More Silliness from Ken Mercer on the SBOE

Ever wonder how a widely used math textbook could illegally promote “New Age religion”? If not, you clearly don’t share the same wild imagination as creationists in Texas do.

Texas State Board of Education member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, seems to have taken on the role of chief defender of the board’s creationist faction. Now he’s criticizing editorials in newspapers across the state that are calling on the Texas Senate to reject the confirmation of Don McLeroy, R-College Station, as board chairman.

Mr. Mercer portrays himself, Chairman McLeroy and their allies on the board as champions of reform doing battle with “education bureaucrats and lobbyists” — “educrats,” he calls them. Among the “victories” he points to in this “reform” campaign are the board’s rejection of a mathematics textbook two years ago and the adoption of new curriculum standards for language arts and science.

Let’s unpack this a little bit.

Mr. Mercer neglects to tell readers that the board rejected a third-grade mathematics textbook that many schools, including in Dallas, had been using successfully to improve student performance. So why did the board reject it? The board’s creationist faction and their outside allies argued that the textbook did a poor job of teaching students multiplication tables. But that’s really not the whole story:

“Students shouldn’t be set adrift to develop their own problem strategies,” said Neal Frey, president of Educational Research Analysts, a Christian conservative group based in Longview that voluntarily reviewed the book, along with others up for consideration by the board.

What did Mr. Frey really mean? Take a look at what Educational Research Analysts had to say about the sixth-grade mathematics textbook, Everyday Math, in the same series from the same publisher as the rejected third-grade textbook:

In Everyday Math and Connected Math, students laboriously concoct their own computation methods instead of just quickly learning best practices. Replacing standard algorithms with haphazard searches for personal meaning unconstitutionally establishes  New Age religious behavior in public school Math instruction. (Emphasis in the original)

Talk about nutty. But that appears to pass for “reform” as far as Mr. Mercer is concerned.

What about the language arts curriculum? Mr. Mercer doesn’t tell readers that he and his board allies threw out three years of work by teachers and education specialists to craft new language arts and reading standards. A handful of Mr. Mercer’s board allies patched together a standards document the night before the final vote and then slipped it under the hotel room doors of other board members an hour before the final meeting and vote.

That’s not “reform.” That’s sabotage. Language arts teachers are still trying to work through the wreckage.

And what about the science curriculum? Mercer claims the religious beliefs of the board’s creationists had nothing to do with their efforts to dumb down instruction on evolution:

Editorial Boards are now promoting a falsehood that the newly adopted standards somehow contain religious doctrine put there by the SBOE conservatives. Put simply, that is a lie. I challenge every Editorial Board in Texas to go online and review all of the new Math, Reading, Grammar, Writing, Spelling, and Science standards. The press will not find any references – ZERO – to anyone’s religion.

The dishonesty in that passage screams at anyone who has been paying attention. The arguments Mercer and his board allies made in opposing evolution were based almost entirely on creationist critiques. The mainstream scientific community long ago debunked nonsensical arguments such as “gaps in the fossil record,” the “Cambrian explosion” and “irreducible complexity” — all arguments creationist opponents of evolution, including Mr. Mercer, trotted out repeatedly.

Moreover, if promoting their religious beliefs had nothing to do with their attacks on evolution, why did Mr. Mercer himself claim opposing board members were aligning themselves with “secular humanists” and “atheists”? TFN Insider has noted numerous other instances when creationists made clear their intent to promote religious beliefs in Texas science classrooms, including here and here.

Here’s some unsolicited advice for the state board’s creationist faction: look for another chief defender. Mr. Mercer simply makes it clearer that your actions have been, in fact, indefensible.

The Texas Senate should refuse to confirm Mr. McLeroy as board chairman. And while they’re at it, they should insist that Gov. Rick Perry appoint as chairman someone not from the McLeroy-Mercer faction that has so endangered sound education in Texas public schools.

13 thoughts on “More Silliness from Ken Mercer on the SBOE

  1. This is just to show you that I can be fair. Everyday Math is indeed bad–but not for the goofy religious reasons like those cited—which are pure nonsense.

    Our public school system here in our town, which is one of the best in the nation, tried out Everyday Math in the elementary grades. As I have told you before, our town is overflowing with scientists. Some of the local scientists got really upset because their children were not learning math under that regime. A physics professor at a local major university was especially upset and led something of a local jihad against Everyday Math. I had some long talks with him about it, and the following paraphrasal stuck in my mind for years, “Studies have shown that children taught under the Everyday Math regime get behind other children who are taught traditional mathematics but most tend to eventually catch back up with their peers by 8th grade.” Now, I have to say, that is one Hades of an evaluation for an elementary school math program. My daughter, who is really smart, took the entire Everyday Math regimen in her elementary school. She is a high school freshman now and is struggling in honors geometry—by that I mean D and F struggling. Although a degree of laziness is a factor with my daughter, I think Everyday Math has something to do with it too. I argued with the physics professor in favor of Everyday Math, but I regret that now because I think he was right. It is bad juju for kids.

    This is one rare case where Ken Mercer lucked out and did something good for the kids of Texas—but based on all the wrong and silly reasons.

  2. I teach high school science and over the years I think I have seen enough to have an opinion based on numerous cases. I have to admit that I have not done a formal study with controls, etc. but my view may have some merit, anyway — especially when considered in the light of others’ experiences.

    Some things in math are best learned by rote and repetition. The multiplication table is one of these. Teaching kids the concept of multiplication is almost useless. Without a base knowledge of the table it is difficult for kids to see many of the relationships that are obvious to those whose education contained the discipline of learning the table.

