Textbook Censorship

The Texas State Board of Education decides what every student in Texas public schools will learn from kindergarten through high school. The board does so by adopting curriculum standards and textbooks for public schools in the state.

For decades, politicians on the State Board of Education and their activist allies have taken advantage of this flawed system to dismiss the advice of experts and scholars. They have instead worked tod inject their personal views into textbooks on everything from evolution and climate change to the history of slavery, civil rights and separation of church and state.

Resources

The State Board of Education: Dragging Texas Schools into the Culture Wars (2008 report)

Evolution, Creationism & Public Schools: Surveying Texas Scientists (2008 report)

Culture Wars and the Classroom (2010 report)

Senate Bill 6: Changes in the Textbook Adoption Process (2011 report)

Texas Science Curriculum Standards: Challenges (2012 report)

Science Textbook Review (2013 report)

Social Studies Textbook Review (2014 report)

3 p.m. – Texas State Board of Education members are gathering for the second part of today’s hearing — the evolution “show trial” the folks at the Discovery Institute have been salivating over. The board will hear from a panel of six “expert” reviewers, three of whom are creationists who want Texas public school science classes to challenge evolution. Among those three is Stephen Meyer, co-founder of the anti-evolution pressure group Discovery Institute. The other panelists —

Supporters of teaching evolution: David Hillis, professor of integrative biology and director of the Center of Computational Biology and Bioinformatics at theUniversity of Texas at Austin; Ronald K. Wetherington, professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence; and Gerald Skoog, professor and dean emeritus of the College ofEducation at Texas Tech and co-director of the Center for Integration of Science Education and Research.

Opponents: Meyer from the Discovery Institute; Ralph Seelke, a professor of the department of biology and earth sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Superior; Charles Garner, a professor of chemistry at Baylor University in Waco.

Click here to read more about the lead-up to today’s science smackdown.

3:11 – It’s hard to relate all the details here, but it appears the board is deeply split over how committee… Read More

11:30 a.m. – Another entrepreneur warns of the consequences of giving Texas a reputation as being hostile to sound science education.

11:44 – A creationist testifier: “Why are we supporting such a theory (evolution) that has no evidence supporting it?” Really? That’s the kind of stunning ignorance on display before the state board today.

11:53 – Josh Rosenau at his Thoughts from Kansas blog explains what state board member Cynthia Dunbar said in November about a Nobel laureate actually being skeptical of evolution. He nails it, explaining very clearly how evolution deniers are distorting facts in support of an ideological agenda.

12:03 – Ide Trotter, associated with the creationist group Texans for Better Science Education, is up. He argues that modern scientific theories make evolutionary theory “more difficult to believe,” but evolutionists are trying to censor those counter arguments.

12:06 – Ryan Valentine, deputy director of the Texas Freedom Network, is up now. Ryan reminds the board that four creationist members tried to reject proposed biology textbooks in 2003 because those books didn’t include phony “weaknesses” of evolution. He calls on the board not to ignore the teachers, academics, scientists and other experts who oppose requiring that students… Read More

9:50 a.m. – Board member Ken Mercer: “Will learning ‘weaknesses’ of evolution make someone a lesser doctor?”

9:53 – Board member David Bradley says teachers have also been intimidated when they want to teach about “weaknesses” of evolution. He says he wanted to bring Ben Stein (from the movie “Expelled”) to speak about that at the hearing. Too bad Stein didn’t come. We could have used the laugh.

10:01 – Ah. The truth made clear. A creationist testifier demands that the board force publishers to teach “weaknesses” of evolution in their textbooks. That is, of course, what the battle about the standards is all about — whether the next set of classroom textbooks will teach pseudoscience or real science.

10:08 – Arturo DeLozanne, a professor of cell biology at the University of Texas at Austin, notes President Barack Obama’s challenge from yesterday: “We need to restore science to its rightful place.” Indeed.

10:10 – Prof. DeLozanne makes it clear: removing “strengths and weaknesses” does nothing to stifle the ability of students to ask questions. There are no prohibitions against asking questions in the proposed standards. Asking questions is how science works. But: “Pseudoscience doesn’t have a place in the science… Read More

8:30 a.m. – The Texas State Board of Education board room near the Capitol in Austin is packed this morning, with folks from around the state waiting to testify on proposed new public school science curriculum standards — and the pressure groups pushing creationism are out in force. The Discovery Institute in Seattle and Texans for Better Science Education have set up tables to distribute anti-evolution propaganda in the building lobby. More on that later…

8:38 – First couple of folks testifying are calling on the state board to adopt the standards draft proposed by teacher writing teams. That draft strikes “strengths and weaknesses,” phrasing that creationists have used to attack evolution in biology textbooks.

8:42 – Board member Ken Mercer once again makes the disingenuous argument that opponents of “strengths and weaknesses” don’t want students to ask questions. More on “academic freedom” and “freedom of speech.”

8:47 – It’s likely that the board’s creationists are going to ask repeatedly whether “strengths and weaknesses” in the current standards has caused any problems. What they conveniently ignore is that four sitting board members tried in 2003 to use the “strengths and weaknesses” argument to force publishers… Read More

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has just filed legislation that would strip the Texas State Board of Education of all authority assigned to it by statute. Among the board’s powers that would go away: setting curriculum standards and adopting textbooks. That authority would be transferred to the Texas Education Agency.

The only authority the board would keep under Senate Bill 440 is power granted under the state Constitution, primarily managing the Permanent School Fund. Removing that authority and eliminating the board altogether would require passage of a constitutional amendment, followed by approval from Texas voters.

We noted last month that state lawmakers had begun looking at ways to rein in the deeply politicized board. We wouldn’t be surprised to see additional legislation targeting the board.

All of this comes as the state board flies farther into the outer political fringes under the control of a far-right bloc headed by Chairman Don McLeroy, R-College Station. McLeroy, a creationist, has called for redefining science to include supernatural explanations. Board member  and fellow creationist Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, has written a book calling public education a “toolRead More