Hijacking science in Texas

It looks a lot like inside baseball. It’s conducted away from classrooms, while teachers struggle to deliver science to students in crowded classrooms without adequate textbooks, without adequate science labs and without adequate time. The perpetrators hew to Otto von Bismark’s claim that the public shouldn’t see their laws or sausages being made.

Since Bismark, in the U.S. we have food safety laws to protect our sausage. In Texas, the political scheming in the State Board of Education (SBOE) continues to spoil science education.

Science standards for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) — the Texas state science education standards — are being rewritten by the Texas Education Agency, under direction of the SBOE. While procedures have been consistent over the past 15 years or so, and the state legislature reined in SBOE from political shenanigans in textbook selection, SBOE members are fighting back to get the right to skew science standards. For weeks the selection of committees to review specific standards have been held up so members of the SBOE can stack the committees to put their political views in.

Board members are insisting on stacking the review committees now, weeks after the deadline for members to nominate qualified teachers and experts to review the standards.  This is the gateway to the path of bad standards through which we earlier watched other school boards frolic — Cobb County, Georgia, Dover, Pennsylvania, and the State of Ohio.  Taxpayers in Cobb County and Dover paid the price when courts correctly noted that the changes proposed violated  the religious freedom clauses of the state constitutions and the First Amendment.  Ohio’s board backed down when a new governor cleaned house, and when it became clear that their position would lose in court.

Simply gutting the standards, however, may not rise to the standard of illegal religious influence.  Keeping kids in the dark may not violate federal or state law.  It’s immoral, but would the Texas State Board stick to that side of morality?  Many observers doubt it, given the track record of recent years striking important health information from texts that might save a few lives, and the legislature’s pro-cancer legislation this year.

Some observers have provided detailed reports that to many of us look like simple foot dragging. In the past week it has become more clear that the foot dragging is really political positioning.

If anyone was lulled to sleep by the Dallas Morning News article a few weeks ago which touted board members’ claims they would not advocate putting intelligent design into the biology curriculum, the greater fears now seem to be coming true:  Board members did NOT say they would stand for good science, or that they would not try to cut evolution, Big Bang, astronomy, geology, accurate medicine and health, and paleontology out of curricula.  The Corpus Christi Caller-Times warned:

Board chairman Don McLeroy, though indicating that he won’t support the teaching of intelligent design, says he would like to see more inclusion in textbooks of what he called weaknesses in the evolutionary theory, a sentiment expressed by many of the predominantly Republican 15-member board.

This only sounds like another version of a common tactic by religious pressure groups that seek to create a controversy about evolution that only exists in their opposition. That nicely covers their ultimate goal of converting classrooms into pulpits for religious teachings.

Texas schoolchildren will be the losers if the teaching of science, or health, or history — all subjects that have been the target of pressure groups — is based on something other than the best known and most widely accepted bodies of knowledge. In a pluralistic nation with many creeds and religions, letting personal faith become the guiding force for the public school curriculum invites creation of a battleground.

Texans should watch the State Board of Education in the months to come.

Just over a month ago one of the chief theorists behind Big Bang theory died in Austin, Ralph Alpher. His death went largely unnoticed. In 2003, with the Nobel Prize winning-physicist Ilya Prigogine of the University of Texas not yet cool in the grave, charlatans felt free to misrepresent his work on thermodynamics, saying he had “proved” that evolution could not occur.  In fact, his prize-winning work showed that on a planet like Earth, evolution is a virtual certainty.  Prigogine, Alpher: A greater tragedy is brewing: Will Big Bang survive the hatchets of anti-science forces on the SBOE? Many hard theories of science are unpopular with religious fanatics in Texas. Those fanatics are over-represented on the SBOE.

Don’t just watch.  Write to your board member, to the TEA director, to the governor, to the legislature.  One way to keep “no child left behind” is by holding all children back.   Texas and America cannot afford such Taliban-like enforcement of ignorance.


5 Responses to Hijacking science in Texas

  1. To anyone who continues to follow the Big Bang theory and its empirical evidence, I welcome correspondence through http://www.ralphalapher.com. You will see a number of articles that I, his son, have published subsequent to his passing. Many of these contain information that he would not publicized during his lifetime–always maintaining a very gentlemanly stance, he held out hope that he would get the recognition that so many of his peers said was warranted in a Nobel. That National Medal of Science was the capstone, as well as the documentary Beyond the Big Bang (now episode 8 of the A&E series “The Universe,” first year. Dr. R. Alpher appears primarily in the second hour.

    I am the last remaining person watching for errors in the literature, and welcome having them brought to my attention. Atlhough my training as a scholar is in Experimental and Clinical Psychology from Vanderbilt University, I have had some satisfactory success in getting the message out. Some scientists, though not all, have welcomed corrections to some of their published works.

    I have also restricted (ended) publication permission for the “classic” composite photo that shows Gamow rising like a genie out of a bottle of Cointreau labeled “YLEM” (Ralph brought the term to the table)….because it is so misleading. Many of my published papers contain previously unpublished relevant photos in Ralph Alpher’s personal Archives, of which I am Archivist as Executor of his Estate.

    God willing, there will be more to come. I say this, because I know that my father did not believe that God and Science were incompatible. Religious family traditions also were meaningful to him, although he rarely set foot in houses of worship as such. A biography is in order–someday.


  2. McLeroy reiterated in an interview recently (in which he looked VERY uncomfortable, in my opinion) that he would not vote to change the science standards…we’ll see…


  3. Bad says:

    “that students may not invoke Jesus to get out of doing their assigned work. ”

    I’m less concerned about the students getting out of any work than actions against the teachers, which is what I read the statute as creating an area of thin ice on. It only takes a couple of cases in which students accuse a teacher, wrongly or rightly, of disrespecting their beliefs or marking them down for them, to create a chilling effect.


  4. Ed Darrell says:

    The text you mention isn’t on the approved list, and is unlikely to be submitted for approval — it does not meet standards on several counts.

    The law protecting religious freedom should be a nothingburger. It restates the First Amendment and the law as it stands.

    We’ve already seen, in the 6th Circuit, in Settle vs. Dickson, that students may not invoke Jesus to get out of doing their assigned work. The new Texas law shouldn’t change that much, though, Texas is in the 5th Circuit.


  5. Bad says:

    I have greater fears that just this prong of their attack alone. Remember those strange additions to Texas law that have gone into effect this school year?

    Under the current law, teachers can now potentially risk serious consequences for correcting marking students down when it comes to issues the students might say impacts on their faith, evolution being the biggest target. Add that to crummy textbooks (Explore Evolution!) and hollowed out curricula and it looks like they have quite an advantage on this fight.


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