Things are heating up all over the place

The NY Times covers the Chris Comer resignationtoday. This story is a wonderful window into the events transpiring within the Texas Education Agency — they are gearing up to shut down biology education in the whole damn state. And why now?

The standards, adopted in 1998, are due for a 10-year review and possible revision after the 15-member elected State Board of Education meets in February, with particular ramifications for the multibillion-dollar textbook industry. The chairman of the panel, Dr. Don McLeroy, a dentist and Sunday School teacher at Grace Bible Church in College Station, has lectured favorably in the past about intelligent design.

There's a major standards review coming up, and the guy running the show is a bible-thumping clown of a dentist. Note the hint of the wider ramifications: Texas is a huge textbook market, and what goes down in Texas affects what publishers put in books that are marketed nationwide. It is time to start thinking about ending Texas's influence. If you're a teacher, a school board member, or an involved parent, and if you get an opportunity to evaluate textbooks for your local schools, look carefully at your biology offerings. If you're reviewing a textbook and discover that it has been approved for use in Texas, then strike it from your list. It's too dumb and watered down for your kids.

Let's hit the publishers where it hurts. Tailoring their books for the Texas market should cut them out of the national market.

Other news to keep your eyes open for today: the Discovery Institute will be having a press conference in Iowa in a few hours. They claim to have juicy revelations in the Guillermo Gonzalez case; I suspect it will be something along the lines of someone on the tenure review committee called Intelligent Design creationism a mean name in an email somewhere. Anyway, we may hear more from either Tara or an Evil Monkey later today.

The creationist blogs will probably be full of indignant outrage over the Gonzalez case for a while, but don't expect a whisper from them on the Comer case.

More like this

The Texas Board of Education has named the six people who will be on a committee to review science curriculum standards. Texas, you've got trouble. The people are: David Hillis, professor of integrative biology and director of the Center of Computational Biology and Bioinformatics at the…
Education committees are beginning to review the science standards for Texas Schools this month. There are indications that efforts will be made to weaken the standing of evolution, or insinuate creationism, creation science, or intelligent design into the standards. The current Texas Essential…
On one hand, we have the Huckabee factor ... Huckabee's draw on hard right voters in tomorrows primary may lead anti-evolutionists to victory. On the other hand, we have the Obama factor ... Obama's draw on moderate republicans may lead to a cleansing of pernicious liberal elements from the…
The recent unpleasant affair at the Texas Education Agency, in which the director of the science curriculum, Chris Comer, was pressured to resign, was triggered by Comer forwarding an email announcing a talk by Barbara Forrest. Forrest is a philosopher of science, and one of our leading advocates…

Not to take any attention away from Texas, but we in Florida are enduring our own science standards revision hell. A member of the STATE board of education has come forward on the Florida Baptist Witness website saying that she will vote against our new standards draft because the draft features evolution in the life sciences. Word through the grapevine indicates that she's not the only one on the board who thinks this way. Florida Citizens for Science is working hard to save the standards with evolution intact. If enough state board of education members vote against evolution, we're going to have some serious fireworks!
http://www.flascience.org/wp/?p=331

Good luck with that, Brandon.

As far as the textbooks, wouldn't you think that with the new publishing technologies that textbook publishing companies could tailor a "Texas Only Biology sans evolution and publish a real textbook for the rest of us (and Austin?) Insert god here, excerpt truth there, snip-snip embryology here and so forth? Then they could just do a separate run. We could always smuggle real biology textbooks into Texas schools who want to teach science as she is did.

If gawd designed things, why didn't it give us all permanently good teeth, or at least teeth that would grow back?

Of course then this dumb dentist would have had to find another job. He should thank evolution for giving him a job, probably well-paying at that.

I have to say that I'm surprised the US manages to put out such decent science and scientists, considering the edumacation you seem to be getting these days.

I wonder if, by belittling evidence-based theory and teaching ID/creationist rubbish that can be discounted using a small amount of brainpower and some objective thinking, you get a educational natural selection where the brighter students get even brighter because they have to question and challenge more?

By Scrofulum (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

What I want to say is..."Texas, it's like a whole other country".

Sadly, the textbook issue makes that point moot.

By Shaggy Maniac (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

It's the dentists, I tell you. I work in behavioral health, and last week I noted that on a state profile, under a section to list those other than MDs who can prescribe psychopharmaceuticals (where most states might list PAs or CNPs), NY state listed dentists.

