About Those Texas Science Reviewers, Ms. Cargill…

“The dietician actually has a degree in food science technology, and they have to take all kinds of science courses, I know, at colleges. And then the person you’re referring to is the retired businessman specializing in finance was the gentleman with the doctorate from Princeton in chemical engineering, so he’s certainly qualified. I’m looking at this list, and I’d be happy to show it to anybody that wants to look. Our biology panels, and there were three panels, because we did have a lot of interest. And I want to know, where were the teachers when we put out the call all over the state? I know they were busy teaching, but a lot of the reviews were done this summer. So please, please, in the future, get the word out to your contacts because we needed more help, actually.”

That’s Barbara Cargill, the Republican chairwoman of the Texas State Board of Education, responding to critics who say the official state review panels for new high school biology textbooks this year were stacked with unqualified ideologues who reject evolution.

The claim that a dietician with a degree in food science technology and a chemical engineer who built a career in the business world were qualified to review biology textbooks is absurd. They might be well-qualified in their own professional fields, but they are no more qualified to review biology textbooks than a biologist would be qualified to review a mathematics or engineering textbook. This year unqualified individuals served as biology reviewers simply because their anti-evolution beliefs are shared by like-minded ideologues (such as Cargill) serving on the State Board of Education.

But what about Cargill’s suggestion that science teachers failed to step up to the plate and offer their time to serve on the review teams? That’s simply not true. There were scores of them, all offering to serve as reviewers.

We obtained from the Texas Education Agency the list of individuals who applied or were nominated by State Board of Education members to serve as biology textbook reviewers. Of the 183 individuals on that list, we identified more than 140 who are classroom teachers, school science department chairs, curriculum and education specialists for science, an assistant principal, and assorted other educators. The vast majority of them have degrees and teaching experience specifically in biology.

Some of them are among the 28 individuals appointed as biology textbook reviewers. But all of the others were passed over for the dietician, business and finance professionals, and various chemical, mechanical, systems and civil engineers who used their positions on the review teams to promote completely discredited junk science attacking evolution (or simply to call for teaching “creation science based on biblical principles” in biology textbooks). If you didn’t see all the qualified teachers who volunteered to serve as reviewers, Ms. Cargill, then you were looking at the wrong list.

12 thoughts on “About Those Texas Science Reviewers, Ms. Cargill…

  1. Maybe we could have some janitors decide if dieticians and chemists should edit textbooks on neuroscience? Or maybe politicians writing the specs for building suspension bridges?

  2. I took high school biology in 1940-41, Corpus Christi HIgh School, Corpus Christi, Texas. My biology teacher was also my Sunday school teacher at the South Bluff Methodist Church. In biology we studied and discussed biological evolution with never a mention of the Book of Genesis. In Sunday school Mr. Shanon taught that the Bible was a book of Faith, not a book of Science. Darwin was never spoken of as a threat to faith or religion. A few students brought Bibles to class, and no one was ever forbidden to speak of his religious beliefs, nor was anyone allowed to substitute his religious belief for the teaching of science.

  3. This is great investigative reporting, Dan. I can assure readers that the non-qualified individuals (dietitian, finance teacher, engineers, ministry directors, etc.) chosen to serve on the biology review panels were specifically chosen because they were known to be Creationists.

    This sort of sectarian manipulation of the instructional materials adoption process did not happen to such a degree in previous years (2003, 2010) because the TEA was not a captured agency then. The Commissioner of Education then did not have a sectarian agenda and his top administrative staff was not composed of agenda-driven right-wing radicals. Now it does. Michael Williams is a global climate change denier and a Creationist (I do not know whether he is a Young Earth Creationist or an ID Creationist). He worked closely with Barbara Cargill, who IS a Young Earth Creationist, to stack all the biology review panels with Creationists who were instructed (actually, quite willing) to criticize the materials evolution instruction content. This is only way that aggressive and well-known Creationists were able to get on all three of the panels, i.e., this was not a coincidence. Every major publisher’s materials were criticized.

    Now, all three of the major publishers have to “negotiate” hat-in-hand with who? Michael Williams. They either have to change the specific wording of their text in the evolution and climate change chapters or justify not changing it under threat of having their books being listed as meeting less than 100% of the TEKS. While they can still sell their books under the new legislative system, they will be at a marketing disadvantage if their books do not receive the 100% listing and they know it. So does Barbara Cargill and Michael Williams.

    The content and results of the “negotiations” (in reality, I call these discussions legal blackmail or extortion) was originally going to be kept secret, but I made that fact my main criticism of the State Board and TEA. Now, the results will be made public but in a difficult way: one has to visit an Educational Service Center to see what changes the publishers have made AFTER THE FACT. So we are forced to rely on the scientific integrity of the publishers to not make changes that damage the accuracy and reliability of the evolution and climate change content of their materials without professionals, such as me, having any informed input into the negotiations. Of course, the publishers have their own scientific professionals–the instructional materials authors–but how much influence will they have in the face of such unethical and extortionist pressure from the TEA. The point is that the TEA is not reviewing the publishers suggested changes or non-changes in good faith but rather to promote a specific anti-science agenda: to qualify, weaken, and misrepresent the scientific accuracy and reliability of what scientists know about evolution and climate change, with the purpose of confusing and misinforming students so that they will be more susceptible to Creationist instruction they receive in churches and Sunday schools.

    I have long maintained that, despite the laudatory changes to the adoption system enacted by the Texas Legislature two years ago (ISDs can buy whatever instructional materials they want; materials don’t have to be 100% consistent with the TEKS), the system is still broken because top state education officials still wish to politicize the system for sectarian purposes, and they are able to find ways around the intent of the new laws. In this case, 100% compliance with the TEKS is still a valuable attribute for publishers to have for marketing purposes, and schools will preferentially want such materials to avoid having to use too many different publishers’ materials to teach all the TEKS, which they are obligated to do even though publishers’ materials are not. So the compromised, manipulated, unprofessional, and wicked science instructional materials adoption system is still with us.

    The only solution is for Texas to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards and then use the abundant new and excellent science instructional materials that are being created for those curriculum standards. Then Texas would have no need for its unethical review and adoption system which exists mainly for a sectarian and political majority to force its sectarian, political, and ideological beliefs on innocent Texas K-12 students.

    The Legislature is aware of this problem but did not go far enough. The problem exists in social studies (history, government, economics) education and health education to an even greater extent than in science education. Texas’ highly-politicized and compromised public education system is the reason why Texas students typically score among the bottom five states on the truly honest and unbiased standardized exams they must take, the SAT exams and similar college-qualifying exams. As one of the wealthiest states in the U.S., Texas can and should do much better, but won’t because of its high degree of centralized and authoritarian control of curriculum standards and instructional materials, which have historically and still are being manipulated for sectarian and partisan purposes. By the way, teachers know all of this because they experience it every day, so it is no wonder they are demoralized and feel pressured and under-valued. Our public education system is a disaster.

  4. This is no surprise because of the attitudes of the teachings that they follow. The dominionists are plotting to takeover the whole of American society, despite their professed love for the Constitution of the U.S. they seem to destroy the basis of our nation which is a secular and without the jaded influence of a superior thinking sect of Christianity.

  5. Silly man? Of course they’re not going to let actual science teachers serve on the panels. They know that science teachers want to teach science, not Bible creationism. Having Barbara Cargill as head means the deck is automatically stacked with creationists.