Texas Board of Education decides to leave soft-on-creationism language in state standards

On January 31, I noted that the Texas Board of Education was considering changing the state standards for teaching science, in particular the “teach the controversy” language that would enable teachers to drag tired old creationist and intelligent-design (ID) arguments into the biology classroom. Those earlier standards also used ID language to ask students to “discuss” the “complexity of the cell” (read: push irreducible complexity as an argument against evolution); the “sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record” (read: Great Flood did it!), and the formation of information-carrying DNA from simple molecules (read: God had to do that).

As the San Antonio Current reports, the committee approved the existing language by a vote of 9 to 5, despite opposition from every rational person who wasn’t blinded by faith, and those rational people included education experts and Texas professors:

Evolution skeptics on the State Board of Education voted against updating Texas’ 9th grade biology textbook to reflect scientific fact on Wednesday. While the vote — which keeps language doubting evolution in Texas textbooks — is only preliminary (the final vote is scheduled for April), the move could be seen as a red flag for teacher advocates, evolution experts, and Texans who generally believe in science.

“Teachers are practically begging the board to stop forcing them to waste classroom time on junk science standards that are based mostly on the personal agendas of board members themselves, not sound science,” said Kathy Miller, president of education advocacy group Texas Freedom Network, in a prepared statement. “But these politicians just can’t seem to stop themselves from making teachers’ jobs harder.”

The board’s decision comes after a 10-member committee of educators and biology experts (formed by the board) recommended that the state pull four phrases from Texas’ 9th grade biology textbook that could leave students doubting proven science.

. . . This vote comes a day after board members heard testimony from dozens of experts, advocates, professors, and students supporting a recommendation that the board update these textbooks. There were only a few opponents to the recommendation that spoke from creationist organizations.

This battle isn’t over yet, but it seems as if the critics of evolution are going to win. Shame on you, Texas: first guns in the college classroom, then poison in the minds of school children. What a state! Despite the preponderance of educators and scientists opposing the language, the benighted committee voted to approve it anyway:

“Creationism must be removed from the classroom,” said Tanya Estes, a former science teacher in both public and private schools. “Religion can be used as a moral compass, it is a philosophy, but it is not science.”

Emma Dietrich, a PhD candidate in integrative biology, said that as an assistant in general biology courses at UT, she knows how critical an understanding of real science is in advancing students’ careers. Without a real belief and trust in evolutionary theory, graduates will likely be denied scholarships, important accreditations, and high-paying jobs, she said.

“Our education goals should not be based on opinion polls, but on the expertise of our teachers and experts,” urged Arturo De Lozanne, a UT Austin professor of cell biology.

The state board will cast its final vote on the recommendations in April. But with majority Republican members, science education advocates say the board will likely stick with its evolution-doubting textbook.

Or, in the words of Texas Freedom Network spokesman Dan Quinn: “Let’s just say the chances are as likely as Donald Trump not screwing anything else up.”

Sadly, in an editorial on the issue two days ago, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram waffled, ultimately saying that while spending a lot of time arguing alternative theories might be a waste of time, and admitting that creationism wasn’t a scientific theory, nevertheless called for creationism to be discussed anyway.  What a bunch of cowards!

The biology committee removed language surrounding origin of life theories, fossil record and other areas that can be perceived to provide openings for an educator to present creationism or intelligent design as an alternative theory.

Though creationism isn’t scientific theory, there has been much disagreement about whether it should be taught in schools.

. . . Most of argument this time around boiled down to time. The committee estimated that some of these concepts could add three to six days per standard.

. . . As much as one would like a separation between school and church, students do live in the real world. Since Texas is predominantly Christian, there is an opportunity to address creationism in a secular, academic atmosphere.

But it shouldn’t take six days to discuss the merit of creationism versus the merit of evolution.

The penultimate sentence is ironic: since Texas is predominantly Christian, the atmosphere would be far from secular. Teachers should just teach the scientific truth of evolution and, if the kids have problems, recommend their reading Why Evolution is True.  🙂 Teaching creationism in a public school biology class is, in fact, illegal, and has been repeatedly declared so by the courts.

