The Texas State Board of Education still trying to distance itself from its recent tumultuous past. In 2010, as the board revised curriculum standards for the state's science and history textbooks, a super-conservative wing led by Don McLeroy made the SBOE the butt of jokes across the country, injecting charged conservative language into the state's history standards and attempting to derail the teaching of evolution in the classroom. Watch documentary filmmaker Scott Thurman's The Revisionaries for a superb telling of the culture war that played out at the SBOE.
This week SBOE chair Barbara Cargill, in her nomination hearing before a Senate committee, promised lawmakers to keep the board from becoming the “circus” it has been in the past. Sen. Kirk Watson, an Austin Democrat, closely questioned Cargill about her somewhat contentious history. In 2011, Cargill told a conservative crowd they could only count on the “true conservative Christians” on the SBOE, like her. Just earlier this month she told another Senate committee that textbook publishers need to “soften” their language on evolution.
Still, Watson came away satisfied Cargill could stick to good science and lead the SBOE away from its crazy yesteryears. *Then freshman Sen. Donna Campbell, a San Antonio Tea Party Republican, chimed in.
“I'm drinking from the fire hydrant here. Do we – are we saying, with this conversation here
that there is opposition because we do not have the scientific facts to teach creation? That God did create world and man? Are we trying to eliminate that, or are we just trying to say we want to include evolution? Where are we there?”
Awkward pause. Perhaps Campbell was unaware that Texas students don't, as it stands, learn creationism in class, or that the federal courts ruled long ago that public schools couldn't teach creationism, Intelligent Design, or “Intellectual Design,” as Campbell called it minutes later. Cargill gingerly tried to walk Campbell back to reality, repeating her support for teaching the evidence of evolution in the classroom. “In biology class and in science class, I want to stick just to the science, like I did when I was teaching," Cargill said. "The other (creationism) needs to be taught at church or in the home.”
But Campbell kept on going. Below are the rest of her comments/questions to Cargill, verbatim:
“But we don't want to eliminate those things that you still do have to go on faith that are out there. I mean, you know science is – there are some things that, you know, I would venture to, we're not gonna know until we go on to eternity. Obviously I'm a Christian. I do believe in God as the creator of life. I'm just trying to see, and I don't know if it's your purview or if I need to check with the TEA (Texas Education Agency) where that falls in line to make sure we're not just teaching that evolution is our only – because we can measure. I mean to me, obviously if I was creating anything and had a good model like DNA, I'd use it. And just tweak it a bit, and have a monkey here and a fish here or whatever. And so, I'm not sure you're even the right place for me to go and double check that.”
Then Sen. Watson spoke up, slowly explaining to Campbell, “They're the ones that are in a position to establish what's in the textbook. She, as chair, is in an enormously powerful position to push publishers of textbooks and instructional materials. And there has been significant debate on this board, including, I would point out, prior chairs who took very strong positions about putting their concept of faith and point of view in place of science in some instances.” – Michael Barajas
*Update 2/15: Patrick Michels at the Texas Observer was the first to catch Campbell's brain-wrinkling comments the day of the Senate hearing. Check out his coverage here.