Neutrality that Isn't: The Case of the Texas Education Agency
Barbara Forrest printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jan 14, 2008 at 03:05:27 PM EST
There are times when “neutrality” isn’t neutral, when a desire to appear unbiased betrays a bias. The Texas Education Agency’s reluctance to appear biased in favor of evolution and against intelligent design (ID) creationism is one of those times.

In November 2007, officials at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) forced the resignation of TEA Director of Science Christina Castillo Comer, who had held that position for nine years after having been a Texas science teacher for twenty-seven years. The offense that prompted this turn of events was Comer’s forwarding an e-mail about a November 2, 2007, lecture that I was scheduled to give in Austin, TX. Entitled “Inside Creationism’s Trojan Horse: A Closer Look at Intelligent Design,” the talk was sponsored by the Austin chapter of the Center for Inquiry. This lecture, one of many such presentations I have given all over the country, condensed into fifty minutes almost a decade of scholarly research about the ID creationist movement. (A version of the lecture is online. See also my July 2007 Center for Inquiry paper about the ID movement.)

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE), where I serve on the board of directors, had sent an announcement of the lecture to Austin-area NCSE members and a few others, including Comer. Adding nothing more than an “FYI,” Comer sent it along to a few people who might be interested, as she had done with many prior announcements. However, this time she was placed on leave and given an ultimatum: resign or be fired. She resigned on November 7 after supervisor Monica Martinez wrote a November 5 memo recommending her termination. (See my statement in response to Comer’s termination here and a second statement here.)

Ultimately, the TEA’s termination of its Director of Science is traceable to the ID movement’s aggressive promotion of its brand of creationism, which is again infecting Texas politics and the process of educating children. ID creationists’ attacks on the teaching of evolution disrupted the selection of Texas biology textbooks in 2003. The ID movement has a strong contingent in Texas; some of its most prominent proponents live there, although the movement’s activities are coordinated from its Seattle headquarters, the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

The TEA feared that Comer’s forwarding the announcement of my lecture “might compromise the integrity” of the 2008 revision of the state science standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), and the TEA’s “neutrality” regarding this process: “Ms. Comer’s email implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker’s position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.” But there is nothing neutral about TEA’s refusal to take a stand in defense of teaching the foundational theory of the biological sciences. And something is definitely being compromised: the education of children who depend on the TEA to ensure that they are educated in 21st-century science, not medieval theology. (Even in the 19th century, most scientists and educated people came to understand and accept the significance of Darwin’s discoveries.)

Lizzette Reynolds, the TEA official and former George W. Bush appointee who called for Comer’s termination (and, according to Comer, does not even know her), worried about the political fallout of the science director’s email and called for her to be fired: “This is something that the State Board, the governor’s office and members of the Legislature would be extremely upset to see because it assumes this is a subject the agency supports.” The TEA’s subsequent compliance with Reynolds’s call for Comer’s termination sends a loud signal that it’s time for Texans who care about educating children rather than appeasing politicians to ask the TEA — and maybe the state board, the governor, and the legislature — a few questions:

(1) Why should the TEA be “neutral” between teaching real science and preaching creationism?

(2) What is “neutral” about making political loyalty a greater priority than telling children the truth?

(Here is the truth: Evolution is a fact, a real natural phenomenon documented by 150 years of rigorous scientific testing. Evolutionary theory explains the natural processes by means of which evolution occurs. Intelligent design is creationism, a scientific and educational sham. Its proponents have contributed precisely nothing of any scientific or pedagogical value concerning their claims about ID. They therefore deserve no consideration in any process involving the education of children.)

(3) What does Reynolds know that made her so confident that the highest levels of Texas government would be “extremely upset” about an FYI merely announcing my lecture?

(4) Why should Reynolds’s reluctance to upset creationists and politicians be allowed to take precedence over upsetting young people who graduate from Texas high schools only to realize that the “adults” in charge educated them for a pre-scientific world that no longer exists?

(5) Who is now going to do the former Director of Science’s job? Someone hand-picked by Reynolds?

(“Debbie Ratcliffe, an agency spokeswoman, said Ms. Comer’s replacement will probably be chosen by a panel of agency employees. The agency hopes to fill the position in January, the same time review groups are set to begin meeting and examining each aspect of the science curriculum.” Dallas Morning News, December 13, 2007)

(6) Why, in the 21st century, in a state with world-class academic, scientific and medical institutions, did Gov. Rick Perry put an admitted creationist, Dr. Don McLeroy, in charge of the Texas Board of Education? 