So you can go to an NY dentist, get your drugs, then go to TX and help design (haa!) the (a)scientific curriculum.

I wonder what kind of ad revenue algorithm determined that it should place ads for Chevy truck K&N filter chargers on Pharyngula.

By Slippery Pete (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

The chairman of the panel, Dr. Don McLeroy, a dentist and Sunday School teacher at Grace Bible Church in College Station, has lectured favorably in the past about intelligent design.

Is it just my shitty memory at work here, or wasn't the whole alleged issue that none of them were supposed to take a position on the evo/ID conflict? Could they try being a little less transparent?

As a life-long Texan of 46 years, I would like to say...

I'm so sorry y'all.

By Curt Cameron (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

I'm always tempted to just say that we should let them have their craptastic ID education system and we'll see how Texas turns out.

Then I remember that there are actual kids who won't learn because of this. I don't remember doing more than a cursory version of evolution in school, and I consistently hated biology because it was a bunch of memorization and regurgitation of facts.

I have to say that I'm surprised the US manages to put out such decent science and scientists, considering the edumacation you seem to be getting these days.

Just shows that you don't need a huge number of people to keep science progressing. The universities are traditionally well funded and don't spend a lot of time agonizing over whether to teach evolution. Except at some religiously oriented private colleges such as Olivet.

The rich and much of the middle class won't buy into dumb and dumber secondary education. If the public schools aren't good, they will just send their kids to private schools that are. The dumbdown strategy really hits the poor and lower middle classes.

The fundies are just setting their kids up to fail. It is working. Texas has much higher rates of poverty, child poverty, and social problems than the US average.

It seems that the DI's more recent whine has been that ISU faculty orchestrated a campaign to deny tenure to Gonzalez, with letter-writing and such things. Ergo, he was persecuted. So I expect there will be little more "revelation" than some (real or trumped-up) evidence to support the contention about the "campaign".

Of course it's on about the same level of "thought" that the DI typically uses, that somehow the fact that Gonzalez is as welcome in academia as a necromancer or IDist, for the same reasons, automatically means persecution rather than an intelligent judgment that magic does not equal science. I fail to see why an ex-scientist, present preacher for bigoted theism, should be welcomed by the university.

But that's the line coming from the DI and Expelled at the present time. They have no arguments, as per the usual, and intend to substitute the tyranny of the majority for antiquated notions like meritocracy and the use of evidence to decide issues.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

The rich and much of the middle class won't buy into dumb and dumber secondary education. If the public schools aren't good, they will just send their kids to private schools that are.

...and this abandonment of the public schools by everyone who can afford it would lead inevitably to the utter collapse of the public school system... which, not coincidentally, is another wingnut goal. It's a win-win for the bad guys, I'm afraid.

By Bill Dauphin (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

Let's repeal the law of gravity then pigs can fly. In Texas.

Oh I wish for the return of the great inland sea.

In my opinion, Gonzalez should have been denied tenure solely for being an ID supporter. Supporting ID means that you are too blinded to do real science; it means you let your religion cloud your judgment. It shows that you aren't a competent professional. So just as a mathematician who believed that 2+2=5 because it says so in some holy text somewhere should be denied tenure, so should Gonzalez.

I'm so sorry y'all.

And I'm so sorry for y'all. Or at least for your kids. Is there any grammatically correct ways of "y'allifying" "your"?

Wildly offtopic: How come there's no Pharyngula/Pandas thumb/Scienceblogs.com Folding@home team? I'm sure we've all got some cycles to spare.

#12- "If the public schools aren't good, they will just send their kids to private schools that are."

Where I live, the private schools are almost all religious. They achieve better test scores by skimming off the kids whose parents care enough about education to spend $5+K/yr. All the kids whose parents don't care are left behind to drag down the public school standards.

While these religious schools may have higher standards overall, they are not likely to do justice to evolution. They tend to diminish or ignore it in the curriculum.

Is there any grammatically correct ways of "y'allifying" "your"?

That would be "y'all's", as in "I feel sorry for y'all's kids."

"Y'all" is a perfectly good second-person plural, and fills a grammatical gap that is missing in standard English, where "you" has to do double-duty as singular and plural.

It makes sense, y'all.

"Y'all" is a perfectly good second-person plural, and fills a grammatical gap that is missing in standard English, where "you" has to do double-duty as singular and plural.

