Evolution, Textbook Review Focus of SBOE Hearing

Rally outside the TEA building where the Texas State Board of Education will be hearing public testimony on proposed new science textbooks on September 17th, 2013
Rally outside the TEA building where the Texas State Board of Education will be hearing public testimony on proposed new science textbooks on September 17th, 2013

A past Texas State Board of Education chairman and outspoken creationist urged his former colleagues on Tuesday to approve high school biology textbooks he said would "strike a final blow to the teaching of evolution."

Appearing at a board hearing on new instructional materials, Don McLeroy, a Bryan dentist who lost his seat on the SBOE in the 2010 Republican primary, told board members that the science textbooks currently under consideration contained many "hidden gems just waiting to be mined by inquisitive students" that proved there was no evidence for evolution.

McLeroy's testimony diverged from other witnesses skeptical of evolution, who criticized the proposed textbooks for inadequate coverage of alternatives to the scientific theory and asked the board not to approve them until publishers made changes.

His statements prompted a confused question from board member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas. 

"Are you saying 'adopt these books' facetiously?" she asked.

 

McLeroy said he wasn't. He said that despite assertions of "robust evidence" for evolution, the textbooks actually offered few facts supporting it. He cited lessons on the complexity of cell structures and gaps in fossil records.

"Evolutionists argue that creationists want to force their religious views into the text, but just the teaching of biology accomplishes that," he said. "Support the Bible, adopt these books."

The 15-member SBOE won't vote on the 14 science textbooks currently under consideration until November. Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said the board would also discuss revising the state's textbook approval process, which science education advocates have criticized for allegedly lacking transparency and including unqualified reviewers. 

Cargill herself has drawn accusations of improper involvement in the review process from the Texas Freedom Network, a group that monitors religious influence in public schools, after reports that she encouraged creationists on the panels. Cargill said she only attended the meetings to thank volunteers for their work reviewing the texts.

State panels have been reviewing sample instructional materials since April. The panels, which are assembled by SBOE members, have included several prominent creationists and evolution skeptics, as well as others without a background in education or science. Their preliminary proposed changes obtained by the Texas Freedom Network pushed for the inclusion of more arguments critical of evolution.

Concern about creationists' outsize participation in the review process also prompted a University of Texas graduate student who served on the panels, Jimmy Gollihar, to write a letter to the state board last week.

"It is impossible to conclude that the teams reviewing textbooks were anything other than grossly skewed and obviously biased," he said. “The net result of having a huge raft of non-scientists on the panels was that rather than checking for factual errors in the texts, I was put into the position of having to painstakingly educate other panel members on past and current literature."

Prior to Tuesday's hearing, three SBOE members — Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville; Marisa Perez, D-San Antonio; and Martha Dominguez, D-El Paso — expressed their disappointment with the process at a rally organized by the Texas Freedom Network. They said that publishers were being pressured into including non-science-based arguments against evolution and called for only "content-relevant educators" to be included on review panels.

Cargill said during the hearing that she had asked publishers to voluntarily disclose for public review any changes they made to textbooks prior to their adoption. She also emphasized that any reports made by review teams were preliminary — and that in November, the board would take up suggestions about how to improve the process. 

"I'm very appreciative of the reviewers themselves," she said. "But we've got some work to do."

 

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