Thursday, January 7, 2010

Texas is re-writing history

And biology, and English language arts... So, it's nothing new to hear that some "conservative" members of the state board of education in Texas want to get biblical creationism written into the biology textbooks and get evolution written out of them.  What is new (and I feel like this should be something in one of the Freakonomics books) is how the economic woes of California might lead to the Texas state board of education holding the power to determine what textbooks look like ALL ACROSS THE COUNTRY.  California, being the most heavily populated state in the Union, typically dominates in terms of the number of textbooks purchased.  Texas, being the second most heavily populated state, buys the next largest amount of textbooks.  California typically buys so many textbooks, that either Texas has to deal with whatever California gets, or publishers could publish two versions of the book.  However, publishing two versions of a book is obviously more expensive than just publishing one, and in most cases, this extra cost is so prohibitive that Texas has to take the books in whatever form California wants them (especially if New York, number 3 on the list of heavily populated states, agrees).  Now, we all know that California, as a result of their huge deficits and the economic downturn, is basically bankrupt, and in desperate need of cutting costs to stay afloat.  One easy way to cut costs is to tell all the public schools to just use the older textbooks and hold off on ordering new ones.  This means that Texas will likely become the number one purchaser of textbooks in the U.S. and, as a result, the rest of us may have to just accept the Texas versions of our textbooks, or like California, keep using older and possibly out of date texts.
Now, why should you care?  Or, why do I care enough to post about it here (when I usually try to stick to neuroscience stuff)?  Well, let's look at the desire to remove evolution from biology textbooks first... Neuroscience is a branch of biology, and like the famous geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky once commented: "Nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution."  Evolution provides the underlying framework for ALL of biology, including neuroscience, and it is critical for understanding human psychology and animal behavior, as well as several types of nervous system diseases and disorders.  But beyond this, teaching kids not to seek out natural explanations to explain the unknown stifles curiosity and stymies scientific inquiry and progress.  In an age where we need solutions to global warming, the energy crisis, and cures for numerous diseases and injuries, I would prefer to be training new, inquisitive scientists rather than a crop of fatalists who say "why bother?"  Ultimately, however, I realize that the next major attack on science (following the recent salvos against evolution and global warming) is likely going to be against the field of neuroscience, where materialist explanations for things like "free will" and love are replacing medieval ideas about them originating from an immaterial "soul".
But wait, there's more... if you read this article about Don McLeroy and the rest of the conservative members of the Texas board of education you will see that they don't just want to change the biology textbooks, they want to change the history books as well (and the english books, and really the aims of education itself).  Apparently, McLeroy and his ilk believe as French dictator Napoleon Bonaparte did when he said "History is a set of lies agreed upon."  Their proposed amendments include adding more religious documents to history texts to try and paint America's founding as a Christian nation (and thus tear down the very clearly established wall in the Constitution that separates church and state).  And they want to "play up clashes with Islamic cultures" so as to institutionalize prejudice and hate (and bolster support for more oily holy wars). (And these are the people who call Obama a nazi?)  As for the health science books, members of the board have sought in the past to change a photo of a woman with a briefcase to one of a woman baking... I imagine the next step is to remove any references of the feminist movement or women's rights from the history books (women's suffrage?  what's that?).  My favorite quotation by far, though, was this:
The ultraconservatives argued that they were too light on basics like grammar and too heavy on reading comprehension and critical thinking. “This critical-thinking stuff is gobbledygook,” grumbled David Bradley, an insurance salesman with no college degree, who often acts as the faction’s enforcer.
Yeah, we don't want to teach kids to think for themselves, they're too hard to brainwash when they do that.
SO... what is there to do?  Well, I suppose we will have to just sit back and wait to see whether or not California decides to buy any textbooks, or if Texas succeeds getting publisher's to leave some things out of their books... Of course, if you wanted to take action, the best course would be to join the National Center for Science Education, the group most active in combating the weakening of science education standards.  As for any changes to the history books, perhaps the ACLU might be the next best place to go to.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that the state of education in Texas is in need of an overhaul, especially with regards to science and history. This is why I'm running for State Board of Education in District 5 as a moderate candidate, and the only one who is an educator. Here's hoping that there will be some turnover on SBOE--for the better!