Except that you even hear "y'all" turned into a plural sometimes with either "y'alls follow me" or "all y'all come with me"!

And don't forget places like New York and Glasgow, Scotland which share another form of the "you" plural: "youse" (or is it "yous"?).

What are the Texas universities and colleges (the non-religious ones, that is, or maybe them too, if they are sane) saying about any of this? Or are they afraid of being attacked in their own turn? I know that anti-intellectualism is a strong component of the creationist appeal, but given that more and more people do end up attending college these days (and don't forget the track of attending community college and maybe transferring to complete the bachelor's at another school) it has to have some impact if the population is told that their kids are likely to get an inferior education, and thus have poorer prospects overall, if bad science standards prevail. I'm not saying that universities are the only institutions that ought to be saying this, but given that they provide at least some of the writers of textbooks, and educate prospective high school science teachers (and have to re-educate the students who come there ignorant of evolution), they obviously have an interest in what happens.

...and Pittsburgh, where the old-timers say something that sounds like "yinz," as in "yinz goin daantaan to the Stillers game?"

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

I happen to live a couple of blocks from Grace Bible Church. My fiance went there for a while when she was in CCC (she had an epiphany and left that cult). It's apparently the most conservative church in the most conservative college town in the entire universe. I find it interesting that they have police directing traffic outside of that church on Sundays.

"Y'all" is a perfectly good second-person plural, and fills a grammatical gap that is missing in standard English, where "you" has to do double-duty as singular and plural.

I heartily concur. Speaking as someone born Southern and raised Texan, and as an English major, once-and-future English teacher, and professional editor, I absolutely think "y'all" fills a hole in our language. If I were Grammar King for a day, the first thing I would do would be to regularize "y'all" as the English second person plural pronoun.

Except that you even hear "y'all" turned into a plural sometimes with either "y'alls follow me" or "all y'all come with me"!

Actually, the erroneous use of "y'all" I most often notice is its use -- generally by clueless damnyankees trying to fake Southern dialect -- as a singular pronoun, as in "What are y'all reading?" addressed to an individual. Y'all stop doing that, y'hear?

By Bill Dauphin (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

"chairman of ISU's Department of Physics and Astronomy, Dr. Eli Rosenberg, stated in Dr. Gonzalez's tenure dossier that Dr. Gonzalez's support for intelligent design "disqualifies him from serving as a science educator."

This guy should get a commendation from his university.

While I am an admitted borealphile (i.e I-90 = the Mason-Dixon Line), I have to admit that "y'all" has a ring and flexibility to it that is absent in the northern phrase "you guys" (applied to both men and women).

By Shaggy Maniac (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

oops...this is the most recent one...just 20 minutes ago. seems like a number of profs there should have stopped with the emails. his publication record and lack of procuring external funding and not graduating students should have been enough to deny him tenure anyway. so i hope these IDiots can't use this to their advantage...but, given the crazy climate we're in, you never know.
personally, i think that embarrassing the university by advocating this anti-science crap should be a very valid reason for denying him tenure.
at my undergrad uni, Middle TN State University, we had an ID advocate, Dr. Eric Klumpe (part of the Reasons to Believe organization) who frequently spoke to christian organizations and asked the same irreducible complexity crap questions when people like Massimo Pigliucci came to speak.
he was one of my lecturers in physics...and from what i'm told from other students he talked to them about how evolution is wrong. the biology faculty there was quite annoyed, to say the least.
anyway, screw this. it's one thing to have some wacky belief while you're a professor...it's quite another to be openly anti-science while not doing any research of your own.

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/12/intelligent_design_was_the_iss.html

By molecanthro (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

...and Pittsburgh, where the old-timers say something that sounds like "yinz," as in "yinz goin daantaan to the Stillers game?"

Oh wow. Is that a Pittsburghism? My (now sadly departed) dad used to say that (but with a more schwa-like vowel than /i/), and I thought it was just him. He spent the first c. 7 years of his life in Wilkinsburg, and I know he came away with at least one other regionalism, viz., "needs X'ed" as in "the car needs washed".

I always analyzed "yinz" as an elided "you'uns" ("you ones").

It's ironic that English used to have a solution to the 2nd person singular vs. plural problem, but we dropped it: plural you/ye/your/yours, and singular thou/thee/thy/thine. The modern solutions shift the old plural form to the singular and invent a new plural form by re-pluralizing the old plural form. That makes little sense; I think it would be simpler just to go back to doing it the old way. And mine wife agreeth.

