Saturday, March 27, 2010

Texas Textbooks Tilting Toward Tyranny -- Why Elected School Board Officials Need to Pass a Basic Education Test and Human Interview

This Texas attack on education is nothing to shake a stick at -- the boys and girls in Texas on the Board of Education are being high jacked by right-wing nutcases. This topic goes beyond the evolution versus intelligent design debate (read the science piece below my blog here).

We're talking about Glen Beck and Patriot Party and Tea Bag idiots messing with classrooms and trying to change teaching materials for every student, K-12, that gives our students the most bizarre form of indoctrination seen in a long while.

Erase the Holocaust from German textbooks? Japan's treatment of Chinese? The genocide in Turkey? Maybe in those respective countries, but in the USA, cut MLK out as a hero, or talk about civil rights movement as a problem, something that created problems we are facing today?

It's clear that Texas' school system was already wacky in many regards (believe you, I taught at the University of Texas and has plenty of dealings with K-12 teachers and administrators), but this new assault on American education shows how tenuous our society really is when it comes to how easily our minds and our children's minds are manipulated by sheer propaganda of the right wing kind.

Rewriting the state standards that textbook publishers must follow to get the lucrative contracts for providing teaching materials for every student in the state, from first grade through high school, this education board has been combing through each sentence and scrubbing parts of social studies curriculum to the point of defamation and downright inaccuracy.
Can anyone reading this blog about sustainability believe this? Questioning research based models and teacher-formed guidelines for history, government, economics and sociology textbooks as a way to "purge references that offend their doctrinaire sensibilities and substituting their own nutty biases and ignorance," according to Texan, Jim Hightower. It's not just some comic's five-minute monologue here, as I am sure those late night laughers have been making hay of Texas' reforms. It's dangerous.

They took Thomas Jefferson out of social studies and history, replacing him with a Christian fundamentalist John Calvin. The main author of our Declaration of Independence -- just disappeared! Now that's paranoia and syphillitic thinking to the max.

What was it that offended these idiots about Jefferson? He coined the term "separation between church and state."

Taking the word justice off the list of what we should be teaching grade-schoolers to believe their duties are to foster good citizenship was another move of these sad of the Texas Education Board.

"No doubt the board majority would love to get its hands on the Pledge of Allegiance's assertion of 'justice for all,' but luckily, the pledge doesn't come under the members' purview. Yet," Hightower wrote last week.

Wow, these minority view idiots got voted down on one strange impediment to smarts -- they wanted to impose a new requirement that students be taught that the civil rights movement created "unreasonable expectations."

As Hightower reported, these ugly influencers in Texas created the false balance of rightwing nuts by having the "positive impact of Martin Luther King Jr. with an insistence that the 'positives' of Joe McCarthy's witch-hunt for commies and of Jefferson Davis' secessionist government also be taught."

Look, these idiots failed the test of intelligence and integrity so many times, putting the dreaded "socialist" moniker on Delores Huerta, farm worker leader. They mandated other sad souls of American intellectual spasming, Phyllis Schlafly and Newt Gingrich, be included as historic icons of a "conservative resurgence" in America.

It's schizophrenia and blind ignorance on display -- cutting Oscar Romero as a world leader who fought political repression because they believed, unlike Gandhi, Romero had no movie made about him.

(Raul Julia, hmm, in the 1989 film doesn't ring a bell).

The phrase "democratic societies" was scapeled out and replaced with "societies with representative government." These folk took out the god-protected "capitalism" from the school books because it has a negative connotation.

"Free enterprise" will be the new term for capitalism throughout all social studies courses.

Taking out all references to the Age of Enlightenment, these censors felt it was too secular to go into the heads of Texas' mixed up school kids.

This assault isn't a laughing matter, isn't some aberration, some knee-jerk minor move. I've seen the same kind of thinking as a community college teacher -- from fellow teachers (that's rare), from administrators (not as rare, though these folk admit to despising this sort of censorship, they still bow to pressure from the community, from the customer or customer's helicopter parents), and from more and more students who believe they are customers, who can customize their own education, their own version of history, their own values on science, and their own moral code on whatever is taught them.

Those of us in science, climate change, technology, planning, education, in business, in media, in government, we have to begin putting our feet down and stopping this idiocy. Scrubbing history and reworking mythology and racism and religious zealotry into our secular education is plain wrong and un-American.

Don’t Mess With Textbooks
Essay by Josh Rosenau / May 20, 2009

Science education faced setbacks at the Texas Board of Education hearings in March:

"An inside look at the politicians, teachers, and textbook publishers who are fighting back"

The National Center for Science Education, in Oakland, CA, where I work, has tracked hundreds of attacks on evolution education in 48 states in the last five years. In the last two years alone, 18 bills in 10 states have targeted the teaching of evolution. These bills, like the flawed science standards approved by the Texas Board of Education in March, don’t ban evolution outright. But they do authorize teachers to omit evolution or include creationism at their whim. “These bills give cover to school boards and teachers who want to teach creationism,” says Barbara Forrest, a professor at Southeastern Louisiana University who studies the history of creationism. “It’s as simple as that.”

