Texas State Board of Education Debates Evolution, Creationism in Schools

Barbara Cargill, TX State Board of Education (Credit: Caleb Bryant Miller/The Texas Tribune)

The debate over teaching evolution in public schools is resurfacing at the Texas State Board of Education. This morning the board convened a two-day meeting to consider supplemental science materials for the upcoming school year and beyond. At least six people on the 15-member school board are advocating that “creationism” and “intelligent design” be added to state’s science curriculum.

The Republican-dominated board drew national attention in 2009 when it adopted science standards encouraging schools to scrutinize “all sides” of scientific theory.

The board is under the new leadership of Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, a former biology teacher who disputes the theory of evolution. She is considered to be one of the panel’s more conservative members. She explains:

“Right now there are six true conservative Christians on the board, so we have to fight for two votes.”

Critics, though, believe that Cargill’s statements have been judgmental and that she is being divisive in an effort to force her personal beliefs and agenda on others. Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), an organization that advocates for “religious freedom,” says:

“The right-wing faction of the State Board of Education will make every effort to put their personal and political beliefs in science instruction.”

TFN spokesman Dan Quinn continues:

“She questioned the faith of her colleagues and she point blank said that she will demand that publishers make changes in the science materials to meet her own personal objectives – not science objectives.”

Cargill, though, claims that she is not trying to be divisive. Others have come to her defense as well, explaining that she is merely seeking to level the playing field when it comes to discussions of evolution and life’s beginnings.

The public hearing will likely reignite debate about Charles Darwin’s theories about life’s origins, while also examining new curriculum standards present in science e-books. Due to budget constraints, rather than producing new books, these electronic resources will be used alongside old text books. Following today’s public hearing, a final vote on materials the board wants to adopt will be cast on Friday. DallasNews.com reports:

Although science materials for several grades are up for consideration, most of the debate is expected to center on high school biology books and their coverage of evolution. The board’s social conservative bloc has been adamant that the e-books present both the evidence for and against key principles of Darwin — and a conservative think tank that has pushed for critical analysis of Darwin’s theories is arguing that the e-books generally fail to cover all sides of the various issues.

Mainstream science education groups have been generally supportive of the e-books and are warning the board against watering down the coverage of common ancestry, natural selection and other key Darwin principles.

The state’s school districts will not be required to buy the materials, but the majority are expected to use the board-adopted books, as they will be best suited to address the state’s curriculum requirements and achievement examinations. It will be interesting to see how much the board is willing to budge, if at all, in the direction of equalizing the books’ coverage of evolution and creationism.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.