Told You So: Texas Ed Board Chair Wants Science Textbooks to Teach 'Another Side' on Evolution

by Dan Quinn

We told you this would happen.

In 2009, when the Texas State Board of Education adopted new science curriculum standards, we warned that creationists had inserted language they would later try to exploit to pressure publishers into including junk-science arguments against evolution in new textbooks. Barbara Cargill, the Republican state board chair from The Woodlands near Houston, showed last Thursday that we were right. Speaking at a Senate Education Committee hearing in Austin about CSCOPE, a curriculum management tool developed by Education Service Centers around the state and used by many school districts, Cargill said she thinks CSCOPE doesn’t conform to the science standards because it doesn’t teach “all sides” about evolution:

“Our intent, as far as theories with the [curriculum standards], was to teach all sides of scientific explanations…. But when I went on [to the CSCOPE website] last night, I couldn’t see anything that might be seen as another side to the theory of evolution. Every link, every lesson, everything, you know, was taught as ‘this is how the origin of life happened, this is what the fossil record proves,’ and all that’s fine, but that’s only one side.”

Cargill went on to say she wants CSCOPE and publishers to “soften” their language on evolution in new science textbooks the state board will consider for adoption this year. Those textbooks will go into Texas classrooms in 2014.

Far-right activists have been absurdly attacking CSCOPE for somehow promoting “humanistic,” Marxist and pro-Islamic propaganda. Some critics, having completely surrendered to unhinged paranoia, compare the program to Nazi and communist “mind control” techniques. It’s truly bizarre. In November we credited Cargill for trying, during a state board committee hearing, to separate perhaps legitimate concerns about transparency from the fringe-right’s fever-swamp scare fantasies. Well, so much for that.

You might recall that Cargill and other creationists in 2009 wanted the new science standards to require that students learn about “weaknesses” of evolution. When they couldn’t get that requirement, they settled on  requiring students to examine “all sides of scientific evidence.” Because creationists have repeatedly distorted the scientific evidence, we have been warning that they would insist that textbooks and other instructional materials include creationist arguments against evolution, which scientists debunked long ago.

The Texas Freedom Network sent out the following press release this morning:

TEXAS SBOE CHAIR: TEXTS SHOULD TEACH ‘OTHER SIDE’ ON EVOLUTION

Comments Raise Questions about Cargill’s Re-nomination as Education Board Chair

New comments by Barbara Cargill about evolution raise serious questions about her re-nomination for another term as Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) chair and the board’s coming adoption of new science textbooks. Gov. Rick Perry re-nominated Cargill, R-The Woodlands, for another term as board chair on Friday.

“These comments should serve as a big red flag about rubber-stamping her reappointment,” Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said today. “Senators must ask hard questions about whether she will pressure publishers into writing textbooks to conform to her personal beliefs instead of sound science and once again put the culture wars ahead of our children’s education.”

Cargill’s comments came last Thursday at a Senate Education Committee hearing on CSCOPE, a curriculum management system used in many school districts. Cargill suggested that CSCOPE’s materials do not conform to all of the controversial science curriculum standards the SBOE adopted in 2009:

“Our intent, as far as theories with the [curriculum standards], was to teach all sides of scientific explanations…. But when I went on [to the CSCOPE website] last night, I couldn’t see anything that might be seen as another side to the theory of evolution. Every link, every lesson, everything, you know, was taught as ‘this is how the origin of life happened, this is what the fossil record proves,’ and all that’s fine, but that’s only one side.”

Cargill went on to say she wants CSCOPE and textbook publishers to “soften” their language on evolution. Curriculum standards adopted in 2009 require students to examine “all sides of scientific evidence” of scientific explanations, such as evolution. This year the SBOE is scheduled to adopt new science textbooks based on those standards. Schools will begin using the textbooks in 2014.

Cargill’s comments suggest that the SBOE is about to embark on a rehashing of the culture war battles over evolution and other topics that kept the last two Perry-appointed SBOE chairs, Don McLeroy and Gail Lowe, from being confirmed by the Texas Senate, Miller said. Cargill’s first appointment as chair came after the 2011 legislative session. The Senate has not confirmed one of Gov. Perry’s nominees for SBOE chair since 2005.

Miller pointed out that the science standards refer to “all sides of scientific evidence,” not simply “all sides.”

“State board members in 2009 heard Nobel laureates and other distinguished scientists patiently explain that no valid scientific evidence contradicts the consensus on evolution,” Miller said. “So if Ms. Cargill wants textbooks to include ‘another side,’ then she’s insisting that our schools teach something that isn’t science and that will undermine our children’s education.”

Cargill’s comments echo creationist arguments about so-called “weaknesses” of evolution even though scientists have pointed out that such objections were debunked long ago. In 2009 the state board approved Cargill’s recommendation to remove a reference to the scientific consensus on the age of the universe – about 14 billion years old – from the high school curriculum standards.

After the adoption of science textbooks this year, the state board is scheduled to consider social studies textbooks in 2014. Those textbooks must be based on curriculum standards that Cargill and other board members adopted in 2010. The social studies standards are so controversial that they have drawn sharp criticism from the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which has called the American history portions a “political distortion” filled with “misrepresentations at every turn.”

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