Texas Textbook Battle Rages on Again over Biology
The Texas Board of Education is at textbook battle once again; at the center of debate this time is a new Biology book by Pearson Education that some board members say contains at least twenty factual errors, most of which relate to evolution and climate change. Concerns that natural selection is deemed a selective process and not a creative one; that climate change is demonstrated to be an established fact; and the rate the earth cooled are among the concerns lodged by the more conservative members of the board. The Board voted to delay approving the book during its late night session on Thursday.
Pearson Education doesn’t agree, and isn’t willing to make the changes. In fact, it has decided to challenge the 20 recommendations made by the citizen review panels.
This latest skirmish over the textbook is nothing new in the Lone Star State. The war has raged on over the last several years between those in the academic community, who want the textbooks based on what is accepted as scientific and historical fact; and the ultra-conservative creationists, who believe God should be front and center in the texts. In October of this year, the board drew criticism for changing the description of slaves to “unpaid interns”:
“While African workers were not compensated monetarily,” states the new curriculum, “by working outside picking cotton, they gained valuable career experience and were provided with ample networking opportunities.”
Before that, the criticism flew at the board for downplaying Thomas Jefferson’s role as a Founding Father and enlightened thinker, deriding his pronouncement regarding the separation of church and state. They decided to place more emphasis on conservatives such as Phyllis Schlafly and Newt Gingrich, as well as conservative think tanks like the Moral Majority and the Heritage Foundation, and added historically conservative religious leaders such as John Calvin and Thomas Aquinas to the list of required study. The board had also voted to downplay the importance of slavery to the Civil War, instead making the issue about state’s rights.
While the Texas Textbook Battle may appear amusing to those outside the state, decisions regarding appropriate teaching material can actually have far reaching effects across the nation. Texas is the second largest buyer of textbooks; therefore, what the Texas Board of Education votes on in regard to textbook content can very well end up taught to children in Idaho. In fact, California legislators thought the situation critical enough that in 2010, they approved a bill which would allow California educators to audit any teaching material for the Texas standards.
Part of the problem, say some experts, is that the textbooks are reviewed by volunteer citizen panels, not by educators. These panels are often comprised of people with distinct religious and/or political agendas, which is the case with the Pearson Education Biology Textbook. Among the complaints registered by one of the review panels is that Intelligent Design based on the Biblical creation story is not being taught as part of the curriculum. The situation has become so divisive that even the state of Texas approved a bill in 2011, SB 6, which allows Texas schools to explore educational options outside the State Board of Education approved teaching material.
As for the biology book now in question, the approval was held up so three independent reviewers could be appointed. The board looks to vote on the textbook submissions for all curricula on Friday, with final approval slated for January.
Even members of the Board of Education are getting frustrated over the constant Texas Textbook Battle. Board Vice-Chairman Thomas Ratliff, a moderate Republican, said of the delay, “To ask me — a business degee major from Texas Tech University — to distinguish whether the Earth cooled 4 billion years ago or 4.2 billion years ago for purposes of approving a textbook at 10:15 on a Thursday night is laughable.” He also said, “I believe this process is being hijacked, this book is being held hostage to make political changes,” continuing on to state that he thought the same textbook was already widely in use.
Those on the other side of the aisle, however, said they “weren’t laughing”.
By Heather Pilkinton