The picture below is from a New York Times article in 2013 on the continuing controversy, in that case the state’s holding up the excellent Miller and Levine textbook, Biology, because it told the truth about evolution and global warming:

sub-textbooks-master1050

A rally in September in Austin, Tex., before a State Board of Education public hearing on proposed science textbooks. Credit Eric Gay/Associated Press

 

h/t: Don

18 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted February 3, 2017 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. Roger
    Posted February 3, 2017 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Remind me what century this is again? Caveman century?

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted February 3, 2017 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      No No – just Texas.

      And now our dear leader wants to mix politics and religion (long as it’s Christian religion) so you will not separate one from the other. Doesn’t Trump look a bit like L. Ron?

      • Roger
        Posted February 3, 2017 at 10:47 am | Permalink

        Their hands could be exact twins! Really!

  3. Keith from NJ
    Posted February 3, 2017 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    If I were a Texas bio teacher, I’d assign Jerry’s 2005 New Republic article “The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name” as required reading for my students. Then, I’d review the article in class. That should effectively end the creationism problem in bio class.

  4. rickflick
    Posted February 3, 2017 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Every year these textbook wars occur in Texas. It seems to me the idea of a state school board (I think elected by the “people”) has to be re-thunk. It sounds democratic, but what must be happening is the loudest voice in the neighborhood runs for the board and since the neighborhood is a bit crazy to begin with the loudest is craziest among the crazies. Somebody with 100 Trump/Pence signs on her lawn. It would be better to create the board from experts themselves. Perhaps have Universities supply experts in each major field of study. They could be appointed by the university department deans, or elected by professors in each field.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 3, 2017 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      To make matters worse Texas standard schoolbooks are used by many other states too. Texas buys around 50 million textbooks every year [2nd biggest purchaser after California] & this scale of purchasing brings down the per textbook cost which other states like to take advantage of. If other states wanted their own versions their costs would be higher for nearly all states [shorter runs for their version]

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted February 3, 2017 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

        Unless of course a significant block of other states agreed to use a common schoolbook. Then they could outnumber Texas.

        In fact it makes very little sense for different states to have different textbooks for the same subject. Facts don’t change when they cross a state line. (Yeah, yeah, I know…)

        cr

        • GBJames
          Posted February 3, 2017 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

          But alternative facts do!

  5. docbill1351
    Posted February 3, 2017 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    It’s not all gloom and doom. Sure, the wording could lead a school district into a Dover Trap but the reality on the ground (in the classroom) is different.

    Schools, or more likely individual teachers, who hold creationist views may express those views (or not) regardless of standards or statutes. In states like Louisiana, such teachers may be emboldened thinking they have some sort of protection or immunity from prosecution. They don’t.

    Even in Dover following the Board’s edict to incorporate “intelligent design creationism” the science teachers balked citing professional ethics. It was the school administration that read the fateful message to biology classes that sparked the successful Kitzmiller suit.

    Unfortunately, the creationist mindset doesn’t stop at biology. It extends into social studies (American exceptionalism) and language arts (reading assignments) to promote a radical conservative provincial worldview.

  6. Kevin
    Posted February 3, 2017 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    A couple years ago some kids were debating how old people could live. A twelve year old explained to the group that Noah was the oldest person to ever live…several hundred years. The other kids grinned, even chuckled, and the twelve year old walked away.

    I’ve seen the same boy around; he’s now a senior in high school and I can tell he does not tell anyone nonsense. In public, he is ashamed of what he believes or maybe does not believe any longer.

    Thanks Texas. You are continuing the ancient tradition of enabling parents to abuse their children and provide them with lower self-confidence and an incoherent picture of reality.

  7. Posted February 3, 2017 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Coming soon to a state near you, or your own state. There’s so much that isn’t taught in high schools any more in the sciences,social studies, history, music, art, etc. The dumbing down of America. No wonder we got Drumpf!

