In Texas, the current state high school biology standards require that “the student knows the theory of biological evolution.” However, the latest actions by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) suggest that Texas will become the next battleground for evolution education.

Christine Castillo Comer, with nearly three decades of experience as a science teacher, was recently pressured to resign from her post after forwarding an e-mail about an upcoming talk in Austin by Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, and coauthor of “Creationism’s Trojan Horse,” a scholarly work that chronicles how creationist politics are behind the movement to insert intelligent design into the public-school science curriculum. Forrest was an expert witness in the landmark 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case that ruled against the teaching of intelligent design in the local Dover, Pennsylvania, public schools. The e-mail, originating from the National Center for Science Education, was titled “FYI” by Comer and distributed to a few people and members of a local online community.

According to a memo from TEA officials calling for Comer’s dismissal that was obtained by The Austin American-Statesman through the Texas Public Information Act, “Ms. Comer’s e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker’s position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.”

Biologists and evolution education advocates across the United States have expressed outrage that the TEA requires, as agency policy, neutrality when talking about evolution and creationism. They are particularly concerned by the TEA policy given the upcoming 10-year review of the science portion of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills to be undertaken by the State Board of Education. The chairman of the State Board, Don McLeroy, has spoken favorably about intelligent design in the past and voted against the state’s current high school biology textbook because it did not include discussions of the weaknesses of evolution.

A statement from AIBS President Douglas Futuyma about the Texas evolution controversy can be found at: http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20071206aibspresident_1.html

A similar situation - yet with a much different final outcome - recently came to light in Florida. The St. Petersburg Times reported 8 December that Selena “Charlie” Carraway, program manager for the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Instructional Materials, recently sent a message from her personal e-mail account urging fellow Christians to oppose newly proposed Florida science standards that prominently include evolution.

In the e-mail, widely distributed across Florida, Carraway invoked her official position in order “to give this email credibility.” She further stated, “Districts will not have a choice in teaching evolution as a theory, but will be expected to teach it as stated in these standards, big ideas, and benchmarks… Whose agenda is this and will the Christians in Florida care enough to do something about it?”

Carraway was reprimanded for her actions by the Department of Education, but remains on the job.

Florida’s draft standards have been applauded by science education advocates and are considered a significant improvement over the deficient 1999 standards. Public comments on the new draft standards are welcome until 19 December 2007 (http://tools.fcit.usf.edu/ScienceReview/). The Florida Board of Education is expected to vote on adopting the new standards sometime in January 2008.

 


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