11/22/2008

BOHEMIAN CALLS OUT THE TEXAS BOARD OF EDUCATION

I really admire Wendee Holtcamp. She's a straight shooter, passionate about teaching evolution and a sincere Christian. She says a lot of the things I wish I could say, but often lack either the grace or patience to say well. For example, here's a podcast in which she discusses evolution and Christianity.

Yesterday, she took her beliefs directly into the public square and in her testimony before the Texas State Board of Education left no doubt as to what she, a Christian, thinks is the motivation of board members (led by their chair, Don McElroy) in pushing the latest Discovery Institute-inspired strategy to undermine education:


Wendee said something that needs to be said, over and over again, which is that the motivation of the parties involved is fundamentally (irony intended) religious:

Despite what the creationist members of the Board say - Ms Lowe, Ms Leo, Ms Cargill, Ms Dunbar, Mr Mercer, Dr McLeroy and others - everybody in the nation knows that this is absolutely a religious battle, that your dislike of evolution and naturalism and any changes to the TEKs that are supported by the Discovery Institute are religiously motivated. Kitzmiller vs Dover clearly showed that ID and these issues are religious in nature. For you to sit there and tell everyone it is not smacks of arrogance and deliberate willful deception. In other words, lying.

At which point the chair (Dr. McLeroy) interrupted her, explaining that these were words that she couldn't use, which derailed her intended presentation a tad. But no matter. Wendee's little thrust provoked a public response, in the public record, and I predict McLeroy's attempt to muzzle her will come back and haunt him and the other members of the board should they make a decision that flies in the best interests of science education. You can get a feeling of the atmosphere of the Board hearings by listening to this mp3 file.

Why do I think this is so noteworthy? By speaking to the heart of the matter, Wendee has helped lay the groundwork for legal discovery in the event of a future court case as to the religious motivation of the board members. By publicly raising the question, it puts significant pressure on the board to justify their decision in purely secular terms, and my guess is that they will stumble, just as the defendants in the Dover case did, because of course their motivation is primarily religious. They are dancing around the Establishment Clause, and any significant missteps will make them more vulnerable to legal challenge.

They know this, and so they are quick to deny their motivations. For example, in an article quoting Wendee from the Star-Telegram, Dr. McElroy remarks, ""This is all being ginned up by the evolution side. I’m a creationist, but I’m not going to put creationism in the schools."

Ah, but if the language proposed by the creationists makes it easier for their fellow travelers in public school classrooms to debunk, minimize or skip evolution, and if evolution ends up the main item in the curriculum affected by the new language, then what are we to conclude other than it was inserted as a means of doing exactly that, in order to privilege the board member's sectarian beliefs? There is no scientific controversy about evolution or natural selection as they appear in Texas's state standards. The so-called 'evolution side' is actually the SCIENCE side, people. It is the creationists (hiding behind the intellectual skirts of the Discovery Institute) that is pushing a 'teach the controversy' strategy. It is creationists that are 'ginning up' resistance among school teachers and the scientific community, and it will be creationists like Don McElroy that will provoke the next legal challenge in what Wendee has aptly termed 'The Fish Wars.'

Anyway, if you care about science in the public schools, take the time to read Wendee's post, either at Daily Kos or on her blog "Bohemian Adventures", where there are follow-up posts of interests.

3 comments:

WENDEE HOLTCAMP said...

Thanks for the kudos Scott - this is great! A very good discussion of the situation.

Ian H Spedding FCD said...

Good for the both of you, I say. We need more voices like yours in the "public square" to offset the clamor of the creationists, to make the point that the likes of Don McLeroy or Terri Leo should not get to decide what is good science or who is a good Christian.

Anonymous said...

The mention she is a 'sincere christian' is bothersome. How could you know, why does it matter at all?

That she is correct on the science is what matters.