Lauri Lebo on the Texas Textbook Massacre

ANY time we learn of an article by Lauri Lebo, it’s always worth clicking over to wherever it is and reading it. Why? Because Lauri brings a unique perspective to The Controversy between evolution and creationism.

During the forty-day trial that led to the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, Lauri was the resident reporter for the York Daily Record, the local paper for the site of the trial. Lauri’s byline was the brand name for superbly written, in-depth news stories from the courthouse.

Our earlier posts about Lauri’s work are these: Lauri Lebo on Charles Darwin & Ray Comfort, and before that Lauri Lebo on Texas Creationism, and Lauri Lebo: “Academic Freedom” is Creationism 3.0, and also “The Devil in Dover” by Lauri Lebo. And don’t overlook Concert for Darwin in Dover.

Now Lauri has done it again. At the website Religion Dispatches we read Texas Textbook Massacre: Deceitful Propaganda Campaign Or Tempest in a Teapot? Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

Ken Miller has been through the Texas Board of Education’s textbook review process before. Three times in fact.

So, the Brown University biology professor, who co-wrote the popular high-school textbook Biology with Joe Levine, said he’s not terribly worried about going through it again. Actually, the new science standards written last year present him with an invitation to delve into the issue of evolution and the fossil record more thoroughly.

Miller was also a great witness for the winning side in the Kitzmiller litigation. Let’s read on:

But ask him whether he knows how he’d cope with writing a history textbook under the new social studies guidelines, he responds quickly: “God no!” he said, horrified. “Beats the heck out of me. I really don’t know.”

We’ve written about that aspect of the Texas madness several times, for example: American History Revised in Texas. We continue:

In addition to rewriting the social studies’ standards, the board last year also made significant changes to the science curriculum, inserting language that raises questions about the validity of evolution and man-made climate change. Fundamentalist Christians on the board fought for and approved creationist and intelligent-design friendly language asking students to analyze the “complexity of the cell” as well as “analyze and evaluate the sufficiency of scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis and the sequential nature of groups in the fossil records.”

Board member Don McLeroy fought to have the language inserted because he lacks a scientific understanding of how evolution accounts for things like cell complexity and the fossil record. So rather than tiptoe around the questions raised about evolution, Miller views it as an opportunity to embrace the wording and address the issue head on. “That’s really an invitation,” he said. But whether the strategy will work depends on who will be sitting on the board at the time.

Here’s something we didn’t know about:

In 2003 and 2004, despite McLeroy’s attempt to reject Biology, it was approved 11-4 and Miller and his co-writer spent 43 days and 43 nights flying around Texas, visiting with local textbook selection committees. “I spent more time in Texas than George Bush did that year,” Miller said. “I could have registered to vote there.”

That was before the Kitzmiller case and we weren’t paying attention to The Controversy, but people like Miller have been fighting the good fight for years. Moving along:

While the code language in the science standards may be vague enough that perhaps writers like Miller can use them to their advantage, the social studies requirements are another story.

Many warn that as goes Texas, so goes the nation, since publishers writing textbooks to adhere to Texas’ standards would sell the same or similar versions to other states as well.

[…]

Jay Diskey, executive director of the school division of the Association of American Publishers, called the idea that the Texas standards would impact the education of students in other states “an urban myth.”

Diskey said publishers have been customizing separate state editions since 1994 when the federal government required each state to come up with its own separate academic standards. While digital publishing has made it easier to accommodate various editions, even before the mid-90s, states were asking for textbooks geared to the local history. “Texas might ask for more information on the Alamo; California might ask for more on the Gold Rush,” he said.

Quite natural, it seems. Another excerpt:

While Ken Miller acknowledges that publishers are capable of producing different state editions, if they had their druthers, it’s more cost effective to only having to make one version, just with minor tweaks to accommodate state standards. “Indeed it’s possible to produce a special edition for just Texas, but the reality is that almost all publishers would prefer the same core textbooks,” he said.

That seems quite natural too. On with Lauri’s article:

Pearson publishes Miller’s Biology. CEO Marjorie Scardino, Miller said, has assured the authors that she would rather be known as the publisher who sold no books in Texas, rather than the one who compromised scientific integrity and failed to stand on principle.

[…]

“It’s hard to imagine any publishers taking this seriously,” said Hillis [David Hillis, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas], who testified before the education board last year regarding the science standards. “Are they really going to remove Thomas Jefferson from a discussion of the Enlightenment?

[…]

[Hillis added:] “Publishers have reputations to maintain and this is so far off the mainstream of what is taught. They’re not going to add pseudoscience to the books. They’re not going to eliminate key historical figures.

We’re only half-way through Lauri’s article. We know you’re going to click over to it and read it, so we’ll give you only one more excerpt:

Next year, just in time for the textbook review, the far-right Christian conservatives may no longer hold a majority [on the Texas State Board of Education]. At that point, it will be up to the new board whether it should apply or ignore the standards.

There’s lot’s more in Lauri’s article, including her list of “10 of the most egregious changes to the social studies curriculum.” Read it all. It’ll be time well spent.

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

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6 responses to “Lauri Lebo on the Texas Textbook Massacre

  1. This quote pretty much says it all:
    “…he said that the smaller college textbook market isn’t subject to the same kinds of pressures as the high school publishing houses for which state and regional standards have long required specific editions. So, a company might customize 8,000 copies for Texas, but still sell educationally legitimate copies to the rest of the country.”

  2. I may have posted this link before, but Ken Miller gave a truly outstanding talk on the demise of ID at Case Western Reserve U:

    It is well worth the time to watch it! 🙂

  3. I’m glad to hear that Miller took the obvious advantage of the “strengths and weaknesses” to really put the strengths of evolution in books, but I agree with him about the social studies part. Oh well. At least it seems the publishers take their duties seriously and are trying to teach not engage in culture wars.

  4. I guess the radical authoritarians in Texas have other reasons for downplaying Jefferson’s role, but it’s interesting to note that he was a Deist, as was the late Antony Flew, the darling of the Discoveroids.

  5. We must keep emphasizing how crucial it is to elect reasonable educators in Districts 3, 5, and 10. Mike Soto is in a solidly Democratic district, but Judy Jennings (District 10) and I will need everyone’s help to rescue Texas education. This is our last chance for the next ten years, and we can repair the damage if we gain the majority in November 2010. Please visit voterebecca.com to learn about my campaign, and contribute, if you believe this is an important issue for our future.

  6. Rebecca Bell-Metereau is deserving of all the help we can give her. All Texans who care about the future of their state should do what they can. And so should everyone else.