Texas Creationism: A Hint of Sanity

THIS is about one of the all-too-rare politicians in Texas who understands the nightmare known as the State Board of Education. We’ve written about Texas state Senator Rodney Ellis before. See Texas Creationism: One Clear Voice Emerges.

Senator Ellis has written an article which appears in the Houston Chronicle: Now’s the time to educate State Board of Education. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

Parents have become increasingly concerned about state board members who seem more interested in promoting personal and political agendas in public schools than ensuring that our schoolchildren get a sound education. The last three months have once again highlighted why they are worried.

For nearly a year, teachers and scholars worked hard to craft new curriculum standards for social studies classrooms. Then in just two meetings in January and March, the state board shredded their work, making hundreds of ill-considered changes.

Ill-considered changes? How can that be? They’re the work of a faction led by a creationist dentist. We hope, for his patients’ sake, that Don McLeroy knows more about dentistry than he does about science and history. Let’s read on:

Among scores of changes, the board deleted Thomas Jefferson from a world history standard on Enlightenment thinkers who have influenced political revolutions around the world. Board members said Jefferson, who was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and argued that “a wall of separation between church and state” is essential for freedom, didn’t belong in the standard.

The board also rejected a proposed requirement that students learn why our nation’s Founders barred government from promoting one religion over all others. Opponents claimed that the Constitution doesn’t really protect religious freedom by keeping religion and government separate.

Government can’t promote religion? That’s an outrage — at least in Texas. We continue:

The board made all these changes without asking for the guidance of even one teacher or scholar at the meetings. Their contempt for real expertise could hardly have been clearer.

Who needs experts? McLeroy and his merry band know that the Founders really created the US as a theocracy. It’s not important how they know — they just know. Here’s more:

This kind of nonsense is not new. For years now, extremists on the board have turned issue after issue before them into a divisive, unnecessary “culture war” battle. Those battles reached a high pitch last year. Despite the pleading of world-class scientists in Texas — including Nobel laureates — and businesspeople worried about the education of their future employees, the board inserted creationist arguments against evolution in new science standards.

As the battle over evolution raged, legislators meeting in Austin considered more than a dozen bipartisan bills aimed at reining in the board’s power. Many of those bills would have given authority to set curriculum standards and adopt textbooks to teachers and academic experts with the training and knowledge to make informed decisions.

We wrote about some of those. See Texas Creationism Bills: 2009’s Last Roundup. This is how the essay ends:

None of those bills passed the Legislature last session, but they should have served as a clear warning to the board about the limits of our patience with their irresponsible actions. We will certainly consider similar legislation this spring because Thomas Jefferson was right about the importance of public education. “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization,” he wrote, “it expects what never was and never will be.”

Board members appear to have forgotten those words. It’s time they were reminded.

Rodney Ellis is a good man. Maybe something will emerge from the Texas legislature to clean up the education mess. It’s certainly needed.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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8 responses to “Texas Creationism: A Hint of Sanity

  1. ohioobserver

    This guy knows his stuff. Maybe he can prod the legislature into rethinking just who is qualified to serve on that board. Not necessarily make it a non-elective office; but circumscribe the qualifications for who can legally serve. Limit it to professional educators, academics, technical experts in curriculum areas, or some such restriction. After all, in most places, a county coroner can be elected but still has to meet technical qualifications, like having an M.D.

  2. “Government can’t promote religion? That’s an outrage — at least in Texas.”

    Actually, the Texas Constitution forbids it.

    http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/SOTWDocs/CN/htm/CN.1.htm

  3. Gabriel Hanna

    Limit it to professional educators, academics, technical experts in curriculum areas, or some such restriction.

    I think this a bad move. Citizens have the right to participate in these decisions, and it’s better for democracy that they do. And there’s no reason to believe that people with Ph.Ds in education are going to make better decisions about curricula than people who have common sense.

    My university ran afoul of the law when they started requiring a “commitment to social justice” from prospective candidates before conferring degrees. I wouldn’t trust an academic specializing in education with teaching my dog.

  4. Outstanding! I think this is the clearest piece on the TSBOE situation written by a politician that I’ve ever read. I’ve seen people fall into two major traps when discussing the issue: first, that Jefferson was totally removed from the curriculum, and second, that creationism was inserted into the science standards. It’s more subtle, and Sen. Ellis summarizes it perfectly: removal of Jefferson “from a world history standard on Enlightenment thinkers who have influenced political revolutions around the world” and insertion of creationist arguments, which were phrased in way to let them fly under the constitutional radar. I hope to hear many more great things from Sen. Ellis.

  5. “And there’s no reason to believe that people with Ph.Ds in education are going to make better decisions about curricula than people who have common sense.”

    well two things I have to say to this is :-
    1). common sense is not so common.
    2). I am about to have a scan on my heart to see if an operation is needed to correct a fault, should I just hand the scan over to someone with common sense, rather than a doctor?

    It maybe better for democracy, but only at the expense of treating children’s education as a football. You have a team that spends a year making up a curriculum ( and I not heard many complaints about the base one they did come up with), only to see their hard work trashed by political activists more interested in getting their agenda across. Both left (California) and the social right (Midwest).

    Why not just let that team get on with it, and have oversight direct from the State senate. *grins* Even has the added advantage of slimming down the size of government by all the schools boards going.

  6. James F says: “I hope to hear many more great things from Sen. Ellis.”

    You probably won’t. He’s a democrat, and that’s the minority party in the Texas legislature. Ellis will sponsor a decent bill or two, which will be fun to blog about, but real results are unlikely.

  7. Gabriel Hanna

    I am about to have a scan on my heart to see if an operation is needed to correct a fault, should I just hand the scan over to someone with common sense, rather than a doctor?

    Suppose that doctor is a doctor of chiropractic or homeopathy?

    I’m not saying that no one with any relevant qualifications ever be involved in the decision, and I won’t since you’ve thoroughly flogged that straw man. I am saying that people who only have ed degrees bear the same relation to education that homeopathy bears to medicine.

    Why not just let that team get on with it, and have oversight direct from the State senate.

    No one ever found any creationists in the State senate?

    Even has the added advantage of slimming down the size of government by all the schools boards going.

    Will you get more results by going to a school board meeting, or lobbying your state legislature to change the law? What’s your percentage of the vote in a school district, versus that percentage in the state legislature?

  8. “I am saying that people who only have ed degrees bear the same relation to education that homeopathy bears to medicine.”

    I am a certified teacher in Texas, so I know something about how education works in this state. First of all, the only people who have “only ed degrees” are elementary education teachers. Any secondary teacher (jr and sr high school) must have a degree in the area in which they are teaching PLUS take classes on pedagogy. My degrees include English, psychology, and molecular biology PLUS special education. As such, I am much more qualified than the average person to decide what should be included in the curriculum that I teach, and I’m sure as heck more qualified than a dentist from Bryan who never set foot in a classroom. Facts are not decided by majority opinion, and I don’t give a damn how many parents want “creationist arguments” taught in science classes, I will not do it. If I’m forced to “teach the controversy” I guarantee that IDers will not like what I have to say about it. If they want to argue with me, I’ll simply ask– what university did you get your science degree from? Oh, yeah. That’s right. You didn’t.