Thursday, April 3, 2008

Neanderthal Man to State Board of Education: Don't Fence Me In!

Apparently I neglected to pick up a copy of the Dallas Observer a couple of weeks ago, and I missed a well reported story by Jesse Hyde about the ultra-right wing creationists taking over our State Board of Education. Luckily I found the article online yesterday. For those who are keeping score, the creationists hold 7 out of 15 seats and Gov. Perry appointed one of them to the chairmanship. Creationist Barney Maddox lost a bid to unseat incumbent Pat Hardy in the Republican primary in Fort Worth in March, so we’ve narrowly avoided giving these folks complete control, but it’s a little too close for comfort for this future public school parent.

Science textbook adoption is to occur this year, so there is a critical battle being waged to keep real science in the textbooks and not allow the board to sneak their “weaknesses in evolutionary theory” into the text.

I was pleased to learn from Hyde’s article that the board will not be able to blatantly put creationism into the textbooks due to a 1987 Supreme Court ruling. It seems that ruling is what spurred the rise of sciency-sounding intelligent design as a “wedge” the creationists want to drive into our science classes to make room for creationism.

In the article, Hyde revisited the incredible decision the board made last year to reject a highly successful math text, part of a program that has raised scores dramatically in Dallas schools – 11 to 47 percent improvements at various grade levels. I had a visceral reaction as I read how the RWNJs used this issue as a test case to see how far they could go in rejecting perfectly good, possibly excellent, textbooks for whatever reasons they chose. These folks, some of whom didn’t even send their own children to public schools, are playing games with Texas’ future. Geraldine Miller, board member from Dallas, fought to keep the math textbook. Here’s what she ran up against:

Miller argued passionately for the books. The state math review panel recommended them, as did the state's commissioner of education, and several top-notch private schools in Dallas were using the book. But for reasons Miller didn't understand, the seven far-right members of the board were arguing against it.

"They said the multiplication tables didn't go high enough. They said it introduced calculators too early and that was a crutch," Miller recalls. "So I turned to the publisher and said, 'Here are the concerns they have, are you willing to work with the board and make these changes?' And they said, 'Absolutely.' They stayed up all night working on it, and in the morning they made this beautiful presentation on how they would make the changes."

Miller says the publishers then asked the board if they had any other requests. None was given. The vote was called. And the book was rejected 7-6.

"You know what that was? That was a display of power. That's when I realized the direction the board had gone and became very worried," Miller says.

Like others, Miller now thinks the main reason the book was rejected was to set a precedent.

"If they can reject a math book and not give a reason, then they can do the same thing to a science book," [board member Mary Helen] Berlanga says. "It was very clever how they got rid of that book in November, and they will use the same tactics to get rid of books that don't say what they want about intelligent design."

Can we please stop the madness already?

Scientists and businesses are speaking up that we need to make sure Texas science classrooms stick to real science, and to educate the public that there is no controversy in the scientific community about evolutionary theory. And that belief in God is not at odds with evolutionary theory. I don’t know that they can change the minds of the creationists on the SBOE, but they need to keep it up and get this issue out in front of the public. Only with public pressure and accountability can we retain credibility, reason, and real science in Texas classrooms.

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