Jul 15 2009

Texas Update

We have been following the saga is Texas for a few years now – Texas is one of the major battlegrounds between science and ideology in education. The Texas board of education has been roughly evenly split between those dedicated to science and those dedicated to promoting their religious views through public education, specifically by attacking the teaching of evolution and cosmology and trying to sneak in creationist arguments.

Recently we heard the good news that the Chairman of the Texas BOE, Don (“someone has to stand up to those experts”) McLeroy, was removed as Chairman.  This was nice, but I did not get too excited – governor Rick Perry, who appointed McLeroy in the first place, is still in office.

For a brief time he seemed to be considering Cynthia Dunbar, perhaps the most anti-evolution member of the Texas BOE, for the post. The Teach them Science website reports about Dunbar:

In her book, One Nation Under God (Onward, 2008), Dunbar (on p. 100) calls public education a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion.” She charges that the establishment of public schools is unconstitutional and even “tyrannical” because it threatens the authority of families, granted by God through Scripture, to direct the instruction of their children.

There was a collective sigh of relief when we heard that Dunbar would not be appointed. But keep in mind, she is still on the BOE – someone who thinks public education is a “tool of perversion.”  But again the relief was short lived -Rick Perry has picked instead Gail Lowe.

Lowe is also a creationist, and though not as rabid as Dunbar, favors the “strengths and weaknesses” approach to sneaking in creationist arguments and watering down the teaching of evolution.

Others have pointed out that she seems to be impressed by the “polystrate fossils” creationist argument. The blog Half Empty does a good job of exposing this bit of creationist idiocy.  Essentially, it is based on a view of geology and paleontology that is oversimplified to the point of being wrong. She assumes that uniformitarianism (not the religion), the notion that changes over geological time result from present day forces extrapolated over millions of years, is always true and explains all of geology. The modern view, based upon the evidence, is that there are uniform processes in nature that shape geology, but these are punctuated by regular catastrophies – meteor impact, volcanic eruptions, mud slides, etc. Therefore, animals and plants are sometimes buried before they fossilize, sometimes in feet of mud or ash.

The “polystrate” fossil argument of creationists is that uniformitarianism cannot explain how millions of years of sediments could form around a large fossil, a tree trunk for example,which spans many layers of sediment. This is true but irrelevant, since modern geology allows for catastrophic events also. Once again, in attempting to argue against evolution creationists only expose their own ignorance of evolution and related sciences, like geology.

This woman, Lowe, is now the Chairperson of the Texas BOE. I don’t expect every BOE member to be an expert in every field taught by the public school system, but I do expect them not to substitute their own opinions for the knowledge of actual experts. I wonder if Lowe shares McLeroy’s disdain for experts. Of course, dismissing expert opinion is convenient when your own opinions run contrary to logic and evidence.

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13 responses so far

13 Responses to “Texas Update”

  1. Watcheron 15 Jul 2009 at 11:01 am

    SOMEONE HAS TO STAND UP TO THESE NONEXPERTS!!!!!

    Oh wait … we are. :)

    I’m just glad the closer to the center person got the nod and not the rabid literalist. Although I can’t really say what power the chairperson of the Board has over the rest of the of the members.

  2. HHCon 15 Jul 2009 at 12:12 pm

    I believe Mr. Nunez on the board is the one with the best analysis of the political situation in education. The hidden agenda for the conservatives is the voucher system. They don’t like public education, but they want to use tax payer money to send their kids to private schools. But the board members are representing Texas tax payers that have multiple faiths and plenty of tax dollars. Looks like they want science to be a shallow reflection.

  3. HHCon 15 Jul 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Gail Lowe is against teaching sex education and about STDs at Texas high schools. She demands abstinence of everyone in 2009!
    Sex education began in grammar school for the Chicagoland baby boomers. What a contrast in values!

  4. Bronze Dogon 15 Jul 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Thank you for your sympathy, as always, non-Texans.

    I can’t wait for another shot at changing governors. I voted against Perry last time with great passion. Until then, keep blogging.

  5. Peepson 15 Jul 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Doesn’t creationism and intelligent design inherently promote a Christian God? How does this not violate the Establishment clause? I doubt they would be teaching the Hindu version.

