A Slightly Smaller Mess In Texas

« December 2013 »

Memo to the Texas Board of Education: WE'RE STILL WATCHING.

This actually is one of those good news, bad news kind of situations. When I saw an AP story crop up repeatedly on Google News with the headline "Evolution Debate Again Engulfs Texas Board of Ed", I expected the worst. The same kind of embarrassing, lengthy squabble that erupted a few years back when Texas tried to revise its textbook standards.

So the good news is, it's not that bad. The bad news, of course, is that there are still enough right-wing Republicans on the Texas Board of Ed that any textbook that conflicts with their ideology has to jump through lots of extra hoops, because a bunch of people who find science inconvenient are still tasked with evaluating and approving what's taught in science classes.

And textbook makers pander to the Texas Board of Education for the same reason anyone panders to anybody. It's a big market, and being left out of the Texas market can ruin a company's day.

This year, the objections are to a single textbook's discussion of natural selection and global warming, the two areas of science we have to keep "debating" because if we treat them like they are - science just as settled as the principles that make the iPhones and chairs the Texas Board of Education use work - large constituencies will be offended.

So what's less sucky this time around? Well, for one thing, they're apparently arguing about the age of the Earth, but only over a difference of 200 million years out of four-plus billions that the book says the Earth cooled. Sure, they're using that argument to discredit the book and throw it over in favor of a more Jesus-friendly text, but any time we get away from direct advocacy of the six-thousand-year-old Earth, I see progress.

More importantly, though, is this passage from the AP story that tells me the Board of Ed overplaying their hand the last time has had a lasting effect:

"[The board's] five Democrats joined with more moderate Republicans in questioning whether reviewers' objections were factually correct. 'I believe this process is being hijacked, this book is being held hostage to make political changes,' said Thomas Ratliff, a Republican from Mount Pleasant who is the board's vice chairman."

Look at that. It's like a fucking unicorn. A moderate Texas Republican questioning ultraconservative school board members' motives when it comes to their views on what should be taught in science class. It's almost enough to make you believe in gradual change and improvement over time.