are flawed, fortunately most in minor ways that textbook authors and publishers can deal with. I think we can work around the few flawed standards. But the point is that there shouldn’t be ANY flawed standards. The science standards as submitted by the science writing teams were excellent and flaw-free. All the flaws were added by politically unscrupulous SBOE members with an extreme right-wing religious agenda to support Creationism. …

… The policy (science standards) that resulted are not the best they could be. They are acceptable but could have been pseudoscience- and Creationism influence-free. However, I can also say the standards could be much worse. The votes were so close, and several members switched their votes back and forth several times, sometimes voting with the antiscience radical right wing members and sometimes with the pro-science members, that anything could have happened. I suppose I should be grateful the results are not worse.

I, for one, am very grateful that we won the votes we did, especially regarding the biggie – “strengths & weaknesses”. Of course there is room for improvement, especially regarding the big bang & cosmology, but this is a much better situation than it could have been. Given the recent history of how wacky things have been in Texas, I call this progress…

Stuttering, two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of progress, but progress none the less.

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Win for Science Education in Texas!

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 26, 2009

Hooray! 😀 It looks as if the creationists on the Texas Board of Education have been defeated in their efforts to insert “strengths and weaknesses” language into the Texas state science standards! Read more at my recent post: The Textbook Saga in Texas Continues.

This means that Texas textbooks – and, by extension, science texts nationwide – will not be watering down good science in the name of pushing pseudoscientific flim-flam as espoused by the fundamentalist creationist whackjobs on the Texas BoEd.

The vote was extremely close: it was a 7-7 tie with one board member, who fortunately opposes the creationists, being absent. The Dallas Morning News elaborates…

A last-ditch effort by social conservatives to require that Texas teachers cover the “weaknesses” in the theory of evolution in science classes was rejected by the State Board of Education Thursday in a split vote.

Board members deadlocked 7-7 on a motion to restore a long-time curriculum rule that “strengths and weaknesses” of all scientific theories – notably Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution – be taught in science classes and covered in textbooks for those subjects.

Voting for the requirement were the seven Republican board members aligned with social conservative groups. Against the proposal were three other Republicans and four Democrats.

The tie vote upheld a tentative decision by the board in January to delete the strengths-and-weaknesses rule in the new curriculum standards for science classes that will be in force for the next decade.

I don’t think we on the pro-science side are completely out of the woods just yet, as I wouldn’t put it past the creationists to try some kind of last-minute shenanigans. But for now we can celebrate this big win! 😀

If you’re interested in staying informed on these and similar topics, I strongly urge you to get connected with the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).

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The Textbook Saga in Texas Continues…

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 23, 2009

This week is a very important one for science education in the United States because the Texas State Board of Education is finalizing textbook selection. The importance of paying attention to textbook selection in Texas cannot be overstated, especially since creationists in Texas are attempting to influence science textbooks. It’s also a big deal because the state of Texas has a disproportionate influence on textbook availability across the country – since Texas is such a large market for textbooks, publishers will tend to cater the manner in which subject matter is presented to the whims of the Texas Board of Education.

So, when the Texas BoEd is stacked with (mostly) creationists, who know they have the power to influence how science texts around the country treat topics such as evolution, climate change, and stem-cell research, it is worth paying attention to how they plan to pick textbooks. That’s because even though Texas may be far away, these anti-scientific religious fundamentalists in the Texas government could have a very real, and negative, effect on the quality of science education in your school.

texas textbooks

Fortunately, there are those who favor good science education over complete nonsense in Texas, and they are doing their best to monitor and correct the situation. For example, there’s the Texas Freedom Network, the Texas Citizens for Science and the National Center for Science Education. The NCSE writes in a recent update on the Texas situation…

With evolution sure to be a hotly debated topic at the next meeting of the Texas state board of education, with a bill just introduced in the Texas legislature aimed at restoring the contentious “strengths and weaknesses” language to the standards, and with a different bill aimed at exempting the Institute for Creation Research’s graduate school from the regulations governing degree-granting institutions in Texas, there’s no shortage of news from the Lone Star state. NCSE, of course, continues not only to report on the antics of creationism in Texas but also to help concerned Texans to combat them: Texans wishing to express their concerns about the standards to the Texas state board of education, which is expected to have its final vote on the standards at its meeting in Austin on March 25-27, 2009, will find contact information and talking points in the Taking Action section of NCSE’s website and on the Texas Freedom Network’s website.

To give you some idea of the stupidity that the good citizens of Texas (and indirectly the rest of us) have to deal with from these creationist nuts, check out some of this revealing – and embarrassing – information which recently became public about Don McLeroy, the chair of the Texas BoEd and staunch creationist…

With Texans still reeling from the detailed profiles of the chair of the Texas state board of education, avowed creationist Don McLeroy, published in the Austin American-Statesman (March 8, 2009) and the Texas Observer (February 20, 2009), Texas Citizens for Science (March 14, 2009) recently disclosed that McLeroy endorsed a bizarre creationist screed entitled Sowing Atheism: The National Academy of Sciences’ Sinister Scheme to Teach Our Children They’re Descended from Reptiles — aimed, of course, at Evolution, Creationism, and Science, issued by the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine in February 2008 to general acclaim. McLeroy, however, praises Sowing Atheism for showing “how the NAS attempts to seduce the unwitting reader by providing scanty empirical evidence but presented with great intellectual bullying — both secular and religious.”

Okay, so once again we see the creationist conspiracy theory claim made: scientists are nothing but a bunch of godless heathens who want to destroy religion (specifically Christianity) and thus spread immorality, atheism, communism, and presumably all manner of evil in the world while leading to the destruction of all that is good. Thus, anyone who wants to teach kids evolution in school must be on the side of EEEVIIIILLLLLLLL!!!!

The NCSE goes on to outline more lunacy from Don McLeroy…

On its blog (March 18, 2009), the Texas Freedom Network summarized the themes of the book — “Scientists are ‘atheists.’ Parents who want to teach their children about evolution are ‘monsters.’ Pastors who support sound science are ‘morons'” — and pointedly asked, “Is that the sort of message Chairman Don McLeroy and his cohorts on the State Board of Education have in mind for Texas science classrooms if they succeed in their campaign to shoehorn ‘weaknesses’ of evolution back into the science curriculum standards?” Mavis Knight, a member of the Texas state board of education who supports the integrity of science education, wryly commented to the Dallas Observer (March 18, 2009), “So much for neutrality in the chairman’s position.” Looking forward to the board’s impending vote on the standards, she added, “I am confident several of us will hold firm, but it’s the swing votes you have to concern yourself with — and I don’t know how much pressure is being put on the swing voters. … It definitely won’t be boring.”

So, the leader of the creationist whackjobs on the Texas BoEd isn’t content to say that just scientists are evil in their desire to teach good, sound science – he has to go on and state that all religious people who are pro-science (such as those supporting the Clergy Letter Project) are doing so as well.

The thing which is so revealing about this kind of mentality is its exclusivity – from their point of view, these fundamentalist whackjobs view anyone who doesn’t agree with them 100% as the enemy. Creationists have, for many years, attempted to get away with claiming the mantle of morality for themselves, but their efforts are particularly ineffective when many religious people come out against their anti-science. Personally, I’m an atheist, but I more than welcome any allies to the pro-science cause, religious or not. And I must admit that it gives me a certain degree of pleasure to see the Don McLeroy’s of the world squirm & froth when confronted by other religious folk who call them to task for their pseudoscientific ravings.

If you care about good science education in our public schools, I encourage you to get involved. When enough of us stand up for science, we all win!

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