The Texas state Board of Education is in the process of adopting new science textbooks that will be used in public schools for the next decade. On Tuesday, the board held its first hearing for public comment on which textbooks should be adopted. Creationists came out in full force and demanded that “biblical truth,” rather than evolution, be presented in the state’s biology textbooks.
These anti-science activists could compromise the teaching of evolution all across the country. They’ve been working toward this moment for years.
In 2009, the Texas state Board of Education adopted new science standards. The standards presented to the board had been written by a group of scientists and educators, and the proposal covered evolution fully. More than 50 science organizations endorsed the original standards, but creationists successfully amended them. Now the standards include loopholes that allow evolution to be attacked and creationism to be snuck into public school classrooms.
The standards call for students to “analyze and evaluate the fossil record and the complexity of the cell.” They also say that students should “analyze, evaluate, and critique” scientific theories and that students should be exposed to “all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking.”
These requirements sound reasonable; we all want students to think critically, analyze, and evaluate. But these standards are designed to bring non-science into the classroom under the cover of analyzing, evaluating, and critiquing evolution.
This is a longtime creationist strategy. Louisiana, where I was born, has its own creationism law that calls for “critiquing” evolution in order to promote “critical thinking.”
Gov. Rick Perry helped make it clear that the Texas curriculum standards are meant to allow creationism into the classroom. During the 2012 presidential election, Perry said, “In Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools.”
Perry was asked by PolitiFact to clarify this statement, and his spokeswoman said, “It is required that students evaluate and analyze the theory of evolution, and creationism very likely comes up and is discussed in that process. Teachers are also permitted to discuss it with students in that context.”
These standards are already harming Texas students, but now they are poised to damage science education all across the country. Because Texas buys textbooks for more than 4 million students, publishers tend write textbooks designed to capture the Texas market. They then sell the same textbooks in other states. If textbooks in Texas don’t teach evolution, the entire country will suffer.
In 2009, Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a pro-science watchdog organization, warned, “The board crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks.”
Four years later, it’s clear she was right. The state Board of Education requires every textbook that it adopts to meet the science education standards that include the creationists’ amendments. Creationists have used the “analyze and evaluate” requirement to call for any textbook that doesn’t challenge evolution to be rejected.
The first step in this year’s process of choosing new textbooks came when the board appointed reviewers to comb through biology textbooks, offer revisions, and determine which books should be adopted. If a book fails to receive top reviews and isn’t amended in response, publishers will have a very hard time selling that book in Texas.