War on science, war on education: Evolution under fire at Texas education board

July 21, 2011

Ryan at the Texas Freedom Network laid out the stakes:

Just a reminder about what new chairwoman Barbara Cargill — and her five “conservative Christian” allies on the State Board of Education — have in mind for the meeting this week:

I am a little bit concerned in looking at some of these science online supplementary materials. I looked at one of the links and there was a picture of a — a graphic of a human fetus next to a gorilla fetus talking about how they only differ by one amino acid. Therefore, universal common decent. So that is of some concern. And I am not quite sure if we are going to have the votes to overturn that. We will work diligently to rectify and correct some of that. But remember we lost a conservative seat, so we’re down to six.

In this unguarded moment, Cargill drops the double-speak and is honest about her plan for the first meeting over which she will preside as chair  — pressure publishers to censor scientific information from their materials and to insert bogus information questioning evolution. And she knows exactly what her task is: to get the extra votes necessary to accomplish this.

Stay tuned to TFN Insider on Thursday and Friday as we give you a front-row seat at the contentious hearing and board vote.

Live blogging the meeting starting at about 10:00 a.m today at TFN Insider at at Steve Schafersman’s blog, from the Texas Citizens for Science.

More, resources:

Friends of science and evolution: Testify next week in the Texas textbook process?

July 14, 2011

I get important e-mail from the Texas Freedom Network; they’re asking for help next week to fight creationism and other forms of buncombe popular in Texas:

Science and the SBOE: One Week to Go

Next week, the Texas State Board of Education will take a critical vote on science in our public schools. We need people like you to make sure the vote is in favor of sound, well-established science.

Up for board consideration are science instructional materials submitted by a number of publishers and vendors who want their product used in Texas classrooms. Even before the board meets, far-right groups have been hard at work trying to ensure materials approved by the board attack and diminish evolutionary science and include the junk science of “intelligent design”/creationism.

The attacks include one from a little-know firm out of New Mexico, International Databases, which submitted instructional materials rife with creationist propaganda.

It gets worse. Far-right SBOE members last month appointed creationists with questionable scientific credentials to teams tasked with reviewing the materials and making recommendations to the board.

And new board chair Barbara Cargill upped the stakes when in a speech just last week she framed the debate over science as a “spiritual battle.”

The board will hold just ONE public hearing on the science materials. Your participation is crucial.

It is critical that you act now by clicking here to express your interest in testifying before the board on July 21.

Please note: The deadline to sign up to testify is 5 p.m. Monday.

We must insist that the SBOE keep junk science – including “intelligent design”/creationism – out of our children’s classrooms. The board must approve only instructional materials that are accurate, that are in line with sound and well-established science, and that will prepare Texas children to succeed in college and the jobs of the 21st century.

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Trying to carve out time here.  Can you help?

Hearings will be most interesting.  Support for the Texas State Board of Education actually comes, often, from the Texas Education Agency (TEA).  TEA this week laid off just under 200 workers, to deal with the 36% budget chopping done to the agency by the Texas Lege.  Word comes this week that curriculum directors at TEA were let go, including the director of science curriculum.

It’s rather like the first 20 weeks of World War II in the Pacific, with the aggressors advancing on almost all fronts against science.  When is our Battle of Midway?

Information, resources: 

Texas Citizens for Science, new Facebook page

June 23, 2011

One more way to connect with Texas Citizens for Science, the defenders especially of good science in public school classrooms:

Texas Citizens for Science logo

Are you a member?

Hello, Friends of Texas Citizens for Science,

If you haven’t done so yet, please visit the new TCS Facebook Page at <http://www.facebook.com/pages/Texas-Citizens-for-Science/220812611277400?sk=wall> and become a Friend. TCS is only four Friends short of reaching the number to use a shortened URL.

Also, please make a note of our new TCS email address.

The July State Board of Education meeting will be important for us. I will attend and live blog the important parts.

Thank you all very much.

Steven Schafersman, President
Texas Citizens for Science

Liveblogging the Texas State Board of Education

May 21, 2010

Or, should that be “Texas State Soviet of Education?”

Steve Schafersman (of Texas Citizens for Science fame)  is live blogging for the Texas Observer, here.

Texas Freedom Network blogs it here.

Did I forget to mention that earlier?


Texas social studies standards: Beware the ides of January

January 15, 2010

News reports in Texas this morning said that several of the right-wing, gut-education-standards changes proposed to social studies standards had failed in voting on Thursday, January 14.  But, much more was to be done, and the SBOE adjourned early last night to continue voting today.

In a pattern familiar to education advocates in Texas, board member Don McLeroy (R-Pluto) today proposed a long series of amendments, apparently off-the-cuff, but probably written up in earlier strategy sessions.  These last-minute amendments tend to pass having missed any serious scrutiny.

