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Significant Victories for Science in the Battle over Textbooks in Texas...But Creationists Cause Delay in the Approval of Key Biology Textbook

Many eyes have been on the battle going on in Texas over the approval of science textbooks – for good reason. The implications of these battles go far beyond Texas itself.  As Texas is one of the largest markets for school science textbooks, these Texas standards could have a major effect on new textbooks used across the country.

As this is written, the State Board of Education has voted to give approval to adopt all of the proposed instructional materials that were up for adoption for high school biology and environmental science. The textbooks approved were submitted by 14 publishers for high school biology and environmental science.

This is a significant victory in the defense of science.

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, said:

“It’s hard to overstate the importance of today’s vote, which is a huge win for science education and public school students in Texas. Four years ago this board passed controversial curriculum standards some members hoped would force textbooks to water down instruction on evolution and climate change. But that strategy has failed because publishers refused to lie to students and parents demanded that their children get a 21st-century education based on established, mainstream science.”

Right wing forces worked hard over a period of years to attack science and pollute science textbooks with anti-scientific thinking and methods. They worked on a number of fronts – one to promote climate change doubt - another to attack the teaching of evolution. Beyond that, they also pushed distortions and lies about U.S. history into social studies curricula.

Rebuffing Attempts to Attack Environmental Science Teaching and Promote Climate Science Doubt

Just before the board voted, forces fronting for the oil and gas industries attempted a last-minute surprise attack seeking to torpedo approval of an environmental science textbook from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Becky Berger who identified herself as a geologist and oil and gas professional, claimed it had factual errors on topics like pollution caused by hydraulic fracking and the problem of carbon emissions, the primary cause of climate change. Though Becker provided no written documentation to back up her claims, still some board members were prepared to accept these claims as a basis to not approve the textbook. However on Friday Nov. 22, the board voted to adopt this textbook so long as the publisher makes minor changes to some outdated material. According to the Texas Freedom Network, scientists reviewed the publishers proposed changes and “none of the changes would water down instruction on climate change”.

The Battle over Teaching Evolution Still Raging

On the biology – evolution front, anti-science forces were also largely rebuffed and biology textbooks were approved with one important exception. Late in the night of voting with a midnight deadline looming, right wing forces on the board singled out a textbook by Pearson Education, one of the largest publishers. They raised “20 alleged errors” - these ranged from how long it took the earth to cool to the absurd claim that the instruction about natural selection was wrong because “selection operates as a selective but not a creative force”.

To their credit, Pearson (as well as many of the other major textbook publishers) have held firm and not been willing to make suggested “major edits and changes”. Pearson has challenged the 20 alleged errors that the citizen review panel claims are in their biology textbook. Also many people, in Texas and beyond have risen to the defense of science in this battle. People mobilized broadly. They rallied carrying signs like one which showed a picture of a bible which said “This is not a science textbook”.

While these anti-science extremists were not able to vote down this biology text, they did succeed in delaying its approval pending an outside review. In the face of this, Thomas Ratliff, a Republican who is vice chairman of the board, said “I believe this process is being hijacked, this book is being held hostage to make political changes”. He also noted that this biology textbook is being used in over half the classrooms in the United States.

So it is still premature to declare full victory in this phase of the battle. The right-wing anti-science forces have been dealt some severe setbacks to their plans to undermine science education. And for now the initiative appears to be in the hands of those determined to defend science and promote real science education for high school children. But the right-wing extremists have proven over and over again that they will stop at nothing in pursuing their vicious dream of undermining science and critical thinking in general, at a time when these are more needed in the world than ever.

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