(See McLeroy’s 2005 pro-ID Sunday School lecture, “Intelligent Design Theory Primer.” He made a prominent point of his alliance with the creationists at the Discovery Institute during their attack on the biology textbook selection process in 2003. Now, however, he seems to have read the Discovery Institute’s memo about the importance of communicating in ID doublespeak:

“In science class, there is no place for dogma and ‘sacred cows’ [i. e., evolution taught as ‘dogma’]; no subject [e. g., evolution] should be ‘untouchable’ as to its scientific merits or shortcomings [i. e., the “strengths and weaknesses of evolution,” the Texas creationist code phrase du jour]. My motivation is good science and a well-trained, scientifically literate student. What can stop science is an irrefutable preconception [i. e., such as ‘naturalism,’ which, as McLeroy charged in his Sunday School ID lecture, ‘has blinded all ye lambs from the truth’]. Anytime you attempt to limit possible explanations [i. e., to exclude an intelligent designer] in science, it is then that you get your science stopper. In science class, it is important to remember that the consensus of a conviction [i. e., the consensus of mainstream science that evolution is a fact] does not determine whether it is true or false.” Dallas Morning News, December 21, 2007) [my editorial comments in brackets]

These are questions to which Texans who are concerned about their public schools should demand answers. Even more, these questions point to a situation that concerned Texans should not tolerate. I know the damage that creationist politics does to the educational process and to our fellow Americans who not only suffer the consequences in their communities but must also repair the civic wreckage. (Creationists never hang around for that part of their agenda.)

As an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the first legal case involving ID creationism, Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District (2005), which arose in 2004 in Dover, Pennsylvania, I learned how even the simplest daily tasks of educating Dover children were disrupted. Here is one example: while the teaching of evolution was under attack, Dover High School biology teacher Jennifer Miller felt compelled to stop using her traditional way of helping students visualize the billions of years required for the development of life on earth — laying out a long piece of tape on the hall floor as a timeline. How’s that for intimidation?

I also know how parent and plaintiff Joel Leib was hurt by what the Dover school board’s promotion of ID did to his town, as he testified in court: 

Question: Do you believe that the Dover area school district board of directors’ actions have affected you and the Dover community? 

Leib: Well, it’s driven a wedge where there hasn’t been a wedge before. People are afraid to talk to people for fear, and that’s happened to me. They’re afraid to talk to me because I’m on the wrong side of the fence.

The political bullying of only two creationist school board members in Dover, Pennsylvania, created a good deal of grief and discord in this tiny community. Just imagine how much damage an entire education bureaucracy can do (is doing?) in Texas!

Last question: Is the TEA trying to create a Texas-size Dover?

There's a small contingent - mostly  within the Christian Reconstructionist movement - who are "Geocentrists" ; they reject Copernican theory and hold that the sun, and the entire Universe in fact, wheels around the Earth every 24 hours...

I wrote about that here on Talk To Action last year ( I actually broke the story about it ).

Warren Chisum, of the Texas State Legislature, circulated a memo last year touting Geocentrism, so there's come "controversy" about the issue.

Maybe the Texas Board Of Education should "teach the controversy" on the Heliocentric vs. the Geocentric models of the Solar System as well.

That would be consistent. While they are at it, they could throw in teaching Holocaust denialism and the Theory Of Phlogistan too. Not to mention the "Four Humors".

Then, there's the "Hollow Earth Theory"...

by Bruce Wilson on Wed Jan 16, 2008 at 01:38:53 PM EST

They want thier theocracy down here.  Bible classes in high schools?,2933,154759,00.html

The state's Republican Convention is a real hoot. "Our party pledges to exert its influence to ... dispel the 'myth' of the separation of church and state." Texas Republican Party Platform, p.8

"The Republican Party of the Texas affirms that the United States is a Christian Nation." Texas Republican Party Platform, preamble 2004

There's a reason why so many mega church's flourish down here.  They're harvesting people who want this sort of thing.  They won't wake up until they find themselves excluded from employment, housing, education, or any equal protection under the law (though that's done with now for us all under Bush).

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by naomiyang on Fri Oct 18, 2019 at 10:48:28 AM EST

Why would he is clever on tough creationists and politicians take precedent over bad young people graduating from high school in Texas. I am looking forward to essay writing services reviews this year. This was only to find that the "adults" were educating them for a pre-scientific world that no longer exists?

by Archie24 on Wed Mar 04, 2020 at 04:24:07 AM EST

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