Evolution skeptics on the State Board of Education voted against updating Texas' 9th grade biology textbook to reflect scientific fact on Wednesday. While the vote — which keeps language doubting evolution in Texas textbooks — is only preliminary (the final vote is scheduled for April), the move could be seen as a red flag for teacher advocates, evolution experts, and Texans who generally believe in science.
"Teachers are practically begging the board to stop forcing them to waste classroom time on junk science standards that are based mostly on the personal agendas of board members themselves, not sound science," said Kathy Miller, president of education advocacy group Texas Freedom Network, in a prepared statement. "But these politicians just can’t seem to stop themselves from making teachers’ jobs harder."
The board's decision comes after a 10-member committee of educators and biology experts (formed by the board) recommended that the state pull four phrases from Texas' 9th grade biology textbook that could leave students doubting proven science.
The phrases, creatively shrouded in jargon, ask students to “analyze and evaluate” various evolutionary processes, including the “complexity of the cell” and “proposed transitional fossils."
Another section asks biology teachers to examine "all sides of scientific evidence...so as to encourage critical thinking by the student." This language falsely suggests evidence has "sides" to argue, the committee told the board, when evidence should not be interpreted as anything but fact.
These skeptical phrases were added to all high school biology books in 2009, when a citizen review board that included a few religious activists recommended their entry. The move prompted the school board to ditch the citizen-based committee
, and instead mandate that teachers, professors, or subject area experts be prioritized when selecting future textbook review panels.
Thus, a committee of scientific experts have now made recommendations based on actual facts (replacing what some may call "alternative facts").
But it seems the state board of education doesn't want to hear them.
This vote comes a day after board members heard testimony from dozens of experts, advocates, professors, and students supporting a recommendation that the board update these textbooks. There were only a few opponents to the recommendation that spoke from creationist organizations.
"Creationism must be removed from the classroom," said Tanya Estes, a former science teacher in both public and private schools. "Religion can be used as a moral compass, it is a philosophy, but it is not science."
Emma Dietrich, a PhD candidate in integrative biology, said that as an assistant in general biology courses at UT, she knows how critical an understanding of real science is in advancing students' careers. Without a real belief and trust in evolutionary theory, graduates will likely be denied scholarships, important accreditations, and high-paying jobs, she said.
"Our education goals should not be based on opinion polls, but on the expertise of our teachers and experts," urged Arturo De Lozanne, a UT Austin professor of cell biology.
The state board will cast its final vote on the recommendations in April. But with majority Republican members, science education advocates say the board will likely stick with its evolution-doubting textbook.
Or, in the words of Texas Freedom Network spokesman Dan Quinn: "Let's just say the chances are as likely as Donald Trump not screwing anything else up."