Teachers, Not Politics, Should Determine Textbooks for Schools

The Houston Chronicle today published the following opinion column by Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller about the adoption of new science textbooks for Texas public schools this year:

The State Board of Education is marching once again toward a showdown over what Texas students should learn in their public school science classrooms. And with political shenanigans and problems over transparency already emerging, the debate over science education in the Lone Star State could again become the butt of national jokes.

The state board will hold a public hearing on Tuesday and will vote in November on which science textbooks the state’s schools should use over the next decade. What those textbooks say about evolution (and even climate change) is, as in the past, at the center of the debate.

Science scholars at the University of Texas and Southern Methodist University have given solid marks to how publishers dealt with evolution in the high school biology textbooks they submitted to the state in April. Their findings are available on the Texas Freedom Network’s website.

Sadly, a number of state education board members nominated anti-evolution activists to sit on official panels reviewing the textbooks. Those ideologues want publishers to include in the new textbooks discredited arguments attacking evolution.

Most of those folks are not biologists or even scientists. They include a dietitian, a systems engineer and a retired businessman with a background in finance.

Others are prominent spokespersons for anti-science organizations dedicated to denying evolution. One reviewer is co-author of a founding text of “intelligent design,” a form of creationism dressed up to look like science.

Appointing these unqualified activists was like stacking a panel reviewing geometry textbooks with poets and bankers obsessed with showing that Pythagoras got that whole triangle thing all wrong. Instead of an honest review, you get a recitation of old arguments that scholars and educators disproved long ago.

Sure enough, in documents obtained from the Texas Education Agency, the board-appointed reviewers raise a number of unsubstantiated ideological objections to what the new textbooks say about evolution and climate change.

One reviewer’s comments, for example, repeat the claim – discredited by the National Academy of Sciences – that “no transitional fossils have been discovered.” Others try to cloak their objections in scientific terms but simply demonstrate a misunderstanding of basic concepts such as recombination and genetic drift.

But the veil of pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo really falls away when one reviewer bluntly insists that “creation science based on biblical principles should be incorporated into every biology book that is up for adoption.” Never mind, of course, that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that teaching creationism in public school science classrooms is unconstitutional.

The court recognized that such instruction would put public schools in the untenable position of choosing whose religious beliefs about creation to teach in science classrooms.

Scientists, educators and parents supposedly have the opportunity to address these discredited objections during the board’s adoption process. In reality, however, the state board’s process for science this year lacks transparency and will severely limit public participation and input.

In the first place, it was practically impossible for the public to monitor the work of the reviewers in any meaningful sense.

In addition, the public has no access to any of the textbook changes publishers are proposing in response to reviewers’ objections. That means individuals testifying at the state board’s public hearing on Tuesday won’t know how the textbooks might be changing.

But even if they did know, it’s possible they will not have a chance to tell the board about their concerns. That’s because it is unclear whether the board plans to cut off testimony before everyone who comes to the hearing has had a chance to speak.

If that happens – as it did when the board considered controversial new social studies curriculum standards in 2010 – board members would be sending a message that they simply don’t care to hear what Texans have to say about the science education their children receive.

Texans should send a clear message to board members: Stop putting politics ahead of the education of our schoolchildren. It’s high time the State Board of Education started listening to teachers and experts about what our children should learn in order to be prepared for college and the jobs of the 21st century.

One thought on “Teachers, Not Politics, Should Determine Textbooks for Schools

  1. TFN should publish the names of publishers involved in science textbooks and how to contact key personnel.