Why Texas matters: Evolution education in “one of the nation’s biggest buyers of textbooks”

The New York Times reported yesterday on the fight in Texas over science standards. The standards for 20 years have required that science be taught in a way that show the “strengths and weaknesses” of Darwin’s theory of evolution.  The third draft, passed in December 2008 didn’t include this phrase, but this year 7 of the 15 members of the Texas state board of education are social conservatives. It looks like the vote will be close.

As the article points out, this decision in Texas can impact how science is taught beyond Texas. A very powerful force in the textbook market, education policy made in Texas impacts textbooks sold throughout the US. A demand from Texas for science textbooks to include language which undermines scientific discourse about evolution can shape how students in Missouri are taught.

The debate here has far-reaching consequences; Texas is one of the nation’s biggest buyers of textbooks, and publishers are reluctant to produce different versions of the same material.

Many biologists and teachers said they feared that the board would force textbook publishers to include what skeptics see as weaknesses in Darwin’s theory to sow doubt about science and support the Biblical version of creation.

In an October 2002 NYTimes article “LESSONS; Books Often Give History A Facelift,” Richard Rothstein wrote:

American publishers sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of social studies texts each year. Texas is the second-largest buyer in that market, after California. Because issuing separate editions for each state is expensive, changes required by Texas will affect texts everywhere.

One secular and one religious organization have joined together to launch a project called Teach Them Science which focuses on the importance of giving Texas students a “21st century science education.” They have suggestions for how Texas citizens can get involved. For those outside of Texas, Teach Them Science suggests supporting science advocacy in your state, and joining national organizations such as NCSE. As they write, “If these methods don’t help with the immediate situation in Texas, they may help keep the problem from spreading outside Texas. They may also help by spreading awareness into Texas from the outside.”

For more on the debate over evolution, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has an article outlining the history and significance of the controversy.

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