Let me first of all say that despite our differences, I still consider you my home, even if I only get to visit a couple of times a year these days. Friends, family, football: you have it all for me. And, as I watched it get dark here in Oxford around 4 pm this afternoon, I have to admit that I really miss that warm Texas sun.
But, Texas, I have to tell you–pal to pal–that your recent actions have been so stereotypical. I mean, yeah, we get it. You’re conservative. Really conservative. And, you like Jesus. A lot. Tell me something new. But now I hear that you forced your director of science curriculum to resign for letting some of her contacts know about a talk from a well-known authority on intelligent design? And, on top of that, I had to hear it from the Austin American-Statesman? I had expected more from you, Texas. Really:
The state’s director of science curriculum has resigned after being accused of creating the appearance of bias against teaching intelligent design.
Chris Comer, who has been the Texas Education Agency’s director of science curriculum for more than nine years, offered her resignation this month.
In documents obtained Wednesday through the Texas Public Information Act, agency officials said they recommended firing Comer for repeated acts of misconduct and insubordination. But Comer said she thinks political concerns about the teaching of creationism in schools were behind what she describes as a forced resignation.
Agency officials declined to comment, saying it was a personnel issue.
Comer was put on 30 days paid administrative leave shortly after she forwarded an e-mail in late October announcing a presentation being given by Barbara Forrest, author of “Inside Creationism’s Trojan Horse,” a book that says creationist politics are behind the movement to get intelligent design theory taught in public schools. Forrest was also a key witness in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case concerning the introduction of intelligent design in a Pennsylvania school district. Comer sent the e-mail to several individuals and a few online communities, saying, “FYI.”
Agency officials cited the e-mail in a memo recommending her termination. They said forwarding the e-mail not only violated a directive for her not to communicate in writing or otherwise with anyone outside the agency regarding an upcoming science curriculum review, “it directly conflicts with her responsibilities as the Director of Science.”
The memo adds, “Ms. Comer’s e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker’s position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.”
You’re telling me that you fired her for not remaining neutral on whether Texas should be teaching religious pseudoscience? Come on. Who on Earth is going to buy such an absurd idea–that the the person in charge of determining what’s taught in science classes isn’t going to take a position on whether or not non-science should be taught in science classrooms? Surely you have a better excuse.
In addition to the e-mail, the memo lists other reasons for recommending termination, including Comer’s failure to get prior approval to give a presentation and attend an off-site meeting after she was told in writing this year that there were concerns about her involvement with work outside the agency.
Hmmm… where have I heard that one before? Oh, yes, now I remember:
President Thabo Mbeki stunned and outraged campaigners yesterday by sacking the country’s deputy health minister, the woman credited with ending a decade of Aids denialism at the heart of the South African political leadership.
Ostensibly the reason for firing Mrs Madlala-Routledge was that in June she travelled to Madrid to speak at an Aids conference without the President’s written authorisation.
Her real crimes, say insiders, were to challenge the President’s handling of the epidemic and help drive through the new treatment strategy. That happened earlier this year when liver transplant surgery forced Mrs Tshabalala-Msimang out of the picture. But “Dr Beetroot” came back. In the past few weeks she has, officials say, set about undermining the treatment plan.
Once again, Texas, this is all highly unoriginal. And, in the process, you’re lionizing small-minded shrill right-wing reactionaries like this one:
The call to fire Comer came from Lizzette Reynolds, who previously worked in the U.S. Department of Education. She also served as deputy legislative director for Gov. George W. Bush. She joined the Texas Education Agency as the senior adviser on statewide initiatives in January.
Reynolds, who was out sick the day Comer forwarded the e-mail, received a copy from an unnamed source and forwarded it to Comer’s bosses less than two hours after Comer sent it.
“This is highly inappropriate,” Reynolds said in an e-mail to Comer’s supervisors. “I believe this is an offense that calls for termination or, at the very least, reassignment of responsibilities.
“This is something that the State Board, the Governor’s Office and members of the Legislature would be extremely upset to see because it assumes this is a subject that the agency supports.”
Oh my. What will the neighbors say?
First, there’s Pharyngula:
Whoa. The Texas Education Agency is neutral on the subject of teaching good science? It’s bad if the TEA takes a position on the subject of science education?
Apparently, TEA members are supposed to close their eyes and maximize ignorance before making decisions. I really feel sorry for Texas.
And Thoughts from Kansas:
Indeed, we must inquire what the Texas Education Agency (TEA) is supposed to do if not endorse particular positions with respect to science education, especially those related to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS, statewide science education standards). Given that the state is gearing up to revise those standards, it is hard not to see this as a shot across the bow of the Texas education community, and an attempt to prevent scientifically knowledgeable folks from participating in discussion of what topics are scientific, and what scientific topics should be presented when in the educational process. I certainly hope this strategy backfires.
And The Austringer:
Apparently, not being a team player in the The Republican War on Science is a firing offense at the TEA. Why forwarding an announcement concerning a talk whose topic is highly relevant to the conduct of science education by an internationally recognized speaker should cause TEA administrators a problem escapes me. One is forced to wonder whether Ms. Comer would be looking for a new job if instead she were forwarding emails announcing talks by DI fellows about “intelligent design” creationism.
And Bad Astronomy:
If a speaker came advocating astronomy over astrology, would that cause problems for TEA? How about an HIV denier? Could they speak out against such a person?
Funny. I would think that it would one of TEA’s biggest goals to promote science over antiscience, and to actually teach people the difference between reality and fantasy.
Once again, Texas, this is all really uninteresting. Seriously, creationism was so 1925. I’d like to think that our society has advanced a bit over the last eighty years. Here’s a thought: why don’t we quit playing politics and actually teach our kids some real science? Just sayin’.