Science Back in the Crosshairs in Texas?

Just when it looked like science education might be safe for a while in Texas public schools, the State Board of Education could soon be dragging the state back into the textbook wars over evolution.

At last week’s meeting in Austin, state board members began mapping out the schedule for adopting textbooks and curriculum standards over the next decade. Although they won’t make any final decisions until early next year, board members considered a schedule that would have them adopting new science textbooks in 2013. Those new textbooks would go into Texas classrooms in fall of 2014, replacing others that have been in use since 2004.

Because there was no state money for a full textbook adoption this year, in July the state board approved more limited “supplemental” instructional materials designed to address some of the new science curriculum standards adopted in 2009. Creationists had succeeded in seeding those standards with requirements they hoped would force publishers to undermine evolution in their new instructional materials. But publishers — with strong support from TFN and other pro-science education groups — refused to do so. The result was a big win for science education in Texas.

A full science textbook adoption in 2013, however, would give creationists another opportunity to pressure publishers into dumbing down instruction on evolution. In fact, the East Texas censorship group Educational Research Analysts is already laying the groundwork for that. The pro-creationist group’s October newsletter lays out typically distorted arguments about “mismatched anatomical and biochemical phylogenies” as evidence against evolution and insists that new textbooks include such arguments.

Two big factors will be especially important in the 2013 textbook adoption. For one thing, all 15 State Board of Education seats are up for election in 2012. Far-right board members are hoping to increase their numbers and retake control of the board. (You can follow our updates on state board elections here.) The second factor is the effect of a new law passed by the Texas Legislature last summer, Senate Bill 6.

Under SB 6, the state board still has authority to adopt textbooks for use by public schools, but local school districts can choose to buy textbooks and other instructional materials that don’t make it on the board’s approved list. So as we noted in our analysis of the law in September, school districts now have more flexibility to reject instructional materials that the state board has censored and politicized.

Of course, the state board could still embarrass Texas by demanding that publishers include junk science in their new textbooks. And some school districts might choose — unwisely — to buy flawed textbooks that emerge from the state board’s adoption process. Moreover, it’s hard to know for sure right now how publishers will deal with the changes brought about by SB 6 (although the responsible way publishers approached the adoption of science supplemental materials last summer is a good sign).

In any case, the schedule that appears to be taking shape would have the state board adopting science textbooks in 2013, social studies in 2014, mathematics in 2016 and language arts in 2018. The board is set to consider that proposed schedule (which would also include dates for adopting curriculum standards and instructional materials for other subjects, such as health) at its January meeting.

5 thoughts on “Science Back in the Crosshairs in Texas?

  1. With regard to Senate Bill 6, I think it poses the most potential problems. As the old saw goes, “All politics is local.” Sad to say, young earth creationism and its sordid cousins are grassroots phenomena that are the “little precious” of ignorant ordinary people with a poor understanding of academics in general and theology in particular. It is easy as pie to stack a locally-elected school board with members of the Beverly B. Beverly Baptist Church. As is the case with the local school system of my youth, these people can quickly take over and railroad the whole school system straight into a lawsuit with the ACLU. One of its illustrious members recently developed and proposed as system that would rate student reading materials—the baseline being whether their content is suitable for Bible-believing Christian eyes to read. To reiterate, I think SB 6 may be a greater threat than the Texas SBOE.

  2. The emphasis now needs to be on educating the parents as much as the students. I am an evangelical Christian who is very involved in my local public school and I have no problem with evolution or anything else taught by modern science. These parents, who are about to elect the next school board, have been brainwashed by horribly erroneous documentaries (e.g. Ben Stein’s “Expelled”) and courses like the “Truth Project” that are taking churches by storm (check it out on Amazon). They’re convinced that science is itself a religion that is at war with Christianity. We need more faith-based resources like BioLogos which explain, in their own Biblical worldview, that there is no such war — and which back this up with sound scientific evidence *and* sound Biblical exegesis, not pseudoscience like “flood geology” and “intelligent design”.

    I’ve done my part by creating my own Web site aimed at changing the hearts of evolution-denying Christians without using resources that attack the Christian faith. Attack the Christian faith directly, and I can guarantee that we will lose this battle not only for this round of Texas textbooks but at the national level as well. Time’s running out.

    Do a google search on anything related to evolution, and half of the links will be for pages at creationist and other anti-science Web sites. I encourage everyone who is reading this — spread the news about “true science” faith-based sites like BioLogos. Do something to make a difference.

  3. Hi Jude. I have not read all of your article, but I have read and skimmed enough to get a flavor for it. As a result, I have several observations to make. These observations are based on my own past experience that goes back many years. I hope that the following observations will be helpful to you:

    1) It is a noble pursuit and much that you say appears to be true and useful–at least the parts that I have read. This is the positive part of my observations

    2) Speaking as one who writes too much, I can tell you on great authority that you have written way too much. If even I do not want to read all of it, there is no way the average Christian fundamentalist or evangelical is going to wade through this tome—which looks to me like a short senior thesis or M.A. thesis written at some sort of small Christian college. With the exception of us academic types, most people have an attention span of about 20 minutes tops. I suspect that the greater part of that “most” has far less. This is the age of the brief sound byte where people expect complex things to be expressed in powerful but simplistic messages that are painfully brief. If you cannot do that, people assume that you have nothing to say that they really want to hear.

