The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘textbooks’

Texas Board of Education Pushes Religious Ideology in Social Studies Classes

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 9, 2009

I’ve made numerous posts here about the Texas Board of Education pushing a creationist agenda in regards to science classes & textbooks, but the agenda of the religious fundamentalists in Texas is much broader than that.

I recently received the following press release from the American Humanist Association regarding an attempt by the conservative wing of the Texas BoEd to use social studies classes & textbooks in Texas to push their religious agenda. It seems that BoEd member Don McLeroy is behind the push to include what are called the “biblical motivations” of the U.S. founders in the Texas social studies curriculum.  This is code for pushing fundamentalist Christianity, folks, pure and simple.

The AHA press elaborates…

The American Humanist Association responded today to a letter from Texas State Board of Education Member Don McLeroy, arguing that social studies classes should not aim to promote religion and should accurately portray the secular nature of the United States government. McLeroy had responded to an open letter the American Humanist Association sent to the Texas State Board of Education last Thursday, prompted by reports the Board had been advised to include the “biblical motivations” of the founders in the state’s new social studies curriculum. In McLeroy’s e-mail to the American Humanist Association, he stated he disagreed with the group and cited an essay he wrote in 2002 titled “The Gift of Medieval Christendom to the World.” (The letter sent to the Texas State School Board of Education can be found here: say-to-texas-state-board-of-education-dont-mess-with-texas, and McLeroy’s response can be found here:

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry Furthers the Creationist Agenda… Again

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 20, 2009

I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop in the ongoing fiasco that is the Texas State Board of Education, and it seems as if it has indeed dropped… with a resounding thud.  The fear was that Texas Gov. Rick Perry would appoint far-rightwing nutcase Cynthia Dunbar as the new chair of the BoEd, but what actually happened is that he went with someone a bit more low key but every bit as nutty, Gail Lowe.

The Texas Freedom Network is on the case…

Lowe’s record on the State Board of Education includes:

In 2004 Ms. Lowe opposed requiring that publishers obey curriculum standards and put medically accurate information about responsible pregnancy and disease prevention in new high school health textbooks.

In 2008 Ms. Lowe voted to throw out nearly three years of work by teacher writing teams on new language arts standards. Over the strenuous objections of teachers and curriculum specialists, Lowe instead voted for a standards document that the board’s far-right bloc patched together overnight and slipped under hotel doors the morning of the final vote.

In 2003 and 2009 Ms. Lowe supported dumbing down the state’s public school science curriculum by voting to include unscientific, creationist criticisms of evolution in science textbooks and curriculum standards.

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More Creationist Crazy on the Horizon in Texas?

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 7, 2009

The issue of government-sponsored creationism may be rearing its ugly head once again in Texas.  As I outlined earlier, in Good News from Texas: McLeroy Gets the Boot!, the chairman of the Texas State BoEd, Don McLeroy, was denied another term by the Texas Legislature due to his crazy, ideologically-driven antics.

Well, now the other shoe may soon drop – Texas Gov. Rick Perry, also a noted right-wing ideologue & creationist, seems to be considering someone who is even more extreme than Don McLeroy as the next chair of the State BoEd!

Conservative eyed for State Board of Education

Critics who engineered the recent ouster of State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, in part because of his strong religious beliefs, could end up with someone even more outspoken in her faith.

Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richardson, who advocated more Christianity in the public square last year with the publication of her book, “One Nation Under God,” is among those that Gov. Rick Perry is considering to lead the State Board of Education, some of her colleagues say. …

In addition to likely sharing the same extremist creationist views as Perry & McLeroy, it’s interesting to see that Dunbar also doesn’t seem to have a grasp of the United States Constitution, which specifically forbids religious tests for public office in Article 6.

In a book published last year, Dunbar argued the country’s founding fathers created “an emphatically Christian government” and that government should be guided by a “biblical litmus test.” She endorses a belief system that requires “any person desiring to govern have a sincere knowledge and appreciation for the Word of God in order to rightly govern.”

And if that isn’t enough, Dunbar is actually openly hostile to the entire idea of public education in the first place.  Yeah, it makes a whole lot of sense to put someone like her in charge of the State BoEd…

Also in the book, she calls public education a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion.”

The establishment of public schools is unconstitutional and even “tyrannical,” she wrote, because it threatens the authority of families, granted by God through Scripture, to direct the instruction of their children.

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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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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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Backlash Against Creationist Nonsense

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 24, 2009

As some of you may know, two of the recent hot-spots in the United States concerning the evolution-creationist wars are Louisiana & Texas. Last year, Louisiana passed a so-called “academic freedom” law, and the State Board of Education of Texas is now attempting to allow creationist woo into textbook selection.

Briefly, the Louisiana “academic freedom” law would allow public school teachers to supplement the biology curriculum on evolution with materials that teach about the “flaws in the theory”. Basically, this is creationist-speak for allowing the schools in Louisiana to use the Discovery Institute’s anti-evolution book Explore Evolutionan excellent review of Explore Evolution can be found here. Note that creationists will say the purpose of encouraging teachers to use this textbook is not to promote creationism (which is clearly illegal) but to rather promote “critical thinking” about evolution, which is a sugar-coated way of saying propagate creationist lies about evolution in the hopes that students don’t trust or accept modern science. This and other “academic freedom” laws (there are many being proposed nationwide) are merely the latest attempt by creationists to get around the court rulings that have stymied them in the past. I suppose they’re taking the view that if they cannot build their views up due to a lack of scientific credibility, then it’s simply time to tear well-established & trustworthy science down. Nice, huh?

