Explainer: Creationist Attacks on Science Education in Texas

It never ends. The fight to stop creationist attacks on evolution stretch back to before TFN was -- excuse the pun -- created in 1995. The roots of the latest skirmish over the science curriculum standards in the state's public schools date back all the way to the 1980s. Here, in brief, is how we got here.

1980s: 'Strengths and Weaknesses'

Once the federal courts made it clear that teaching creationism or so-called “creation science” in public school science classrooms was unconstitutional, evolution deniers needed a new strategy. In the late 1980s they succeeded in getting new curriculum standards in Texas to require that students learn about “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution. Creationist organizations and activists saw this as a way to persuade students that the science behind evolution is weak, despite more than a century of research and scientific evidence to the contrary.

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1998: Creationists Lock in Their Strategy

The Texas State Board of Education approves curriculum science standards (known as TEKS: Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) that keep the "strengths and weaknesses" requirement. This language is a common tactic of anti-science activists bent on undermining the teaching of evolution, as explained by a Texas A&M University biology professor:

" Strengths and weaknesses" exist in any scientific theory or paradigm. Scientific skepticism and challenging is central to how science gets done. But this component of scientific methodology is being exploited by the creationists/ID types to attempt to insert their ideas into the curriculum. These attempts are not being done in the professional scientific realm, where they are supposed to be done, but in the political realm, so their approach is a distortion of how science reaches a consensus of understanding. I don’t hear calls for discussion of the "strengths and weaknesses" of quantum theory, or gravitational cosmology.

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2009: 'Strengths and Weaknesses' Is Removed. But ...

In January of 2009, a majority of the SBOE agreed with a panel of teachers and scholars and voted to remove the "strengths and weaknesses" language from new science standards. The anti-science faction of the board fought hard to keep the language. The whole ordeal can be summarized with this clip from then-SBOE Chair Don McLeroy:

But that wasn't the end of it. While "strengths and weaknesses" was removed, creationists managed to add four other problematic standards. Those standards contain anti-science propaganda that creationists hope will undermine the teaching of evolution. The standards require students to (each link explains why the standard is problematic):

  • examine "all sides of scientific evidence." | Analysis

  • analyze the data on "sudden appearance" | Analysis

  • study the "complexity of the cell" | Analysis

  • analyze and evaluate the evidence related to "self-replicating life" | Analysis

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2016: Streamlining Begins

Responding to complaints from teachers that the state science standards are too bloated and confusing, the SBOE in March 2016 agreed to appoint a panel tasked with streamlining, or simplifying, the standards.

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Summer 2016: Streamlining Committee Meets

Meeting in Austin, a streamlining committee composed of educators and scholars arrived at an almost unanimous conclusion: A quick and easy way to simplify the standards would be to remove the anti-science propaganda inserted into the standards in 2009. Creationists were not happy. Not. At. All.

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Fall 2016: Unhappy Creationists Beg Other Creationists for Help

In September, evolution opponent Ray Bohlin of Probe Ministries in Plano, Texas, showed up at an SBOE meeting to complain that the streamlining committee, on which he served, didn't do what he wanted. In fact, what actually happened is the committee just didn't agree to Bohlin's anti-science propaganda and voted 6-2 to recommend the removal of the four problematic standards passed in 2009. Bohlin went as far as to imply that there was some nefarious plot by the committee members to rush the removal of the standards. Shockingly, some SBOE members seemed all too wiling to accept Bohlin's account, signaling a brand new fight on the teaching of evolution in Texas public schools.

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2017: New and Improved Standards?

The SBOE is scheduled to vote in April on the streamlining committee's recommendation to adopt new standards that are free of anti-science propaganda. Will the SBOE once again cast aside the advice of teachers and experts in favor of a politicized science curriculum loaded with creationist arguments? Stay tuned.

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