By noncarborundum (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

the car needs washed

Oh, yeah, that took a bit of adjusting to when I moved to Pittsburgh. In general, it seemed like "to be" was always considered superfluous.

A colleague of mine noted that it reduced Hamlet to saying "Or not".

I've never understood why Texas effectively gets to dictate the content of textbooks. Why not California or any other populous state?

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

As another ex-Wilkinsburger I can confirm that "yinz" is a lousy phoneticization ... that's how we tell the real Western Pennsylvanians from the newcomers who read "How to Speak Pittsburghese" before they moved in.

I bet your dad liked a nice "jumbo" sandwich, too.

By Jim Flannery (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

I've never understood why Texas effectively gets to dictate the content of textbooks. Why not California or any other populous state?

The "standards" of the lowest common denominator prevail whenever (most of the time, that is) publishers cater to the lowest common denominator.

But then you knew that, I suspect, and were appealing to a somewhat higher standard.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

Ah, some 'Burgh elitism eh? I wasn't born & bred but I did live in the South Hills for 7 of my most formative years.
And you're right about the schwa. Actually, I do a pretty good Myron Cope.

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

Bill: "Speaking as someone born Southern and raised Texan, and as an English major, once-and-future English teacher, and professional editor, I absolutely think "y'all" fills a hole in our language. If I were Grammar King for a day, the first thing I would do would be to regularize "y'all" as the English second person plural pronoun."

I think we're almost there, Bill. I heard a New Yorker use "y'all" a few weeks ago. I can't remember the context, but the person was clearly not a Southern transplant and spoke otherwise perfect New Yawkese.

I like to call "all y'all" the Plural Emphatic.

All the text book producers need to do is produce each book in two parts. The first part will be "Science for Dummies in Texas and Florida", and the second part "Science that the Dummies couldn't handle".

Of course the first part will be very thin and cheap because "God did it" doesn't take up much room, and will deliver very thin and cheap education.

By DiscoveredJoys (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink

Publishers routinely publish different texts/versions for different markets. However publishers are more likely to error on the side of more coverage rather than less.

Marketing the book involves showing how it meets all the state standards and to sell a book in multiple states a book usually covers more material than the standards of any one state.

On the other hand, teachers are mandated to teach the state's standards and must focus on those things regardless of what is in the book.

I like to call "all y'all" the Plural Emphatic.

It's sometimes used for emphasis, but there are also contexts in which it makes perfect sense, just as "all of you" would -- if you need to indicate that you are referring to an entire group, and not just a subset of a larger group of people. "Y'all in front need to sit down, and all y'all need to hush up."

I've never understood why Texas effectively gets to dictate the content of textbooks. Why not California or any other populous state?

Ginger,
I'd always heard the answer as "The Texas BOE decides which books to teach from, and then every school in the state buys and teaches from that one book." Since Texas buys thousands upon thousands of copies of your book if it chooses your edition, you'd be stupid not to aim for that market.

But Iowa may be weird; here every school district is a fiefdom unto itself, deciding its own standards and textbooks. Each Podunk or What Cheer bumblefuck one-stoplight town gets their own standards, and maybe buys a handful of copies of your textbook.

They (the DI) claim to have juicy revelations in the Guillermo Gonzalez case; I suspect it will be something along the lines of someone on the tenure review committee called Intelligent Design creationism a mean name in an email somewhere.
Spookily prescient; did the Lord speak to you, PZ?

As a vendor who sells equipment to science teachers, I recently attended the annual conferences of the Texas Science Teacher's Association in Austin and the National Association of Biology Teachers in Atlanta. I am happy to tell you that with few exceptions, the science teachers are teaching evolution only, regardless of what the kooks in power want them to teach. In reality, what goes on behind the classroom door is up to the teacher. And luckily, most science teachers are smart enough to teach science, aka evolution.

Stogoe: that's approximately it, except that there can be a handful of texts all on the approved list for any particular subject. My very hazy memory seems to recall three biology texts out of a pool of seven making it in our brouhaha down here in 2003.

Wasn't Kennedy shot from a window of the Texas Schools book Despository? I smell a conspiracy....

By Sittingbourne_Hatter (not verified) on 04 Dec 2007 #permalink