Will he be able to ruin Texas education for the next decade?  I cannot follow the live webcasts; Steve Schafersman is working to stop the amendments, rather than merely blog about them.  We probably won’t know the extent of the damage for weeks.  McLeroy cherishes his role as a Port-au-Prince-style earthquake to Texas education. (Pure coincidence, I’m sure — Ed Brayton summarizes McLeroy’s politics today.)

Watch that space, and other news sources.  I may provide updates here, as I can get information.

Social studies train wreck at Texas State Board of Education: Live! A Nation at Risk

January 13, 2010

Steve Schafersman will live blog the hearings on social studies standards before the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) today, at Evo-Sphere.  Schafersman is president of Texas Citizens for Science, and a long-time activist for better education in Texas on all topics.

Rapid updates or live-blogging should be available at the blog of the Texas Freedom Network, TFN Insider.

It’s Item #6 on the SBOE agenda, with a title that tips off the trouble:

Item #6 — Public Hearing Regarding Proposed Revisions to 19 TAC Chapter 113, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies, and Chapter 118, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Economics with Emphasis on the Free Enterprise System and Its Benefits.

Schafersman e-mailed an introduction to the meeting:

Some say the Social Studies public testimony by the religious right, liberals, etc., then the SBOE debate, motions to amend, votes, etc. is a bigger circus than adopting the science standards. Judge for yourself. You can watch the entire circus, carnival, and sideshow on the webcast video at http://www.texasadm in.com/cgi- bin/tea.cgi

This is Texas democracy in action, when sullen and tight-lipped State Board members listen to public testifiers for 3 minutes each and profoundly ignore them since they already know what they are going to do. But I, at least, feel better after speaking so I don’t later feel responsible for the crappy amendments, changes, and policies that come out of this horrible Board because I did nothing. The proposed Social Studies standards written by the panels composed of teachers and professors are excellent (when have I heard this before), but the SBOE can’t wait to shamelessly impose their own Religious Right agenda on them.

You’ll recall that SBOE has at every possible turn disregarded the advice of famous and serious historians, respected free-market-advocating economists, geographers and educators on these standards.  Economists, for example, want Texas kids to learn about “capitalism,” since that’s what it’s called by economists and policy makers, and colleges.  SBOE thinks “capitalism” sounds too subversive, and wishes instead to require Texas kids to learn about “free enterprise” instead.

‘A rose by any other name’ you think, until you start thinking of how Texas kids do on standardized tests, college admission exams, and the punchline on the joke, about Texas kids being told not to study capitalism.  No siree, no capitalism in the fictional home of J. R. Ewing, never mind the real-life capitalists like T. Boone Pickens or H. Ross Perot (Jr. and Sr.).

In Dallas, the city prepares to name a street after Cesar Chavez, the great Hispanic union organizer and advocate for working Americans.  In Austin, SBOE works to strike all mentions of Chavez, because they dislike the politics of heroes of our ethnic minorities (soon to be a majority in Texas).  In Washington historians and policy-makers follow the legacy of Thurgood Marshall, the great civil rights attorney and first African-American to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.  In Austin, SBOE thinks Marshall should be left out of history books.  Many of us suspect he’s anathema to the white right-wing in Austin:  A smart, successful and noble man of color.

Mel and Norma Gabler died years ago, but their history lingers in the halls of education policy in Austin.  It’s Shakespearean.

This is a massive battle.  David Barton worked for 30 years to gut history standards nationally to teach a history of America that never was, and as the official religionist appointee of the right-wing SBOE members, he stands on the brink of accomplishing much of the revisionism he’s advocated.  See the Texas Tribune story on the issue, “Hijacking History.”

Generally we shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists, Ronald Reagan said.  At the SBOE, we’ve put the terrorists in charge of history and economic curricula — if not the terrorist themselves, at least the terrorists’ camels’ noses.  Texas’s process has earned flashing red-light, claxon-sounding repeating of the words of Ronald Reagan’s Commission on Excellence in Education:  If a foreign nation did this to us, we’d consider it an act of war [excerpt below the fold].

Make no mistake about it.  SBOE’s goal is to roll back any of the reforms left from Reagan’s Commission’s work.  Our nation is more at risk from foreign competition than ever before.  SBOE plans to give away a bit more of our future to China, this week.

Our saving grace is the general incompetence of SBOE members to make significant reform in Texas’s wounded schools, reeling from unworkable and damaging requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act and a testing program that severely limits what can be taught in any social studies course other than those bastions of learning left in International Baccalaureate programs and Advanced Placement courses (estimates are that between 5% and 10% of Texas high school students can take one of those good courses).  Whatever silliness, craziness or lies SBOE orders to  be taught, it can’t be taught and tested well.  Inertia preventing change works to save America in this case.

