Friday, July 22, 2011

SBOE To Revisit Evolution Debate Under Gov. Perry's New Appointment

Updated 7/22/2011 @ 5:15pm
Today the State Board of Education voted to adopt the Texas education commissioner’s recommended list of science instructional materials.

Special interest groups and activists on the state board failed in their efforts to force publishers to change their instructional materials to include arguments against evolutionary science.

In addition, the board voted unanimously to reject the adoption of instructional materials from a New Mexico-based vendor that promoted “intelligent design”/creationism. Religious conservatives on the SBOE complained the materials adopted did not adequately address "alternatives to evolution" such as creationism or intelligent design as a theory of how life began.

The vote to adopt the education commissioner’s recommended list of science instructional materials followed several hours of emotional testimony in which science teachers from around the state pleaded with the board not to require them to teach what they saw as non-scientific theories in their classrooms.

The following statement is from the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) President Kathy Miller:

“Today we saw Texas kids and sound science finally win a vote on the State Board of Education. Now our public schools can focus on teaching their students fact-based science that will prepare them for college and a 21st-century economy. And our schoolchildren won’t be held hostage to bad decisions made by a politicized board that adopted flawed science curriculum standards two years ago. Moreover, today we saw that the far right’s stranglehold over the state board is finally loosening after last year’s elections. That’s very good news for public education in Texas.”

The Texas Freedom Network is a nonpartisan education and religious liberties watchdog. The grassroots organization of religious and community leaders support public education, religious freedom and individual liberties.


Originally posted 7/17/2011 @ 11:45pm
Gov. Perry's newly appointed chair of the State Board of Education, Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) is already under fire by critics who say she is signaling she intends to push the same religious conservative anti-evolution young earth ideology as her predecessor, chairman Don McLeroy. Cargill, a biology teacher considered to be one of the more conservative board members, disputes the theory of evolution and voted in 2009 to require that the theory of evolution's weaknesses be taught in classrooms. Criticism of Cargill started after she told the Eagle Forum recently that religious conservative members had lost one of their seven positions.

"Right now there are six true conservative Christians on the board, so we have to fight for two votes. In previous years, we had to fight for one vote to get a majority," Cargill said in the a July 7th speech posted by the Eagle Forum online.

"She questioned the faith of her colleagues and she point blank said that she will demand that publishers make changes in the science materials to meet her own personal objectives — not science objectives," Texas Freedom Network (TFN) spokesman Dan Quinn responds. Kathy Miller, president of the TFN, a group that advocates religious freedom and sides with mainstream science teachers on evolution, said, "The right-wing faction of the State Board of Education will make every effort to put their personal and political beliefs in science instruction. The strategy is to use junk science to undermine evolution."

An intense fight over teaching young (6000 year old) earth intelligent design creationism verses evolution in science class rooms put a national spotlight on the 15-member elected board headed by Don McLeroy in 2009 when it adopted teaching standards that encourage public school teachers to scrutinize "all sides" of scientific theory. The permission for teachers to "scrutinize evolution" is widely seen as permission for teachers to argue that the origin of life is too complex to be explained by natural evolution thereby leaving "intelligent design" creation as the only reasonable scientific explanation for life on earth. The TFN circulated Cargill's Eagle Forum speech in which she described the 2009 debate over new science curriculum standards as a "spiritual battle."

Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, who defeated former board chairman Don McLeroy in the GOP primary last year, said Cargill's statement was unfortunate coming almost immediately after Perry elevated her to the leadership spot.
"It's going to continue the divisiveness rather than bring us together for the benefit of the schools and the kids. She's continuing to draw a line that is very judgmental ... It's an unfortunate start to her tenure ... To continue to draw battle lines, I don't think it's moving in the right direction to restore the public's confidence in the board ... To be honest I could care less if she thinks I'm a conservative or a Christian, I don't do either one for her," said Ratliff, a Sunday school teacher and leader in his United Methodist church.

Ratliff, who is considered one of the moderate Republicans on the board, suggests anti-evolution groups will find it difficult to rally votes to their side. "The young-earth, creationist crowd lost a vote in the last election, now they are looking for two votes," he said.

Ratliff will be the speaker at the July meeting of the Texas Democratic Women of Collin County (TDWCC) on Monday, July 25, 6:45 p.m.

Critics charge Cargill, who was elected to the SBOE in 2004, has signaled that she intends to work with other religious conservatives on the SBOE to purchase "intelligent design" supplemental science materials for public school biology classes. The board is now considering supplemental online instructional materials that fit under the teaching standard passed by the SBOE in 2009 that allows teachers to argue the theory of evolution's weaknesses and offer intelligent design creationism as the alternative.

Texas legislators didn't have enough money to buy new science textbooks for public schools, but the state board is authorized to buy about $60 million worth of online supplemental science materials. Critics charge Cargill plans to lead other religious conservative board members to favor supplemental science materials that teach intelligent design rather than evolution concepts.

The SBOE under chairman Don McLeroy's leadership overhauled the state’s textbook and teaching standards to water down the teaching of religious freedoms, the civil rights movement, America's relationship with the United Nations and hundreds of other items. The far-right members of the Texas Board of Education “pushed to change textbooks to "glorify the Confederate Rebellion against the United States,” rename the Atlantic slave trade prior to the Civil War as the “Atlantic Triangle Trade,” prioritize “a suggestion that the anti-communist witch-hunt by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s may have been justified,” and raise doubt about climate change.

In one of the most significant changes, the board diluted the rationale for the separation of church and state in a high school government class. The ideological debate over the guidelines drew intense scrutiny beyond Texas.

Cargill isn't the first board leader to be involved in controversy. After the evolution debate in 2009, the Texas Senate rejected former chairman Don McLeroy's appointment by Gov. Perry amid complaints that the conservative advocated teaching creationism in public schools. The move was a rare rebuke of Perry's appointment powers.

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