Texas is not just a big state — it's also a huge consumer of public school textbooks, and the textbook publishers are understandably and entrepreneurally eager to meet the demand.
Thus many people are alarmed to see a confluence of events (further?) threatening the future of critical thinking in the Lone Star State:
(1) According to The New York Times, "Starting this summer, the [Texas] state education board will determine the curriculum for the next decade" (Beil, 2008).
A relatively innocuous event — education boards across the country are working on such things all the time. Realize, though, that
So the decisions being made here have huge and direct implications for a very large population, and indirect implications for millions of others (non-Texans) whose school systems will be influenced by the actions of the TEA.
(2) Texas governor Rick Perry, like all politicians, has a mixed record, with laudable efforts to increase access to health care and increase school funding, to reform the state's juvenile justice system, to divest state pension funds of companies doing business with Iran, and to encourage the wide-spread adoption of the human papillomavirus vaccine. Serious causes for concern, though, are: the governor's stance on Texan anti-sodomy laws (Perry called them "appropriate"), homosexuality and gays in the Boy Scouts (he's against both), and gay marriage (he supported the Defense of Marriage act; see http://christiannews.christianet.com/1098362715.htm).
In particular, however, the Texas governor has trouble separating his religious practices from his governmental office, and claims to believe in the literal truth of the bible. For example, in a recent interview for ChristiaNet, Perry said "that it was not out of the ordinary for him to pray throughout the day - even in the midst of official meetings." (Texas Governor Rick Perry, http://christiannews.christianet.com/1098362715.htm). In The Dallas Morning News, Perry also confirmed that
And lest you think Perry's deeply-held religious beliefs will not translate into political action, he recently appointed Don McLeroy as chair of the Texas State Board of Education (Stutz, 2007) (see item (3) below). (3) The current chair of the State Board of Education is Don McLeroy. According to his bio on the TEA website, McLeroy is a dentist in Bryan-College Station, Tx., holds a BS in electrical engineering from Texas A & M University and a Doctor of Dental Science degree from The University of Texas Dental Branch in Houston, is a fourth-grade Sunday school teacher at Grace Bible Church in College Station and has been active in youth soccer and Boy Scouts.
McLeroy is also a young-earth creationist, and thinks of creationism as an alternative scientific "system:"
Of course, in the same interview, McLeroy assures us that "My personal religious beliefs are going to make no difference in how well our students are going to learn science" (Beil, 2008).
But how can his religious beliefs not affect this process?
In this interview by Evan Smith on Texas Monthly Talks, originally broadcast 5/1/2008, McLeroy appears in many ways to be an intelligent, well-meaning man, earnest in his desire to safeguard the Texas public school system:
But the interview is alarming in a number of ways.
For example, in an interview ostensibly about McLeroy in his service as chair of the State Board of Education, McLeroy almost immediately interjects his religious convictions into the conversation. As he recites a brief biography, McLeroy notes that he “met this wonderful gal, became a Christian at that point …" He goes on say that he has "40 yrs experience with public education, 12 in Texas public education," a notably disingenuous and misleading claim based on not just serving on school boards but also based on his "own time in public schools, [and] the time my sons spent"! According to McLeroy’s bio on the TEA website, he began his "experience" in Texas public education when he was first elected to the Bryan Independent School District Board of Trustees in 1997. So in the first minute or so of this interview, we know (a) McLeroy is a Christian, (b) he wants to inject his religious beliefs into his public service (why raise the issue otherwise?), and (c) he likes to mislead and exaggerate.
After discussing aspects of the board's current work on English standards, McLeroy makes the offhand comment that “soon will take on the science standards," and then goes on to talk about issues in the teaching of evolution, characterizing the debate as one about "teaching the strengths and weaknesses." But it becomes painfully clear that he's not talking about "weaknesses" of evolutionary theory so much as what he personally sees as fatal flaws for which alternative theories must be provided, citing as so-called weaknesses some of the standard creationist topics of (1) gaps in the fossil record; (2) the Cambrian explosion; (3) the complexity of living organisms; and (4) a critique (I'm not yet familiar with) based on some concept of information and design. About this time he condenscendingly mentions Eugenie Scott and disingenuously (or perhaps just confusedly) equates his own criticisms of evolutionary theory with Scott's encouragement that students should be able to explain how (for example) the Cambrian explosion poses challenges for our current understanding of evolutionary processes.
So … to summarize: (1) we have major curriculum decisions looming in one of the largest states in the union; (2) whose governor prays during meetings, thinks the bible is a source of inerrant truth, and thinks all non-Christians will go to hell, and has appointed a young-earth creationist as chair of the Stated Board of Education; and (3) said chair makes a point of interjecting his religious beliefs into the public arena and feels that evolution and creationism are just two different "systems" of science.
Can't wait to see what happens next.
Beil, Laura (2008). Opponents of evolution adopting a new strategy. The New York Times, accessed 6/4/2008 at website http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/04/us/04evolution.html.
Hoppe, C. (2006). Perry believes non-Christians doomed: Governor shares views following sermon; rivals pounce. The Dallas Morning News, 11/06/2006, accessed 6/4/2008 at website http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/110606dnTSWperry.351c57c.html.
Smith, E. (2008) Interview with Don McLeroy on klru: Texas Monthly Talks, accessed 6/4/2008 at website http://www.klru.org/texasmonthlytalks/archives/mcleroy/movies/mcleroy_hi.html
Stutz, T. (2007). Conservative to lead state education board: Perry picks chairman as panel prepares to revisit several course standards. The Dallas Morning News, 7/18/2007, accessed 6/4/2006 at website http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/DN-sboe_18tex.ART.State.Edition1.3bba4d6.html
Texas Education Agency (TEA) website, accessed 6/4/2008 at website http://www.tea.state.tx.us/.
Texas Governor Rick Perry (interview published on Christiannews.Christianet.com, no date supplied). Accessed 6/4/2008 at website http://christiannews.christianet.com/1098362715.htm