The political games we are playing right now are going to burn us all. — Eric Hennenhoefer
In the late 1980s, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) first mandated the teaching of evolution in Texas public schools. In order to appease Texas Creationists, however, the Board inserted a peculiar requirement into the mandate. The requirement was to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of the Theory of Evolution.
The apparent purpose of those peculiar words was to allow the Creationists on the Board an opening whereby they could require that the State’s science textbooks teach the Theory of Evolution the way they want it taught — as significantly less supported by the evidence than in fact it is.
For quite some time after its passage, however, the Texas requirement had little effect because the Creationists on the Board were outnumbered and could not push through their agenda. Then, in the 2006 elections, the Creationists managed to capture seven of the Board’s 15 seats. Since one of the remaining seats was a swing vote, the Creationists thus came into a good position to change the State’s science textbooks.
Whether the Creationists can or cannot change the State’s science textbooks will largely depend on the outcome of a three-day Board meeting that begins tomorrow. At issue is the question of whether to retain the peculiar requirement that the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolutionary theory be taught, or change that requirement to a recommendation that students “analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence“. Adopting the latter recommendation would forestall the Creationist attack on Texas science standards.
The upcoming decision of the Texas State Board of Education will influence what students learn far beyond the borders of Texas. Texas is such a huge market for school textbooks that for reasons of profit textbook publishers often write their books to Texas state standards, and then sell those same books to other states without any changes. Thus, many school districts outside of Texas stand to be impacted by the Texas decision.
Some of the people who will be making that decision appear to be kooks. Board member Cynthia Dunbar, for instance, has declared President Obama will conspire with terrorists to bring about an attack on the US leading to an Obama Dictatorship. Board member Ken Mercer has called people in favor of teaching sound evolutionary science “Nazis” and “slave traders”. And Board Chairman Don McLeroy wants to redefine science (.pdf) to include the study of the supernatural. All three of them are Creationists.
It seems strange that our village idiots should have power over the education of so many young minds. If you are interested in following the debate this week, the TFN blog will be reporting on it in real time, beginning noon, Central Time, tomorrow. The blog can be found here.