Debate over teaching evolution in Texas lasted late into the night last week at a State Board of Education meeting. The board approved several textbooks, but withheld approval of a high school biology textbook by Pearson education on the charge of factual errors in the book’s stance on natural selection.
Publishers submitted proposed textbooks this summer. Committees of Texas volunteer reviewers raised objections about the Pearson text, some arguing for creationism, others objecting to the portrayal of climate change as a settled scientific fact. Other concerns included differences of opinion on how long it took the earth to cool, interpretation of the fossil record, and the possibility of intelligent design. Pearson and other publishers, unwilling to make suggested major edits, challenged the list of errors presented by the citizen review panel.
A 2011 state law says school districts don’t have to adhere to a list of textbooks recommended by the Board of Education, but most have continued to use board-approved books. At issue this time are proposed high school textbooks that could be used statewide starting next school year and through 2022.
The long night of debate Thursday concluded with a vote to have three of the board members choose a trio of outside experts to evaluate the book. The board will approve the book if the issues can be resolved in four weeks. If not, the board will reject it or reconsider it at its January meeting. The board confirmed the decision in a second vote Friday afternoon.
Democrats and moderate Republicans on the board joined the publisher in questioning the reviewers’ objections. One, Thomas Ratcliff, accused the concerned board members of hijacking the process, calling the late-night debate “laughable.”
Dr. Stephen Meyer, a Discovery Institute scholar, criticized the board’s approval of other biology textbooks that promoted evolution in an interview with the Dallas Morning News.
“[The new books] will leave students in the dark about contemporary mainstream scientific controversies over Darwinian evolution,” he said. “Unfortunately, because Texas is a major purchaser of textbooks, the board’s action may have an adverse impact on science education across America for years to come.”
What Texas decides could affect textbook selection nationally because the state is so large that many books prepared for publication there also are marketed elsewhere around the country.
Textbook and classroom curriculum battles have long raged in Texas pitting those who see evolution as a scientific fact against those who want creationism taught as an alternate explanation for the beginning of the universe.