Last week, science education advocate Zack Kopplin, known for opposing the teaching of creationism as part of the scientific curriculum in public schools in Illinois when he was a high school student, published an exposé at Slate about the Lone Star state’s latest foray into science education standards. It seems that step one in the Texas Education Agency’s process in reviewing and streamlining its science curricula standards later this summer involves assembling citizen review panels composed of individuals nominated by state board of education members. These panels will offer recommendations on how to update the standards, but some of the applicants don’t seem qualified to evaluate scientific curricula.
Through a public information request, Kopplin acquired the names of 545 applicants for the citizen review panels, which he kindly shared with TheHumanist.com. In his analysis, Koplin notes that several applicants have troubling anti-evolution and/or pro-creation and pro-intelligent design backgrounds:
Charles Garner, a creationist chemistry professor at Baylor University—who has complained that Baylor is “in serious danger of becoming too secular”—has also applied to help streamline the standards. In 2009, Garner was appointed by former board chairwoman Gail Lowe, to help write the current ones. When testifying before the state board in 2009, he complained that students weren’t allowed to question evolution, and compared scientific acceptance of evolution to a religion, saying “the problem is, the conclusive evidence is really hard to get on evolution.” Garner has also signed onto a letter, created by the Discovery Institute, a creationist think tank, of scientists who “dissent from Darwin.”
A quick browse of the applicants shows that while many of them are educators (and not part of disingenuous groups like the Discovery Institute), some aren’t, leaving the “experience” field blank, while others list themselves as having experience from “Business and Industry.” Applicant Stacey Dolan, for example, seems to run a pseudoscientific “holistic” business called Healing Works which touts “Quantum Neuro Reset Therapy” and essential oils.
Kopplin warns that because of the sheer number of science educators who’ve applied, any creationist nominated to the review panel will make apparent the board’s bias against proper instruction on the theory of evolution.
Indeed, the agency has a history of not wishing to teach science in science class, or history in social studies, with a board composed of members of the religious right and the rare moderate, with no one who could be described as liberal. An event in 2007 suggests how pro-Christian the Texas Education Agency is: the director of science curriculum Christine Comer was forced to resign after forwarding an email about a talk by an author of a book criticizing intelligent design.
According to the state education standards, titled “Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS),” evolution is not introduced in elementary or middle school. When taught in high school biology classes, students are expected to “analyze and evaluate” [emphasis added] various aspects of evolutionary theory, while they are expected to “recognize” or “describe” or “identify” or “analyze” other scientific concepts like chemical reactions, kinetic molecular theory, or force and motion. They are also expected to “analyze and evaluate a variety of fossil types…with regard to their appearance, completeness, and alignment with scientific explanations in light of this fossil data,” a stipulation that allows charter schools to teach with textbook materials that question whether there is enough fossil evidence to demonstrate evolution, a tactic the National Center for Science Education calls “stealth creationism.”
The standards also clearly stipulate that “students should know that some questions are outside the realm of science because they deal with phenomena that are not scientifically testable,” which, while debatable by philosophers, is a step away from the common theistic argument that God is outside the realm of science.
Even more worrisome is the candidate who’s expected to win on May 24 to replace moderate Thomas Ratliff on the Texas State Board of Education: the nonsensical, homophobic, conspiracy-peddling Mary Lou Bruner, who has written that Barack Obama is a male prostitute and illegitimate son and believes that “school shootings started after the schools started teaching evolution,” that climate change is a hoax created by Karl Marx, that Islam is not a real religion, and that sex-ed textbooks aren’t allowed in jails because they “sexually stimulate the prisoners,” among other outrageous beliefs.
A 2014 Gallup poll found that 42 percent of Americans believe “God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago,” and a good number of these Americans seem to be in positions of power in the Texas Education Agency. While it has a chance this summer to bring its science curriculum towards reality, the evidence so far suggests this is statistically improbable.