    3) Item No. 2 above is the great strength of the young earth creationist community—and they know it. It is not the strength of God that they hold. It is the strength of the “current cultural moment.” Evolutionary science is complex and nearly impossible to explain meaningfully in small sound bytes. The same is true of complex but reasonable theological arguments such as yours. You could conduct an all day lecture with slides to an audience of 100 ordinary Christian fundamentalists or evangelicals in the pews. You might get three people with an IQ of 130 or higher who would be patient and understand your argument. Others would get parts of it but maybe miss the crucial points. To the rest, you might as well be speaking in Greek. Your opponent needs only a 15-second sound byte to shatter everything you have said in an all-day lecture, “Jude is obviously not a true Bible-believer and thus is an enemy of God. Believe him not!!!!” Game over. Audience walks.

    4) Using Item No. 2 above as a launching point, you need to consider your target audience. Who is your target audience? Who specifically are you trying to reach? Do you want to change the opinions of committed young earth creationists who have their own websites and lecture circuits. Do you want to address the committed but quite ordinary young earth creationists in the pews of small town churches? Do you want to reach people who are struggling with this issue but have not made up their minds? Do you want to reach people who have never really thought about young earth creationism and what they think about it.

    5) As a Christian, you have to remember one important and extremely baseline thing. You live in a world that hates the truth. Truth comes in many shades and colors. There is spiritual truth. There is factual truth. There is scientific truth. There are all kinds of truth. In general, people run from the truth in their everyday lives. People do not like being confronted with the truth, especially when they believe something that is not true. An alcoholic does not like being confronted with the notion that he is an alcoholic. The church, its leaders, and its members run from the truth—and I am speaking particularly of the Christian fundamentalist and evangelical churches. Jesus demands peace. They demand war. Jesus tells them to love their enemies. They want to hate and shoot their enemies.

    6) If you pursue your current course Jude, expect to be crucified. People may just run from the truth, but they always try to kill the messenger who brings the unpopular truth. Ask Jesus about that. He has some experience in that department. He will tell you that the conservative religious leaders of the times are the ones standing on the front row shredding their clothes and crying out, Crucify him!!!! Crucify him!!!!!” We should not be surprised that the same is true in our time because people are pretty much the same everywhere and in all times.

    7) Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals despise evolutionary biology and its proponents. However, there is one thing that the despise even more. They reserve a very special hatred for Christians who understand evolution and other scientific truth that runs counter to what they believe. This is because they know that this person is the greatest threat of all to their narrow-minded little world. This is the person who can argue that the evolutionary process is itself part of God’s creation and that it was called “good” before He rested. I think Khan said it best in the second Star Trek movie, “I hate thee with a perfect hatred.”

    Expect to be hated with a perfect hatred and expect to be crucified by your own people.

  4. Charles, thank you. I would write to you directly but you have provided no contact info. I’ve had my article online since the summer, and you are one of four people who have taken the time and energy to engage me in a critical and very helpful way. Recently, someone had advised that it needs pictures and a TOC, so I added both.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment that my article is too long. Nobody is going to sit through and read it in one sitting, and very few evolution deniers, if any, will make it through at all. I had thought of breaking it up into separate articles, and I may yet do so. My thought (perhaps wrong) was that if it was kept in a single-article or “short book” format, it would be easier for search engines to pick up, and also easier for folks who are indeed receptive to this information to be able to quote it in such a way that others can easily find it. For this reason, I’ve placed the entire text on the front page of the site. Although my writing appears to be directed at hardline YEC and ID proponents, in reality I’m reaching for the undecided crowd, as you’ve suggested. For those who have made up their mind, this article won’t do much to change it. Michael Hawley’s book, “Searching for Truth with a Broken Flashlight” explains in some detail why this is the case with all sorts of psychological explanations, but you have made a similar point succinctly in a couple paragraphs. They feel like they’re engaged in a battle, and they want a fight. You’re right, I’m their worst enemy, and they know it. But if I can sway more of the undecided crowd to my side, it’s worth it.

    I do feel that we need to provide more resources like mine to support arguments made by parents to school boards to teach real science (and history, for that matter), in a way that isn’t threatening to Christians. I believe it’s the best way to make inroads. Provide material that is free, easily accessible. People love to google. Most aren’t going to go out and pick up a book on evolution. Putting up a Web site makes the information available, and the citations and references show that it isn’t just coming out of my head. What I’ve found is that the higher up you go in the food chain (those in church leadership), the more likely you are to find someone who is educated enough to be at least somewhat receptive. I was very pleased to find that senior leadership of a very conservative evangelical denomination found my viewpoint to be “refreshing” (in a positive way). It’s a start.

    You’ve mentioned that you have a lot of past experience in this area, and I respect that. Perhaps you’ve seen or personally tried a different approaches and found my approach to be less than fruitful. I’ve only been at this for a few months (although I have been reading on this subject for at least 20 years). My heart is for education. I’m not a teacher or a practicing scientist or theologian of any sort. I just have some basic writing skills, I’ve read a lot, and I simply want to try and do what I can to bridge the gap before the next presidential election.