Saturday, September 28, 2013

Controversy Swirls as Texas Panel Selects Biology Textbooks

It's a new day, a new week.  But let's begin it with an age-old story -- a story about law, education and religion.

The New York Times is reporting that as Texas gears up to select biology textbooks for use by high school students over the next decade, the panel responsible for reviewing submissions from publishers has stirred controversy because a number of its members do not accept evolution and climate change as scientific truth.

According to the Times,

One is a nutiritonist who believes "creation science" based on biblical principles should be taught in the classroom.  Another is a chemical engineer who is listed as a "Darwin Skeptic" on the Web site of the Creation Science Hall of Fame.  a third is a trained biologist who also happens to be a fellow of the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based center of the intelligent-design movement and a vice president at an evangelical ministry in Plano, Texas.

The Times continues:

In the state whose governor, Rick Perry, boasted as a candidate for president that his schools taught both creationism and evolution, the State Board of Education, which includes members who hold creationist views, helped nominate several members of the textbook review panel.  Others were named by parents and educators.  Prospective candidates could also nominate themselves.  The state's education commissioner, Michael L. Williams, a Perry appointee and a conservative Republican, made the final appointments to the 28-member panel.  Six of them are known to reject evolution.

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors the activities of far-right organizations, lamented that "Utterly unqualified partisan politicians will look at what utterly unqualified citizens have said about a textbook and decide whether it meets the requirements of a textbook."

Miller's statement reflects the view of some Texans who worry that ideologically driven review panel members and state school board members are slowly eroding science education in the state.  Some parents even worry that if the State Board of Education has its way, their children will not be able to compete for jobs that require scientific backgrounds.

Others -- especially teachers -- see nothing wrong in teaching creationism or its cousin, intelligent design, as valid scientific alternatives to Darwinian evolutionary theory.  The Times concludes its story as follows:

In Texas, the debate has each side borrowing from the other to make its point. Those who challenge evolution invoke the scientists Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, while those who plead for the sanctity of science cite Genesis and the Book of Job.       

At the public hearing this month, Michael Singer, a biology professor at the University of Texas who teaches courses to nonscience majors, said his students were often nervous about learning evolution. “I tell them that the Book of Job says that their faith will be tested,” he said. “You don’t need faith to believe what the evidence suggests. You need faith to believe what the evidence doesn’t suggest.”       

Then he pulled out a £10 note from his native Britain to show the audience: on one side was a picture of Queen Elizabeth II, on the other, Charles Darwin.

Time will tell how this all ends.  Have a great week ahead.


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