Texas SBOE E-mails: Politicizing Science

Texas State Board of Education members are already moving to politicize the adoption of new instructional materials for public school science classes in Texas this spring. E-mails obtained by the Texas Freedom Network on Wednesday through a request under the state’s open records law make that pretty clear.

In an e-mail exchange last November, for example, board Chair Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, tells a correspondent about the kind of people she wants on teams that will review the proposed science materials:

“(I)f you have other qualified colleagues or know of other conservatives with a strong background in biology, chemistry or physics, I would certainly love to see them apply as well.”

What does being conservative have to do with reviewing science instructional materials, Gail? Science students in Texas don’t need materials vetted by people pushing political and personal agendas.  They simply need classroom materials based on 21st-century science that is backed by sound research and facts.

Of course, what Lowe really means by “conservative” is “creationist.” Two years ago Lowe and other evolution deniers on the state board seeded the new science curriculum standards with requirements that open the door to creationist arguments in classrooms. Now they want to ensure that classroom materials the board adopts in April are based on those junk-science arguments.

Yet those same board members disingenuously claim that the new science standards don’t, in fact, promote creationist arguments. Last November, for example, board member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, answered another e-mail that asked whether the board was trying to promote creationist viewpoints in science classroom materials. Cargill replied:

“We expect publishers to adhere to the TEKS just as they would for print textbooks. Furthermore, there are no ‘creationist viewpoints’ in the TEKS. If there are, I ask that someone show me where they are specifically. They do not exist.”

Cargill isn’t being truthful. She helped get those viewpoints inserted into the curriculum standards (the TEKS). The new biology standards adopted by the board in 2009 bow to “intelligent design”/creationist arguments by suggesting that the fossil record and other scientific evidence might not, in fact, support evolutionary science. One standard even calls on students to analyze the “complexity of the cell,” an exercise that echoes junk science from “intelligent design”/creationism supporters. Scientists have long pointed out that creationist arguments about so-called “gaps in the fossil record” and “irreducible complexity” fail completely in the face of solid research and overwhelming evidence. Yet those anti-evolution arguments remain prominent in creationist literature, such as Of Pandas and People from the Texas-based Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE). And now the same nonsense contaminates science curriculum standards in Texas.

As we have already reported, the FTE has notified the Texas state board of its intent to submit instructional materials for the science adoption this spring. Those materials will be available in early March. And now we see how some board members are clearly trying to ensure that the FTE’s anti-science propaganda ultimately makes it into the science classrooms of public schoolchildren across Texas.

8 thoughts on “Texas SBOE E-mails: Politicizing Science

  1. During his college years at Princeton and in the following decade James Madison studied every political system ever devised. Madison concluded, correctly, that a system which incorporated religion inevitably led to widespread corruption and the ultimate failure of that system.

    Although Texas seems to be a lost cause on a national basis the GOP needs to get back the principles of Goldwater – small government, fiscal responsibility and individual liberty – and get the hell out of the religion business. Goldwater believed strongly that choice was part of that gingival liberty and in fact Planned Parenthood in Arizona has an award named after him. He also detested efforts by religious right lobbyists to sway his vote on issues they considered important.

  2. Contrariwise, if one actually does an analysis using rigorous mathematical tools, the “complexity of the cell” is a red herring. Evolutionary algorithms are capable of generating results in the Recursively Enumerable (RE) complexity class; which means, the mere fact that you can recognize a cell, itself shows that a cell isn’t too complex to result from evolution.

    Of course, I don’t think the Texas K-12 curriculum usually includes such pre-requisite tools. The TEKS does include mention of the ideas of “formal language” and “Patterns, relationships, and algebraic thinking”, but doesn’t get anywhere near the depth of abstract algebras, analysis of algorithmic complexity, computational automata, formal grammars, and so forth. It might be possible for an especially gifted math teacher to slip some of it in as an enrichment unit (with the excuse of those phrases); however, that sort of math tends to get parents complaining that “it doesn’t have a PRACTICAL use” and agitating for the teacher to be fired.

  3. Add Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to that list of prominent Republicans who, back in the 1950’s, foresaw the takeover of the GOP by religious conservatives and warned against it.

    We see a rise in religious conservatism across the globe and across all faiths, from Pakistan where an elected official was assassinated for advocating the abolition of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, to the United States where we see a comparable rise in religious conservatism: the interjection of religion into politics, and a rejection of pluralism, science, and chipping away of women’s reproductive rights.

    As the great CCR sang, “There’s a bad moon on the rise.”

  4. I think that introducing creationist material into the school system is great! Absolutely fantastic! About time!

    Let’s see, who’s going to get burned by this?

    The SBOE? Nope, they’re above the fray.
    The publisher FTE? Nope, they just provide the books.
    The Disco Tute, purveyors of creationist propaganda? Nope, they’re just advising.
    The Texas Legislature or any legislator? Nope, they’re just passing academic freedom legislation.
    The “family” (take your pick) lobby? Nope, they’re just providing a “point of view.”
    The students? Nope, this will be just a blip to be forgotten in their lives.

    The School Boards who use this junk however briefly? Yep! The school boards will be sued, and they will lose, and they will be liable for millions of dollars of costs.

    The Taxpayers? Yep, they will have to pay for the suits in some way or another.

    A sweet deal, huh? Create a mess that somebody else has to pay for and clean up.

  5. Wow, abb3w! You really expect creationist to understand your comments? Intellectual discourse never meshes with anti-intellectualism. Keep up the good work!

  6. As Americans our constitutional rights are the most important thing we have. They are, quite frankly, precious. The minions of the Religious Right (like Gail Lowe) are out each day dreaming up new plans and schemes to subvert the First Amendment rights of Americans. The federal courts have ruled on this evolution/creation nonsense for decades now. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, should know where the lines in the sand have been drawn on this issue. This means that people who should know better are out intentionally and willfully taking actions that clearly violate people’s rights. I think it is time to put an end to this nonsense with a federal law that imposes a mandatory 5-year federal prison sentence on anyone who undertakes such action either by conspiracy or individually.

  7. dbtexas: Wow, abb3w! You really expect creationist to understand your comments?

    Possibly. The Salem Hypothesis notes the appearance of counterintuitively high levels of creationist engineers; I’m not sure whether that also applies to computer engineers and/or computer scientists (who might have cause to be familiar with the sort of math I’m talking about) or whether creationism is more common among mechanical/chemical/aerospace/etc. On the other hand, the math I’m talking about is otherwise rather off the beaten track; I don’t expect remarks like that to get much understanding on either side of the debate.

    It should be fairly obvious that addressing creationists is not the point of posting comments at TFNinsider. A remark here might, however, provoke someone’s curiosity (more likely on the pro-evolution side), resulting in doing some research on their own. More realistically, it might suggest a counter-tactic to consider if “complexity of the cell” keeps getting pushed: a counter-push that the math standards should first be beefed up so that the kiddies have the intellectual tools for discussing “complexity” in a formal sense. Doubtless, of course, you’d want to discuss the extent that could practically be integrated into the math curriculum with folk who actually know something about both education and the mathematics of computational complexity. I’m deeply doubtful it can be covered enough so that students would be ready at the start of the 9th grade year that high school biology usually gets slotted in.