AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The State Board of Education's mulling approval of new science textbooks for classrooms across Texas reignited old tensions Tuesday, as some conservatives sought to deemphasize lessons on evolution and climate change while experts argued that doing so would let ideology trump facts.
Around 60 science experts, parents and activists testified during a packed public hearing before the board, which will vote in November on proposed textbooks and digital books in math, science and technology that could be used starting next fall by most of the state's five-plus million public school students.
"I ask you not to let Texas once again become a national embarrassment," said Ron Wetherington, an anthropology professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas who is no stranger to the state's long-running textbook debates.
In the spotlight this time are seven proposed high school biology books that could be used in classrooms at least through 2022. A law passed by the Texas Legislature two years ago means school districts can now choose their own books and e-readers — but most have continued to use board-sanctioned books.
Publishers originally submitted 15 books for approval but committees of volunteer reviewers, some nominated by current and former board of education members, said previously that eight didn't sufficiently cover the state-mandated curriculum.
One reviewer argued that creationism based on biblical texts should be taught in science classes, while others objected that climate change wasn't as settled a scientific matter as some of the proposed books say.
Publishers can edit their proposed books prior to November's vote, and board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, a Republican from The Woodlands, asked Tuesday that they post their texts online so the public can see them.
Battles over how to teach evolution versus the idea that a higher power created the universe, as well as whether climate change is scientifically accepted, have been raging on the board of education for more than a decade. Previously, a bloc of board social conservatives insisted that Texas students be taught "all sides" of matters like evolution, and pressured textbook publishers to insert skepticism over global warming.
Don McLeroy, a dentist from Bryan who is a former board chairman but lost his re-election bid in 2010, testified Tuesday that the books should be adopted because they will "strike the final blow to the teaching of evolution."
"What we see in the world around us supports what the Bible says but what we see in these books supports what the bible says too," said McLeroy who said the proposed texts "have no evidence that supports evolution." When pressed about what evolutionary evidence was there, however, he said: "It's weak. Let the students see how weak it is."
What the board will approve remains to be seen. McLeroy's and other recent electoral defeats for social conservatives means the bloc no longer holds a majority among the board's 10 Republicans and five Democrats.
Also Tuesday, about 200 other activists, many wearing green "Stand up For Science T-Shirts" and hoisting signs with slogans like "Your kids deserve the truth" and "Public schools, not Sunday schools," rallied prior to the meeting.
"We don't want to send our children into the information and technology age with a science education from the dark ages," said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a progressive watchdog group.
Neraby, Mark Cadwallader, a 56-year-old chemical engineer from The Woodlands who testified against the proposed books, shook his head, saying: "The old evidence that used to be held up as proof of evolution, the apeman for instance, has been debunked."
"Textbooks ought to reflect the controversy surrounding evolution," he said. "Intelligent design and the complex design of the universe need to come into play. When you look, it's clear that we can see an intelligent designer at work."