  6. Mr. Blue Skyon 15 Jul 2009 at 10:10 pm

    Even though I am not old enough to vote by a long shot, or even old enough to, some would argue, have educated opinions at all, I find that the sheer number of creationist/pseudoscientific elected/appointed officials to be, if you will excuse the hyperbole, mind-boggling. As a Texan myself, I cannot wait for the day that Texas, and the United States as a whole, finally give into the overwhelming scientific evidence. Who knows- I may actually be old enough to vote by then.

  7. pjon 16 Jul 2009 at 4:26 am

    Sir,
    Somebody can read my mind remotely with the precision of my own mind. Are you living in England? I am iving near Panshanger Aerodrome in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, in the UK. You might become interested of my experience and give it a bit of credit. Write it in a corner for future if you are skeptical not dogmatist. But if you have some time and a bit of resources it may worth to investigate. There could be something new, something really new. I write things in many places on the internet. such as
    http://carlodj.wordpress.com/about/
    I have written some half a million words so far just to try to visuallise it for a future reader. My email: carlo.dj@messiahpsychoanalyst.org

  8. sonicon 16 Jul 2009 at 6:13 am

    A bit about uniformitarinanism (a fascinating subject)–

    Charles Lyell popularized uniformitarianism with the publication of his work Principles of Geology, a three-volume work. (1830-1833)
    This was the accepted theory by geological experts for at least 150 years.

    In Science magazine in 1993 Warren Allmon wrote, “As is now increasingly acknowledged, however, Lydell also sold geology some snake oil…This extreme gradualism has led to numerous unfortunate consequences, including the rejection of sudden or catastrophic events in the face of positive evidence for them, for no reason other than that they were not gradual” (Science Oct.1, 1993)

    So as late as 1993 the notion that catastrophe was needed to explain the geologic history of earth was only being ‘increasingly acknowledged’ despite the evidence to the contrary. (I guess nobody could stand up to the experts back then)
    The Mount Saint Helens eruption in 1980 was instrumental in bringing about this change of thinking.

    It is interesting how geology is now more in agreement with the stories of the bible (the idea that catastrope shaped earth history) than it was when I first began to study geology.

  9. Bronze Dogon 16 Jul 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Peeps understandably asked:

    Doesn’t creationism and intelligent design inherently promote a Christian God? How does this not violate the Establishment clause? I doubt they would be teaching the Hindu version.

    My understanding of the history: Some fundies succeeded in sneaking in Christian God references into our pledge and onto our money by convincing enough people the resulting magic spell would protect us from the Communists, and that anyone patriotic enough to oppose this action was obviously a Communist. As a result of their grandfathers getting away with this cheating, modern fundies are habitual cheaters to the point that they aren’t aware that there are rules they are violating.

  10. Joeon 17 Jul 2009 at 6:07 am

    Peeps,

    It does violate the establishment clause: http://ncseweb.org/creationism/legal/intelligent-design-trial-kitzmiller-v-dover

    The link provides information about Kitzmiller v. Dover Board of Education (2005). In short, it was established that creationists literally substituted “ID” for “creation” in order to get it into public schools. The judge’s ruling is only binding in his circuit; but the legal eagles tell us it is so strong it will be followed country-wide.

  11. HHCon 17 Jul 2009 at 4:36 pm

    What would happen to Creationist schools if they received vouchers of Texas state funds earmarked for them? Why they would have to comply with state and federal law in the recruitment and retention of staff. They would have to comply with the standards required by higher education. They might even be forced to accept students who did not come from Creationist parents. Otherwise, they would have to contend with the issues of Creationism as racism.

  12. artfulDon 17 Jul 2009 at 6:10 pm

    HHC,
    Please explain how you segue from creationism to racism as if they had something in common other than the probability that their adherents were at an equal level of ignorance. If ignorance were a common cause rather than a common condition, it seems you should take your place at the oars of the same boat you have attributed those others to the rowing of.

  13. fortin2k07on 18 Jul 2009 at 1:33 pm

    Mr. Blue Sky,

    I am a teacher in Texas. The best thing you can do is start advocating in your school. Demand the best science teaching you can get. Also, write your state senator and get your friends to sign it as well as parents if you can.

    Steve,

    Thanks for your updates. It is so frustrating with the level of misunderstanding that the politicians have on the standards and on the students.

    Here’s to 2010 and anybody but Perry!

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