Advocacy at CFI Austin

Good People,

For more than a year now, CFI Austin has been involved in the campaign to convince the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) that they should listen to the experts when determining the public school curriculum.

As the SBOE completely ignored the expert- and teacher-recommended curriculum for Language Arts, our concern grew that the science curriculum was going to suffer at their hands as well.  Something had to be done.  The Language Arts curriculum passed had been strongly influenced by religious dogma and “personal experience” rather than expertise.

Several dedicated Friends of the Center and I sat in the hearing held in July 16th, 2008, wherein the SBOE and in particular Chairman Don McLeroy were called to task for abusing their power and breaking rules.  The House Public Education Committee grilled the members of the SBOE.  Some members pleaded peer pressure.  Others defended their actions.  McLeroy explained his actions, remaining unrepentant.

We decided right then and there that CFI Austin was going to take on the SBOE.

The November meeting of the SBOE was my first experience seeing the board members in action.  I was surprised at the way things were run.  They asked questions that flattered the creationists.  They were respectful and demanded that the audience respect what they had to say.  They mostly ignored the proponents of 21st-century science.

Those they did question were asked questions that only highlighted their ignorance of science in general and evolution in particular.  They were antagonistic.

To make a point that the SBOE was grossly mistaken about the level of acceptance of evolution in the scientific world, I wore garb appropriate for a woman of the 1850’s, which was when evolution was actually controversial.  A photograph of me in the costume was picked up by the Associated Press, and even made it into the New York Times.

When I testified, not one head ever looked up.  Were they even listening?  It was easy to see where this train was headed.  I was disillusioned.

When all was said and done, the SBOE did indeed scratch the offending language, “strengths and weaknesses.”  In its stead, they sprinkled the curriculum with nine amendments that had specific language making it acceptable to teach Intelligent Design.  The creationists had made fools of us.  They gave us what we’d asked for, yet used the opportunity to make the curriculum even more “theirs.”  (See NCSE's summary of the SBOE's amendments .  See this issue of The Earth Scientist (PDF) for an analysis of the Earth and Space Sciences amendments.)

In the meantime CFI Austin and Joe Lapp, John Kingman, Steve Bratteng, Michael Zimmerman, and I undertook a huge project.  We had decided that to make a difference we needed to provide a resource for people who wanted to know more about this issue and the SBOE.  We wanted to enable those who wanted to get involved by giving all the information they needed and the contact information they needed to take action.  At the time, there was no such Web site.  So, we created and launched TeachThemScience.org .

We held a press conference on January 15, 2009, with special speakers Dr. Dan Bolnick from the University of Texas, and the Dr. Rev. Charles Kutz-Marks.  Dr. Michael Zimmerman flew in from the East coast and spoke as well.

It was clear that we needed to take a different tact at the January SBOE meetings.  I decided to make the point that the Kansas SBOE had gone down this same path, which ultimately backfired on the creationists.  Kansas became the laughingstock of the nation, if not the world.  The board members lost their jobs and the curriculum was purged of all unscientific language.

Despite all expertise, logic, and reason, the SBOE voted to approve their brainchild which will be in place as the curriculum standards for the next ten years.

The next step of the process is for the textbook manufacturers to write their science books.  Texas is an enormous market for textbooks.  In addition, because Texas’ buying power is so great, the textbooks they use are often adopted by other school systems across the country.

Will the textbook manufacturers write their books using language that would be unacceptable to modern science, making it more likely that their book is adopted by the Texas SBOE?  Will they write a book that has sound scientific content, but risk not being selected?  Or will they write a book that skims over the material, leaving the decision of whether to teach real science in the hands of individual teachers?

We will keep you posted about our progress at TeachThemScience.org .

Yours in reason,

Clare Wuellner