The State Board of Education–Episode I: The Phantom Menace

In the spirit of the Godfather and Star Wars sagas I’m taking stories of the  State Board of Education out of order. In that spirit, I want to take you back to the beginning… or as far back as you can go on a blog on Texas politics.

Texans have shared the American pastime of arguing over where we came from.  Did we evolve from lower life forms (small mammals, apes, Oklahomans)?  Or, did we spring directly from the hand of God in our finished form (walking upright and speaking English)? Of course, such questions are impossible to answer with certainty. However, that’s not going to stop the SBOE of from giving us the answers to life’s test. (Like many Texas high school students I hope that Saint Peter’s questions at the pearly gates are multiple choice. I’ve head that if you guess “B” on all the questions you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting in.)

According to a story in the Dallas Morning News, Steven Schafersman (Evolution ally and President of Texas Citizens for Science) warned the SBOE that, “Once again our state is going to experience the embarrassment of having anti-scientific, anti-evolutionists on the state board try to game the process and force the new science standards to contain anti-scientific language.” This seems like an overstatement. The embarrassment of the evolution debate will likely pale in comparison to whatever some legislators dream up during the session. Still, there is something to the idea of letting scientists tell us what to teach in science classes. It’s a plan that’s just crazy enough to work.

Currently, the SBOE is evaluating their policy about how evolution is to be taught. We’ve even found our way into the pages of the New York Times. In dispute is language that requires teaching both the strength and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. While most explosions occur in high school chemistry labs, the discussion of how to teach the origins of Texans and other humans produce fireworks of their own.

The courts have often view the creationist view as more religion than science. As such, teaching the “religion” of creationism violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. At the same time, evolution is not without some unresolved questions. While scientists often seem quite certain, there are often gaps in their knowledge when they can’t trace the lineage of very critter going back a few millions years.

According to the Austin-American Statesman’s coverage, during the course of the hearing one anti-evolution advocate noted that “Darwin was from England and Einstein was from Germany… The elitism and arrogance that has been going on is not what Texas is about.” Of course, as someone who studies only the US and Texas I am completely sympathetic. However, certain intellectual elites will prefer to take their cues from foreigners. We’ll see who prevails in the SBOE.

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