What Does Terri Leo Really Want to Teach?

by TFN

As we get closer to the final vote at the Texas State Board of Education on science standards next week, creationists on the board are showing their real stripes. First it was board chairman Don McLeroy, who endorsed a book equating acceptance of evolution with atheism — making clear that his primary beef with evolution is based on religious beliefs (despite repeated claims to the contrary). And now Terri Leo, R-Spring, gets in on the act.

Ms. Leo recently appeared on a Walbuilders Radio program to discuss the latest on the evolution debate at the state board. For the uninitiated, Wallbuiders is a Christian advocacy organization based in Aledo, Texas, that claims the separation of church and state is a myth. (Read TFN’s extensive profile of Wallbuilders’ founder David Barton.)

The first cat Leo let’s out of the bag is the “end game” for creationists on the board: biology textbooks. What the next generation of textbooks teach about evolution is the subtext for the entire debate on curriculum standards. Leo and her allies lacked the votes in 2003 to force publishers to include phony “weaknesses” of evolution, but now the elusive majority is in sight. Leo is blunt:

The deal is that even though we have had the standards for 20 years, we are close to a majority of board members who support enforcing the standard.

That’s why creationists on the board were apoplectic in January when the teacher writing teams and science experts recommended changing the wording in the standards, removing the words “strengths and weaknesses.” Leo is hell-bent on restoring those buzz words to the curriculum because she knows the board can now bully publishers into dumbing-down instruction on evolution in new textbooks up for adoption in 2011. Leo fires a shot across the publisher’s bow:

It directs the publishers that you will have scientific weaknesses to the theory of evolution in the textbooks.

So what are these “weaknesses” of evolution? In public, board members and creationist pressure groups have been evasive on this question. But when she is preaching to the Wallbuilders choir, we finally get a window into exactly what Leo means by “weaknesses.” She explains:

All eight icons, which they say have been used in the textbooks to “prove evolution” have been disproven scientifically. And every year, it’s like the elephant in the middle of the room. We have more discoveries in the…um…human genome and DNA and microbiology and all these advances that continue to be a huge problem for evolution. And what we want is when each of those icons has scientific weaknesses to it, we want those taught to the students so that they can be, you know. We’re not trying to take the theory of evolution out of the science textbook. It is a major theory. And it has to be taught to our children so that they thoroughly understand it and can debate and articulate it and impact their culture.

Leo is referring here to Jonathan Wells’s book Icons of Evolution, a popular (nonscholarly) treatise that denigrates evolution based on well-worn creationist attacks. The National Center for Science Education and other scientists have thoroughly refuted the flawed arguments in Well’s work. It most certainly does not represent the mainstream scientific consensus about evolution. But it is clear that this is precisely the type of fringe “scholarship” Leo has in mind for the children of Texas should the “weaknesses” of evolution be mandated in the curriculum standards.

Later in the interview, Leo slips and says exactly what she wants students to be taught under the “weaknesses” standard:

They [scientists] don’t want to talk about the science because they lose that argument continually. The science is overwhelmingly against evolution.

Finally, some honesty! Here’s the unvarnished truth about Leo’s agenda: she doesn’t want students to be taught that the theory of evolution has weaknesses. She wants students to be taught that evolution is not valid. That it’s a lie. If the evolution-deniers on the board get their way next week, this is what they will try to force textbook publishers to include in new biology books.

Don’t say you were not warned.