    By the way, on a somewhat related matter: It seems that kids that learn to tell time using digital clocks (and not analog ones) have much greater trouble estimating elapsed times. The visual experience of seeing the space covered by the hands and relating this to an elapsed time seems to be difficult for those who have used digital only.

  3. Oh, one more thing: I agree that Mercer did the right thing for the wrong reasons. As they say, even a blind duck gets some popcorn.

  4. I agree with you der Brat.

    I have a boy who is in second grade. His teacher says that he is the best in class in science but that he is struggling some with Everyday Math. I went out and bought old-fashioned math flash cards today. He and I are going to review, review, review, review, review until he can remember that 7 – 4 = 3 in his sleep. In other words, I am dropping cluster bombs right into the middle of the Everyday Math battlefield. They are not going to wound another one of my kids without a fight.

    Yes, I too have seen kids struggle with math where it was obvious that the only obstacle was failure to memorize the multiplication tables. RIGHT YOU ARE. That spatial thing with analog clocks sounds right too.

  5. “In Everyday Math and Connected Math, students laboriously concoct their own computation methods instead of just quickly learning best practices. Replacing standard algorithms with haphazard searches for personal meaning unconstitutionally establishes New Age religious behavior in public school Math instruction. ”

    Why can’t Mercer apply the same logic to the way science should be taught? Applying the scientific method, and accepting the outcomes that result, is also a best-practices approach. Carving out a niche to allow for the supernatural is, in my book, a “haphazard search for personal meaning….”

  6. I don’t know why either he or the University of Texas bothered with a degree in biology when Pascal and Palin provided an easier path:

    I think; therefore, I am.

    I’m a biologist because I can see squirrels from my kitchen window.

  7. I have a problem with the “quickly” in “quickly learn”. Things that have to be memorized are things that have to be memorized. But kids work at different paces and education these days has too much of a speedy contest element to it and the extra pressure from “quickly” impedes learning.

  8. Thom is right. I sometimes think that math teachers are not very connected to how math is used in the real world. That emphasis on speed of learning and calculation that you mentioned seemed to drive the world of my math teachers 45 years ago. From it, one would get the impression that they thought the average work place that uses math is in some sort of race to see who can get the calculation done fastest for the bossman. That’s bull doody. In my work place, we have mathematical calculation packages that go with our projects, and it takes our staff weeks to prepare those things and get them through QA/QC. The emphasis is always on care and accuracy—not speed.

    Grow up secondary school math teachers!!! Math in the work place is not a NASCAR race. In fact, and I have been working out here with scientists and engineers who use math all of the time for really big and complicated projects—like maybe sending a man to the moon. I have NEVER seen a speed orientation in crunching the numbers—NEVER. Crunching the numbers fast can result in errors, and those errors can kill people—literally.

  9. Mr Mercer is going to receive an invitation from the San Antonio Geologic Society, where the
    opinions of various scientists there could be shared with him regarding his recent stances
    on creationism. Talk about someone in need of a reality check……..
    Creationism went out almost 200 years ago dude. You are attacking the very bedrock of science here!!!
    Gullible and uneducated people have really been taken in by the Discovery Institute’s
    right wing goofiness. But for someone with a science degree, albeit not in one related to the fossil record or earth history,
    to go for this stuff is just nutso. Since Mercer is in an oil and gas town, we have an ideal opportunity
    to share a little reality with this unqualified and severely conflicted individual.


  10. You are right on about the need to have our Texans well educated in math and science. I think our present State Board of Education is not so much for religion in schools as he is for getting anti-religion out of schools. Math and especially science are fascinating. New discoveries are leading to new patents and provide economic growth. As I read science journals and books such as “As the Future Catches You,” I am in awe of what scientists discover about the universe every day – AND about what they did not already know. Okay, I’m an academic with a Bachelor of Science and M.Ed. I have studied about the theory vigourously taught in the past that “the world is flat. ”
    So let’s move to the SBOE’s decision to leave dialogue and discussion open in the area of how the world was created. It was scientists who taught that there were 9 planets and that Pluto was the final one. Everyday we learn new things because it is an amazing universe. I admit that I am indeed too stupid to comprehend all that “The Intelligent Designer” has done.
    One thing I’ve learned about science is that nothing is exact. I think we need to keep the dialogue open about how the various aspects of our universe were formed. There is nothing worse than a close-minded “scientist.” Is that what we want our kids to be?
    What if – isn’t that what we like to say in the world of scientific discovery? What if evolution is only one small, misunderstood part of creation – just as the Earth, Sun, Moon, and stars turned out to be only one small part of the universe. Let’s keep the dialogue open and not teach any one theory as the end all answer. We owe it to science to keep asking questions. Otherwise “the world is flat” could never have been openly questioned. In fact, there was tremendous turmoil in the world of academia and severe efforts to squelch the dialogue at that time.
    If it weren’t for entrepeneurs and ship captains discussing the possibilities and questioning ” the world is flat theory,” we’d never have found the “New World” we live in today. Let’s encourage open dialogue and questions in the scientific community and in the science class. Otherwise, our world could remain forever flat.

  11. I think the rest of the country should cut Texas off the continent and let it float on out into the sunset.

    Isn’t there a town in Texas where any citizen can shoot a dog on sight if the dog happens to be unleashed? Texans sound like the biggest, most ignorantly hateful hayseeds, next to the klan, that I have ever heard of. Leave it to the haters to claim that they have cornered the God Market.

    If Jesus himself came back today and saw the horrors Texas is perpetuating in his name, he’d weep.

    Oh, and how’s that school-based medical algorithm program going for all of you? Nice. Keeping the masses quiet.