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Texas is Burning (In More Ways Than One?)

Quick reminder to my Houston area skeptics. My peeps. My skeeps: Skeptics in the Pub tonight at Stag”s Head Pub. (BTW, you know what they say about stag head. It’s better than no head.) Anyway, we’ll start piling in around 6:30 pm or so, and we’ll be hanging around until whenever. Roxie Deaton, President of the Humanists of Houston will be our guest tonight, and she’ll say a few really really cool things about her organization and about some awesome upcoming events in Houston and in Texas. Hope to see you there.

Ok . . .

Well, the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), the ass kickers that keep a watchful and active vigil over the workings of the alarmingly creationist Texas State Board of Education, along with our good friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) have been keeping us in the loop on how things are progressing in the board’s adoption process of new instructional materials for Texas school children. (The following information is courtesy of NCSE.)

TFN and NCSE confirmed recently that science in Texas public schools will take a shocking leap backward if the State Board approves newly proposed instructional materials that promote creationism and reject established, mainstream science on evolution. But maybe even more shocking is that public schools using those creationism-based materials may also face expensive legal challenges. And given their current struggles with massive budget cuts at state and local levels already depleting resources, those schools could be in for a very difficult run.

“Two years ago, State Board of Education members thumbed their noses at the science community and approved new curriculum standards that opened the door to creationism and junk science, ” said TFN President Kathy Miller. “Now they are getting exactly what they wanted–the chance to make Texas the poster child for the creationist movement. The state board would be aiding and abetting wholesale academic fraud and dumbing down the education of millions of Texas kids if it doesn’t reject these materials.”

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has made science instructional materials available on its website — all of them web-based — that publishers and other vendors have proposed for high school biology classes across the state. Materials approved by the state board in July could be in Texas science classrooms for nearly a decade.

TFN and NCSE reviewed the materials and an initial assessment revealed that materials from at least one vendor, New Mexico-based International Databases Inc., promote anti-evolution arguments made by proponents of intelligent design/creationism. Mainstream scientists have repeatedly shown that those arguments lack scientific merit. Moreover, in 2005 a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled in Kitzmiller v. Dover that teaching intelligent design in public schools unconstitutionally promotes creationism.

“International Databases’ materials are not only laced with creationist arguments,” said NCSE’s Joshua Rosenau, “they are also remarkably shoddy, teeming with misspellings, typographical errors, and mistaken claims of fact.”

NCSE found creationist claims and factual errors throughout International Databases’ materials, including:

  • Religious claims such as “life on Earth is the result of intelligent causes” . . . (Module 1, “Origin Nucleotide,” Slide 19)
  • Teacher instructions such as: “students should go home with the understanding that a new paradigm of explaining life’s origins is emerging from the failed attempts of naturalistic scenarios. This new way of thinking is predicated upon the hypothesis that intelligent input is necessary for life’s origins.” (Module 8, “Teacher Resources”, Slide 3)
  • Arguments that “intelligent design” is a “legitimate scientific hypothesis” (Module 1, “Origin Nucleotide,” Slide 19) or even “the default position” (Module 7, “Null Hypothesis,” Slide eight) in science–despite the consensus of the scientific community, and a federal court, that it is essentially religious creationism without any scientific basis.
  • Misrepresentations of Darwin’s 150-year-old writings in an attempt to discredit modern biology.
  • Distortions of the scientific understanding and evidence behind key biological processes, such as the modern synthetic theory of evolution and the stages of the cell cycle.

These examples are available at: www.tfn.org/IDexamples

Just to refrsh your memory, two years ago the State Board of Education approved new science curriculum standards that call into question the established, mainstream science supporting evolution. At the time, TFN and NCSE warned that the new standards would encourage some vendors and groups to submit textbooks and other instructional materials promoting creationist claims and other pseudoscience in Texas science classrooms. Last fall the Dallas-based Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE), publisher of the “intelligent design” textbook “Of Pandas and People” that was at the center of the Dover court case, notified the Texas Education Agency that it would submit materials for approval by the State Board of Education. FTE later announced that it had withdrawn its intention to submit those materials.

Teams of reviewers appointed by the Texas Education Agency will examine all of the proposed instructional materials in June and report to TEA and the State Board of Education. The state board is scheduled to hold a public hearing and final vote on the materials at a single meeting in July. Public schools could then purchase those materials for use in classrooms beginning in the 2011-12 school year. The Texas Legislature has not decided whether to appropriate funds for that adoption. However, public schools could use local funds or state funds if the Legislature appropriates money for science instructional materials at a later date.

For more information, visit the Texas Freedom Network’s site and the National Center for Science Education.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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3 Comments

  1. I went to the International Databases website to try to find out more about the company and there seems to be very little information there (other than the example materials). I did not even see any sort of contact information. Do you know where this companies financial backing comes from?

    It will be a sad day for science if this makes it into the textbooks in Texas.

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