AUSTIN, Texas (BP)–The Texas State Board of Education has unanimously approved a list of supplemental science materials that appears to please proponents and critics of evolution alike.
The supplemental materials, offered by more than a dozen publishers, aim to bring science classes in Texas public schools up to date with standards the board passed in 2009. The science standards have drawn national attention in requiring students to be able to “analyze, evaluate and critique” all scientific theories.
The board’s July 22 vote to approve the recommended texts, vetted by educator review panels and Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott, followed a four-hour public hearing on Thursday that mostly pitted church-state watchdogs and evolutionary science advocates against those supportive of the board’s requirements that all theories be scrutinized.
The supplemental materials cover general science for the fifth grade through middle school, and secondary chemistry, physics and biology, with biology attracting the most attention during the hearing July 21.
On Friday, the 15-member elected board voted 14-0 (with one absent) to approve the list of electronic supplements, with two biology textbook publishers agreeing to edit their material in select places to meet the board’s approval.
Opposing factions in the debate over how evolution is presented in public schools seemed to claim victory after the vote.
“It’s great that there was a unanimous vote by the board to protect children and to not allow errors to go into classroom textbooks,” said Jonathan Saenz, legislative director for the conservative Liberty Institute, based in Plano, Texas. “This was a total loss for the liberal left that wanted to protect these errors and allow them to stay in, while trying to bring in this bogeyman of Intelligent Design that never existed.”
Steven Schafersman, director of Texas Citizens for Science and a vocal critic of intelligent design, said, “As a member of the scientific community I am very pleased with the results of the vote today. With the exception of the Holt McDougal materials [in biology; see upcoming paragraph], all of the science materials were adopted with only the legitimate factual errors changed.
“All in all, this was a victory for science and a victory for my side.”
Two publishers of biology texts agreed to make changes beyond the list of routine corrections requested by review panels.
Adaptive Curriculum agreed to replace stylized versions of human and animal embryo drawings by 19th-century biologist Ernst Haeckel, whose early work is deemed outdated, with actual photos of embryo development.
Holt McDougal agreed, after some resistance, to offer changes in the language it employed in eight instances dealing with evolution concepts. The board agreed to adopt the text after passing a motion asking Scott, the education commissioner, to coordinate the changes with the publisher.
Much of the public hearing focused on perceptions that Intelligent Design concepts or biblical creationism would be forced into science materials. Among the 60 or so people who testified, a wide majority argued against any weakening of evolution instruction. More than one person equated critical analysis of evolution with opening the door for religious dogma, which was one too many for board member Ken Mercer, R.-San Antonio.
An exasperated Mercer challenged anyone to find a mention of creationism, Intelligent Design, God or Jesus in the proposed science texts.
“It’s just not there, period!” Mercer exclaimed.
Mercer’s statement didn’t sway Rebecca Robertson of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, who warned the board that sneaking Intelligent Design concepts into science classes likely would lead to lawsuits against financially strapped school districts.
“We believe in leaving religious instruction to the parents and faith community of Texas. That’s what our Constitution demands…. The Supreme Court has made very clear that when government organizations like this one teach religious concepts like Intelligent Design or intelligent causation,” they have crossed a line, she said.
Daniel Romo, professor of chemistry at Texas A&M University, said not all data proposed within the evolution model are settled science. For example, Romo said the study of abiogenesis — how life initially arose — is one area “where multiple sides of the evidence must be shown” and where “there is so much mystery and unknown in this area.”
“The primary premise of my testimony is driven by my desire to ensure that outdated scientific experiments that are now widely accepted to have been performed under incorrect conditions be removed [from textbooks],” Romo said.
R.E. Smith, a member of First Baptist Church in Dallas, testified on behalf of his friend Ide Trotter that use of data such as the 1950s Miller-Urey experiment that claimed to have produced abiogenesis with amino acids is considered invalid today. He encouraged the board to hold publishers to accuracy.
“No scientist has any idea how the first molecule containing coded information came about,” Smith said.
Following Friday’s vote, Mercer praised new board chair Barbara Cargill, R.-The Woodlands, and told fellow board members, “We have put great books out there and I am proud of that process.”
Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.