Are the Textbook Wars Over?
Hagen, L. Kirk, Skeptic (Altadena, CA)
AUSTIN, TX -- In 2004, Lisa Morano and I reported on the quarrels about evolution and creationism as they have played out in Texas public education policy debates ("The Texas Textbook Wars," SKEPTIC Vol. 11, No. 1, 18-20). At the time, creationists and intelligent design (ID) advocates were again trying to force their agenda into public school textbooks. They had targeted Texas because of the state's purchasing power ($30 million annually on biology texts alone), and because Texas had just elected, by landslide, a government that was nearly at the beck and call of the religious right. The Discovery Institute, the nation's leading ID advocacy group, invited itself into the debates because it was convinced that supporting one textbook for Texas and another for the rest of the country would then be too costly for publishers, who would opt for a single text that met Texas standards. By establishing a beachhead in America's second most populous state, they reckoned, they could influence science curricula nationwide. "As Texas goes, so goes the nation" was Discovery's clarion call. But much has changed since 2004. There are now unmistakable signs that the textbook wars--not just in Texas but nationwide--are coming to an end, and that science is the unequivocal winner.
When the wars first came to Texas, fundamentalist activists could not have prayed for a more sympathetic political environment. In 2002, then-gubernatorial candidate Rick Perry openly supported the teaching of creationism in public schools. Perry trounced rival Tony Sanchez, even though Sanchez, a banker, had poured tens of millions of dollars of his personal fortune into the campaign. Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network has described Perry as an "ideologue who has repeatedly put his own personal and political agendas ahead of sound science, good health and solid textbooks for students." (1) The Governor boasts of endorsements from the Texas Home School Coalition, The Texas Christian Coalition, and the Texas Eagle Forum, and has publicly expressed his conviction that non-Christians are all doomed to hell. (2) In July 2007, Perry ominously named Don McLeroy Chairman of the Texas State Board of Education (TSBE). McLeroy, a self-described biblical literalist, has for eight years been the board's most ardent supporter of creationism.
But Perry's popularity in Texas has waned since he took over for George W. Bush. In a state that does not have ran-off elections in the Governor's race, Perry won in 2006 without a majority. During most of the campaign, his polling percentages were stuck in the mid 30s. For a time his closest rival was satirist Kinky Friedman, an independent who ridiculed both the TSBE's poor understanding of evolution and the religious right in general. One of Friedman's more memorable slogans: "The only thing wrong with Southern Baptists is that they don't hold them under long enough." Friedman's campaign raised more money than his Democratic rival's, and drew support from conservatives and liberals alike. Texans, it seemed, were having second thoughts about quasi-theocratic government.
All this preceded the biggest surprise yet in the textbook wars. Barely a month after he became TSBE Chair, McLeroy unexpectedly announced that the board was no longer interested in creationism or ID. …