Another Texas Science Education Update

I’ll post updates and reminders early next year, but I wanted to give you all a heads up on this before the holidays get into full swing and we’re unable to do anything but wallow in peristaltic bliss and a lingering alcohol buzz.

As I mentioned here last week, the pro-science turnout at the November 19th Texas Board of Education meeting concerning the standards for science education was a great success. Nearly 100 people testified over a six and a half hour period in favor of sound science education and against teaching the “weaknesses” of evolution. Only one person testifying at the board meeting was in line with the creationist board members’ views.

But there is yet more to be done.

Steven Newton and Eugenie C. Scott of the National Center for Science Education tell us:

The upcoming [Texas State Board of Education] meeting on January 22-23, 2009 will be the last opportunity for public comment before the new science TEKS are adopted in March 2009. The TEKS will be in place for the next 10 years.

Because of textbook publishing constraints, it’s imperative for the entire US that Texas adopt a sound science curriculum.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a bit of a problem brewing already. Don McLeroy, the Chairman of the Board and anti-evolutionist, plans to limit public testimony at the January meeting to just four hours.

Says the Texas Freedom Network:

Today board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, announced that testimony at the January 21 hearing will be limited to four hours — 8 a.m. to noon. That’s it. If folks are still waiting to testify at noon, we guess, then that’s just too bad for them.

Creationists who control the board have argued that teaching students arguments against evolution is simply a matter of academic freedom. Apparently, however, limiting public discussion about the wisdom of such a policy is just fine with them.

One of the main expert witnesses at the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District federal court case, Dr. Barbara Forrest, spoke recently at SMU about the importance of this issue. You can see the video of her talk here. (The video is right around an hour long, and covers just about all you need to know about the subject.)

But if all voices are not heard, will the Board do the right thing? Can one member limit the time of testimony?

Provisions 2.10(a)(1) and (3) of the SBOE Operating Rules state that the “board shall provide opportunity for public testimony at regular committee meetings” and that the “chair shall assure that members of the public with differing viewpoints have reasonable access to address the board.”

We at Skepchick, along with NCSE, Texas Freedom Network, and Texas Citizens for Science, encourage all Texans to email [email protected] to let the school board members know that you wish to have the right to speak and participate in this democratic process, regardless of an arbitrary cutoff set unilaterally by the Chairman. And please encourage other interested people to do likewise.

For more information on Texas evolution education issues, please visit:

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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  1. Thanks for the updates on this. As you’ve said, the importance goes beyond Texas because it’s such a big states and the standards set there are used for textbooks around the entire country.

  2. This is a key issue that can serve as a basis for other state curriculms in the future. If new language is not adopted, scence education standards in the state of Texas will take a significant move backwards.

    Science is a field built on observation-based testing, verification, and analysis. Texas is essentially promoting a science curriculum that does not encourage students to question and experiment. Instead science reasoning can be based on objective feelings/thoughts (faith).

    Passing a verbiage change is scary for creationists because the change would rule out creationism due to the non-existence of physical evidence and applicability to the scientific method.

    Let’s hope the change passes.

  3. Yes, let’s hope that science standards for the next decade don’t get relegated to the trash heap because of one man’s arbitrary decision to restrict testimony that doesn’t agree with his agenda. Creationists may be in retreat legally and philosophically over the long term, but they can still do, and have done, a lot of damage to science education in the short term. The consequences of keeping the current language for curriculum standards in the name of academic freedom are significant, and adverse to a system of education that’s screwed up already.

  4. Sam, thanks for this post. If you can, please put this on the Houston Skeptic Calendar, and I will contact me friends living in the area to attend as possible.

  5. Does anyone think that simply having MORE people take up MORE of their time will sway their decision? Seriously? Why is it always quantity over quality? All the arguments I hear are always at least a little contentious. The “we’re right you’re wrong” approach. These people have GOD on their side. They fear nothing and only become more resolute in the face of opposition. How do you react when YOU are threatened? But to assume that they are stupid or intentionally evil is to fall into the trap of demonizing (and thus de-humanizing) your enemy. It will get you nowhere. We have to make sure they understand why separation of church and state protects them as well. Suppose it weren’t illegal to teach religious views in public schools. Once it’s no longer between “believers” and “non-believers,” it’s going to be fighting between different sects. I don’t think for a minute that even that argument will suddenly sway everyone, but we only need a couple of votes.

  6. There are two arguments that might help.
    1) it strikes me that we’ve allowed “evolution” to become something of a sacred cow. What creationists really want is to alter the teaching of biology, astronomy, cosmology, physics, chemistry and many other sciences with one simple change in principle – that the argument from authority (Bible) can trump the argument from evidence. Rather than defend “evolution” as such (I know it is hard to imagine, but it is at least conceivable that a huge paradigm change is in store for this theory at some point in the future ), we should be defending the ability of science and of science teachers to follow the physical evidence whereever it leads.

    With regard to intelligent design, creationism, etc, my personal opinion is that there should be no problem about teaching these in the context of a comparative religion or comparative philosophy class, so long as other religions/philosophies can also be taught.

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