Evolution edits unlikely in Texas science booksNovember 21, 2013
WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Some social conservatives have urged the Texas Board of Education to approve new science books that de-emphasize lessons on evolution and climate change, but the edits they seek appeared on Wednesday to lack enough support to succeed.
The board's 10 Republicans and five Democrats will vote later this week on new textbooks and e-books in math, science and technology that could be used starting next fall by most of the state's five-plus million public school students.
Textbook and classroom curriculum battles have long raged in Texas pitting creationists — those who see God's hand in the creation of the universe — against academics who worry about religious and political ideology trumping scientific fact. At issue this time are proposed high school biology books that would be in schools at least through 2022.
State law approved two years ago means school districts can now choose their own books and don't have to adhere to a list recommended by the Board of Education — but most have continued to use approved books.
The debate is important nationally since Texas is so large that many books prepared for publication in the state also are marketed elsewhere around the country.
Publishers have submitted proposed books, but this summer, committees of Texas volunteer reviewers — some nominated by socially conservative current and former Board of Education members — raised objections. One argued that creationism based on biblical texts should be taught in science classes, while others objected that climate change wasn't as settled a scientific matter as some of the proposed books state.
Many major publishers have since proved unwilling to make suggested major changes, however, and some board members suggested Wednesday that there was enough support to approve the proposed books without significant editing.
"I would be surprised if there weren't the votes," said Thomas Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant Republican who is the board's vice chairman.
The board will vote on the proposed books on Thursday, with final approval coming the following day.
Ratliff, a moderate conservative, said some technical or wording changes were likely to be made to the proposed books. But when it comes to major editing of scientific content he said, "I haven't heard a board member yet say, 'Yeah, that needs to be in there.'"
Such a vote would be a break from years past, when a bloc of social conservatives on the board insisted that Texas students be taught "all sides" of evolution, and pressured textbook publishers to insert a healthy dose of skepticism over global warming.
Indeed, as recently as a September public hearing, more than 60 activists and experts on both sides of the issue signed up to testify before the board. But on Wednesday, after more than eight hours of waiting, only nine Texans addressed board members in person — and all but one opposed any major edits.
Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science and a reviewer of the state's textbooks for more than 30 years, called the proposed materials "as good as we have ever had."
Ron Wetherington, an anthropology professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas who is no stranger to long-running textbook debates, urged the board: "Don't reject the texts on the basis of ideology."
Among the highest-profile evolution skeptics is Don McLeroy, a dentist from Bryan who is a former Board of Education chairman who lost his re-election bid to Ratliff in 2010. Even McLeroy has called for adopting the books without major modifications, though, because he says they will "strike the final blow to the teaching of evolution."
He waited for hours, but finally submitted written testimony Wednesday evening.
"Even though these books are full of unsubstantiated dogma proclaiming evolution, the evidence they present clearly demonstrates evolution's inability to explain the development of life from a common ancestor," McLeroy wrote. "I believe the Bible — that all life was created by God."
He attached a picture of a once splendid house decaying with time next to a grinning baby panda bear, saying that showed the difference between the "unguided natural process" and what an "intelligent designer can do."
"Our children know the difference!" McLeroy wrote. "You know the difference!"