  8. Posted February 3, 2017 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    What’s the next step for our friends in Texas?

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted February 3, 2017 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      well, if Betsy DeVos is confirmed as education secretary, they could become a model for the whole country …

  9. David Campbell
    Posted February 3, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    The attitude of the Texas School Board should surprise nobody. These standards were adopted after Board Chairman Don McLeroy uttered his famous line, “Somebody has to stand up to experts.” Nothing has changed.

    The San Antonio Current excerpt conflates two issues, textbooks and standards. The argument cited here is over standards, the guidelines approved by the state that govern classroom instruction. Textbook approval/adoption is a separate issue and is not the point of contention here. The major publishers (including Pearson which publishes Miller and Levine) have not inserted the problematic Texas material into their texts. California, New York, and Florida all kept the creationist drivel out of their standards so print versions of texts followed suit. Teachers wanting to teach ID concepts will have to supplement from other sources.

    As stated above, the Texas standards open the door to allow teachers to introduce ID/creationist ideas in a science classroom. It also makes it possible for a disgruntled parent, student, or third party to complain about a teacher who refuses to allow “sufficient” time to address the ID/creationist viewpoint. That threat of legal action is intimidating for teachers who may not be comfortable answering hostile questions about evolution and who, in many cases, have no job security if a parent or pastor raises a big enough stink. I know that’s wrong but it is also the reality of teaching high school biology in a strong red state (I’m in NE Florida).

    Once that classroom door closes nobody knows what you are teaching except you and your students unless one of them complains to a parent/other adult. More than a few of teachers skip evolution? It’s only one or two chapters so no problem. Toss in a little irreducible complexity and design? Most (all) of the students in my region won’t complain. Teach evolutionary change as fact, on the other hand, and complaints become much more likely. Ditto humans descended from apelike ancestors. Dark-skinned ancestors. That is the reality out here.

    I do teach evolution because it is exciting. Evolutionary concepts are part of most of the units I teach because I want my students to see how pervasive it is in all of biology. I teach a thorough intro to the topic in a dedicated evolution unit. I do not teach or discuss ID in my classroom. When my students bring “alternative theories” up I tell them I will be happy to discuss their viewpoints after they show me solid, peer-reviewed evidence supporting them. That discussion hasn’t happened in 23 years of classroom teaching. As a result I have received the occasional irate phone call and two death threats, seen a half dozen demands to my principal that I be fired, and been told by a sweet little 14 year old girl that she was going home to pray for me because, after I die, I will go straight to hell. It’s all an occupational hazard. I make sure my professional liability insurance premium gets paid.

    Texas is worse than Florida. For the moment. The best we can do is keep up the pressure and support those teachers who teach the science instead of the nonexistent controversy.

  10. busterggi
    Posted February 3, 2017 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Infantization or willing ignorance? I just can’t figure which is the greater Christian virtue.

  11. Amy Bechtol
    Posted February 7, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    First, learners come to educators with a context. The ideas we present to them must have somewhere to land or they will be meaningless. If you understand neuroscience you know this to be true. While it may take longer to discuss controversies surrounding the topics we teach, it is time well spent. Education is not about presenting facts to students. It is about teaching them to think and reach conclusions on their own. If it is culturally relevant to discuss alien abduction because many of the students in the classroom (or their parents) believe in it, a true educator will model the process of critically investigating the idea. What is so wrong with showing the students that some ideas are better supported by evidence than others? This piece calls this a “cowardly” stance. No, it seems more cowardly to avoid controversies in the classroom. Perhaps this is why our educated populace seems so ill-equipped to engage in civil critical discourse regarding the many controversies with which we are grappling today.

    • GBJames
      Posted February 7, 2017 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      Religion is not science. Pushing creationism in science class is not teaching a controversy since there is no controversy within science about evolution.

      If you want to teach “the controversy” then do it in civics or social studies class where the question can be appropriately addressed: “Why do so many people seek to insert their personal religious views on others?”


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