Evolution is still the most common target in science education standards: Kansas nearly scrubbed it in 2005 and Florida only made it a requirement to teach the “e-word” last year. But conservatives, out of power in Washington, seem to be shifting their attention to the states, where anti-evolution bills are increasingly being broadened to attack conservative bogeymen like global warming and human cloning, reflecting what Forrest calls “the Religious Right’s anti-science stance.” The education standards just passed in Texas cast doubt on human contributions to climate change, a reflection of this new, more disturbing trend. The state’s School Board Chairman Don McLeroy explained to an Austin newspaper the board’s position on global warming by saying, “Conservatives like me think the evidence is a bunch of hooey.”

By expanding the attacks beyond evolution to include scientific expertise itself, these conservatives weaken understanding both of the scientific process and how the scientific community evaluates ideas. And because of the state’s enormous purchasing power for textbooks, Texas’s standards will ultimately affect textbooks nationwide. The board spent more than $200 million on K-12 textbooks last year—buying more high school science books than any other state. “Publishers typically write their textbooks to Texas standards and then sell those books to smaller states,” explains Kathy Miller of the civil liberties watchdog Texas Freedom Network. If the board rejects a textbook, it can destroy a publisher.

Given these stakes, my colleagues and I worked hard to influence the Texas School Board over the months of hearings, providing them with a statement signed by 54 scientific and educational societies opposing “any effort to undermine the teaching of biological evolution and related topics.” We worked with local activists to organize constituents and political honchos who educated board members about the importance of evolution to science education.

But the other side knew the board’s seven creationists needed to pick up only one vote to gain a majority. The Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based intelligent design think tank, and the Greater Houston Creation Association worked on creationist amendments and lobbied for the decisive eighth vote. They were aided by testimony from Ray Bohlin, a molecular biologist who left science to start a fundamentalist ministry, and Don Patton, who parades a doctorate from what appears to be an Australian diploma mill and gained notoriety claiming fossil evidence that dinosaurs and humans walked side-by-side.

Despite our efforts, after a total of 24 hours of testimony in three separate hearings, pro-evolution moderates brokered a compromise with the board’s seven creationists. Heeding McLeroy’s cry that “someone’s got to stand up to experts!,” the board approved standards that promote creationism’s mantra of “sudden appearance” of new species, echo creationist beliefs that the complexity of the cell cannot be scientifically explained, and mandate that students study “different views on the existence of global warming.”

Textbook publishers are already preparing for hearings in 2011, which will judge whether rewritten textbooks fit the new standards. Textbook author and biologist Ken Miller and publisher Rene LeBel both say they’ll abide by the letter, but not the spirit, of the standards; for instance, by fulfilling the requirement to cover “all sides of scientific evidence” without including creationist pseudoscience. Miller, a vocal defender of evolution education, insists that “biology textbook authors will all stand together on evolution,” refusing to include creationist attacks or to drop good science.

But resisting the board can result in being banned from the nation’s largest high school textbook market. For this reason, LeBel notes that publishers often placate the board with small changes, such as switching from clear statements to “open-ended questions that leave it up to students to decide.” Watchdogs worry that some publishers may satisfy the board by outright larding books with creationism.

But all is not lost. Professors in Texas and elsewhere are privately planning to boycott college textbooks from any publishers who let the board taint high school textbooks. And just as fights over science standards in Kansas and Ohio were resolved at the ballot box, board elections in 2010 may usher in more defenders of science before the final purchasing decisions are made for textbooks. Bolstered by complaints from angry voters, there are some Texas lawmakers publicly chastising the new science standards. The State Legislature is considering a slew of bills that would strip the board’s power over textbooks, and McLeroy’s re-nomination as board chairman has stalled in a State Senate committee. In a recent hearing, State Senator Eliot Shapleigh told McLeroy, “You’ve created a hornet’s nest like I’ve never seen before.”

Concerned citizens are also abuzz, with parents, teachers, and even religious leaders across the country showing policymakers that there is a constituency for honest science education. Pro-evolution clergy are being organized through the Clergy Letter Project to dispel religious doubts about evolution. And a group of Texas entrepreneurs organized to tell the board that they believe tomorrow’s innovators need to know evolution. The NCSE recently worked with a family and local professors to give a student in Washington the courage to denounce his teacher’s creationist lectures. He won not only the school’s support but also a college scholarship from the ACLU. It doesn’t take an expert to stand up for science. Whether the battle is large or small, success depends on these types of broad coalitions.

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