Religious right monkeying with our kids' textbooks again
Jan Jarboe Russell - San Antonio Express-News - original - Web Posted : 09/14/2003
It's Monkey Business time again in Texas.
The 15 members of the Texas Board of Education — individuals who have an ungodly amount of influence over what students nationwide read in their textbooks — are meeting in Austin to refight the science vs. religion argument over evolution.
Changes made in Texas textbooks influence textbooks all over the country because Texans spend about $344 million a year on these books — a number big enough to drive the textbook market.
People are always trying to make the case that Texas is changing. A lot of young, rich, smart outsiders have moved in — many of whom actually embrace the idea of evolution. These people have set up dot-com businesses, funded cancer research and made the case that the future belongs to those who understand medicine and biotechnology.
While it is true that there are plenty of scientific-minded Texans, these folks are vastly outnumbered by vociferous people who think religion — namely creationism — should be taught in science class. Thanks to the creationists, Texas will always be Texas.
The truth is — as usual — frustratingly complex. Evolution is not a matter of faith. It's a conceptual framework that explains how what we call "life" works and changes over time. It has nothing to do with religion. It's not something you "believe" — it's something you study to pass tests, get into college and become a doctor. You can study evolution and believe in God. Plenty of people do it.
But if the hard-core creationists get their way this year, Texas may also become Kansas. In 1999, the reputation and economy of Kansas took a big hit after the Kansas Board of Education dropped the teaching of evolution from its standards. As a result of the anti-intellectual outcry, the Kansas board itself evolved — and has since become more evolution-friendly.
Creationism now has a new, modern-sounding name. It's called intelligent design — ID — the theory that cosmic forces, or what most of us call God, direct human development. The goal of ID leaders is not to completely get rid of evolution in the classroom, just to cast doubt on it and insist that creationism is offered as well.
The ID movement, led in part by a think tank in Seattle called the Discovery Institute, is to convince school boards to present what the institute says are weaknesses in evolutionary theory. Toward that end, ID has ignited evolution debates not just in Texas but also in New Mexico, Michigan, Ohio and California.
Here in Texas, the fight over evolution is now being waged over which details should be omitted and which should be added in biology books. We may not know how life began or exactly how life evolves, but that doesn't stop the Texas Board of Education from its relentless nitpicking.
This year, the nitpicking is over biology. But the textbook battle isn't just over biology. Every year the state board of education takes up a new textbook in a different subject, and every year it's a political and religious battle.
For instance, last year the board changed a sixth-grade social studies book that read: "Glaciers formed the Great Lakes millions of years ago." Religious conservatives objected because it didn't fit their timeline of creation. The book was changed to read: "Glaciers formed the Great Lakes in the distant past."
Many other changes have been made to adapt what children are taught to the political agenda of religious conservatives. A photograph of a woman carrying a briefcase was omitted from a textbook because the board of education decided the photo undermined family values.
A publisher deleted the following passage because it was considered too friendly to Islam: "Al-Qaida's leader, Osama bin Laden, told his followers that it was a Muslim's duty to kill Americans. No idea could be further from Muslim teachings. The Quran, Islam's holiest book, tells soldiers to show civilians kindness and deal with them justly."
So the Monkey Business is not just about evolution. It's about everything — how slavery is presented in history class, how sex education should be taught, whether global warming can be explained. You name it, we fight over it.
A rational person might argue that this could all be solved if we could all just agree that religion should be taught in churches or at home and that academic matters should be taught in school.
But that would take all the Monkey Business out of it — and let's face it, we're not that evolved.