**Aside: To get the flavor for just how stupid these “academic freedom” laws really are, check out this hilarious website on extending these laws to their logical conclusion! 🙂

As for Texas, there have been some interesting developments in the evolution-creationism wars. For a long time, the State Board of Education in Texas has been run by creationists & religious conservatives hell-bent on either promoting creationism or dumbing-down evolution (and other content, scientific & historical) in the textbook selection process. This is really bad because, unlike the situation in Louisiana, this would have a direct effect on schools nationwide – that is because since Texas is such a huge textbook market, the big publishers will tailor their books to the whims of whatever standard Texas sets. So, if evolution & science is given short shrift in Texas textbooks, chances are that your kids will get worse science textbooks as a result. Thus, the fundamentalists & creationists in Texas have effectively been holding textbook selection hostage over the years through this process. And now there is another round of science textbook selection.

texas textbooks

As a result, there has been a huge battle over the science standards recently in Texas. The Board is not completely dominated by the conservative creationists, but it’s close, so there have been some hard fought political battles in the last few months. Fortunately, in the end of January there was a win for science education when the “strengths & weaknesses” language was stripped out of the standards. This language was part-and-parcel of the same old creationist nonsense misrepresenting evolutionary science, and the fact that it was removed is a plus – a big plus. However, at the same time, the chairman of the Board arbitrarily introduced a move to introduce language calling into question the central tenet of evolutionary theory – common descent (of which there is abundant evidence). Here’s a good summary of the situation from the NCSE.

So the fight in Texas still goes on, with the final Board vote on these standards, and subsequent consequences for nationwide textbook selection, taking place on March 25-27. Stay tuned for updates – I suggest any of the following organizations & websites…

Teach Them Science
Texas Citizens for Science
Texas Freedom Network
21st Century Science Coalition

So what is this much-deserved backlash of which the title of this post speaks? Well, it seems that the creationists may have over-reached in both Louisiana and Texas, because people are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore.

In Louisiana, a state which is in poor economic shape even when times are good and one which is still recovering from the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina & Rita from 2005, there is a very real economic backlash against the creationists. As a direct result of Louisiana passing their “academic freedom” law, a major biology conference has decided to shun the state and take it’s business elsewhere. See the actual letter from the SCIB to Louisiana Gov. Jindal here – these are some highlights of that letter…

As President of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB), I am writing to inform you of a recent decision by our Executive Committee. We will not hold the Society’s 2011 annual meeting in New Orleans even though the city has been a popular venue of us in the past, and we received a reasonable site and organization package for the meeting. The Executive Committee voted to hold the 2011 meeting in Salt Lake City in large pan because of legislation SB 561, which you signed into law in June 2008. It is the firm opinion of SICB’s leadership that this law undermines the integrity of science and science education in Louisiana. …

The SICB leadership could not support New Orleans as our meeting venue because of the official position of the state in weakening science education and specifically attacking evolution in science curricula. Utah, in contrast, passed a resolution that states that evolution is central to any science curriculum.

The 2009 SICB meeting that just closed in Boston brought over 1850 scientists and graduate students to the city for five days. Biological scientists and graduate students from around the world met to share the latest research within the broad interests of integrative and comparative biology. As you might imagine, a professional meeting with nearly 2000 participants can contribute to the economic engine of any community.

Ouch. Looks to me like Gov. Jindal and his buddies in the fundamentalist Christian creationist camp have screwed the people of the state of Louisiana out of a much needed economic boost in these hard times. It is also worth noting that there are other scientific & educational organizations that could be considering boycotts of Louisiana. Hopefully the leaders of Louisiana will get the message, but I’m not holding my breath.

Now, the backlash against the creationists in Texas is taking a more political form. It seems that two Texas legislators – state Senator Rodney Ellis and Representative Patrick Rose – have proposed legislation that would open up the Texas State Board of Education to greater transparency & scrutiny. The purpose of their legislation is to “to place the board under periodic review by the Sunset Advisory Commission and hold them accountable for their performance, just as we do the Texas Education Agency and other state agencies.”

This is because for a very long time the Board has been able to push its creationist nonsense behind closed doors away from the full scrutiny of the public. Despite all of their moaning & wailing about the desire for “open and honest discussion” on these issues – which is actually creationist-speak for “Let us push our woo unchallenged” – creationist activists are among the biggest hypocrites in that they will actively shut down discussion when it suits them. Specifically, the legislation proposed by Ellis and Rose is necessary because, in their words…

The decisions of the SBOE not only impact millions of young lives on a daily basis, but impact the economic progress of our state as well.

For these reasons and many others, the public has a right to full disclosure and oversight.

The board has escaped such scrutiny for far too long. The disregard for educators, instructional experts and scientists can’t continue. It’s time to take a closer look at the operations and policies of the State Board of Education.

Our state, and especially our kids, deserve better.

It’ll be very interesting to see just how far this legislation gets. If it passes – great! If it is shut down, then once again it will become obvious to everyone that when it comes to free inquiry & open debate, the creationists talk the talk but they don’t walk the walk. Either way, it is a win for science & education, in my opinion.

As a way of thanking Ellis and Rose for their courage in taking the creationists on in Texas, there is now an online petition expressing support for their work. Please consider taking a few moments to read the petition, sign it, and then pass it on to others.

So, in closing, while the battle against creationist anti-science is long & ongoing, I think the forces of reason are, slowly but surely, winning the fight. But it is only because people like us, you and me, are getting informed & getting involved. Let that be a lesson to you.

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