In business, most CEOs at least appreciate the value of having good front-line employees who are the ones who really deliver the service or product and produce the profit of the enterprise (even if they don’t treat those employees so well as the employees deserve).  Education may be the last bastion of flogging the horse that should be pulling the cart instead.  In this case, having well-trained teachers in the classroom is the last hope for Texas, Texas parents and Texas students — and Texas’s economic future and future in liberty.  Teachers are the last defense of freedom in Texas.  Today SBOE will make another assault on the ramparts that protect the teachers in their work.

When will the French fleet arrive to lend aid?  Will it arrive at all?  And if it arrives, will Texas kids know better than to shoot at the ships?

Carol Haynes, who claims to have a doctorate in some discipline, told the board how to rewrite the standards to completely change the history of the civil rights movement in their last hearing on the topic.  According to Haynes, apparently, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was opposed to civil rights and Barry Goldwater was in favor — the Board didn’t offer to correct her revisionism, but instead asked her to go beyond her three minutes in fawning acceptance. This appears to be SBOE’s approval of various Other Universe hypotheses offered by Star Trek, allowing any damned thing at all to be taught as history (except the right stuff).  Haynes is scheduled to testify again (#128), probably very late at night, but perhaps in time for the 10:00 p.m. Texas television news broadcasts.  Oy.

Excerpt from the Report of the Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk, below the fold.


Cover of A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, the 1983 report that started the education reform mess. AFT graphic.

Stand up for your nation, it’s children and future; sound the alarm:

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Schafersman’s testimony on social studies standards, to Texas SBOE

January 13, 2010

Dr. Steve Schafersman will testify on proposed new standards for social studies in Texas public schools, at a hearing before the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) scheduled for today, January 13, 2009.

Schafersman is president of Texas Citizens for Science and its driving force.  He’ll also live blog much of the hearing at his blog, Evo-Sphere.  You should probably watch TFN Insider, the blog of the Texas Freedom Network, too.

Schafersman’s testimony was released in advance, and reprinted below.

Public Testimony of
Steven D. Schafersman

Texas State Board of Education Public Hearing
, Texas; Wednesday, 2009 January 13

I am grateful for the opportunity to address you about Social Studies standards for which I am testifying as a private citizen. Tomorrow you will begin your work to adopt the new Social Studies TEKS. I closely read and evaluated the proposed Grade 8 Social Studies, High School U. S. History, U. S. Government, World History, and World Geography standards and found them to be quite satisfactory. The standards were extremely comprehensive, balanced, fair-minded, and honest. The members of the panels who wrote them did an outstanding job and I was very impressed by their knowledge and professionalism. I urge that you adopt these Social Studies standards without change.

My experience with this Board leads me to suspect that some of you don’t want to adopt these excellent standards–written by social studies curriculum experts and teachers–without change. After all, these standards were written by experts and some of you feel obliged to stand up to the experts. Some of you may want to change some of the standards to correspond to your own political and religious beliefs, such as the mistaken notions that the United States is a Christian nation, that we do not have a secular government, or that separation of church and state is a myth. Some of you may want to add more unnecessary information about Christian documents or Christian history in America. If some of you do wish to make such changes, I request that you restrain yourselves. Please resist the temptation to engage in the same behavior some of you exhibited last year when you perverted the Science standards and embarrassed the citizens of Texas by engaging in pseudoscientific anti-intellectual behavior. While the Texas State Board of Education has a long and proud history of anti-intellectualism, the economic conditions today demand that we stop that practice and return to professionalism and respect for academic achievement so that our children have a future in which they will use their minds to make a living in intellectual pursuits and not their limbs in a service economy.

During the adoption of the science standards, some Board members amended the Biology and Earth and Space Science standards by engaging in fast talking, omitting pertinent information about what was being changed, offering bogus “compromises” that were not really fair compromises, and referring to “experts” who were in fact pseudoscientists and not real experts at all. I hope to not witness the same behavior tomorrow but I am pessimistic. Two pseudo-historians, David Barton and Peter Marshall, were appointed as “experts” and there is plenty of evidence available that demonstrates that these two gentlemen are preachers and polemicists for their radical agendas, not legitimate history experts.

I urge the rational and conservative Board members–whom I hope still make up a majority of this Board–to resist proposed radical amendments that attempt to insert bogus histories of American exceptionalism, America’s presumed Christian heritage as the source of our liberties and Constitutional principles, and other historical myths perpetrated by the American Religious Right. I urge you to vote No to such radical amendments, not Abstain or your radical opponents will gain the same advantage that they enjoyed during the amendment process for the Science standards, where they were delighted when some of you abstained or did not vote since that made it easier for them to obtain majorities which allowed them to win several amendments that made changes detrimental to science education. Unlike last year, when you were prevented from consulting your legitimate Science experts during debate, please consult your genuine Social Studies experts, Texas Professors Kracht, Hodges, and de la Teja. Please try to avoid the same mistakes with the Social Studies adoption process that occurred with the Science standards adoption, so no one will be able to accuse you of being anti-intellectual.

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