Education Or Indoctrination?: Texas School Board Dives Into ‘Spiritual Battle’ Over Science

The Texas State Board of Education is heading back into the news this week.

The 15-member elected board will convene for a public hearing on Thursday to hear testimony and on Friday to debate and vote on instructional materials for public school science classes. Since Texas legislators don’t have enough funding to purchase new science textbooks, the state will buy $60 million worth of online supplemental science materials based on the board’s recommendation.

This is not something scientists, educators, parents and civil liberties groups are taking lightly. The board is infamous for its adoption of science curriculum standards in 2009 that left open the door for approval of creationist materials.

What’s more, on July 1, Texas Gov. Rick Perry appointed Barbara Cargill (R-Woodlands) to serve as the chair of the board. Cargill, a former science teacher, believes that the debate over science education is a “spiritual battle.”

Cargill has voted with the board’s far-right bloc since elected. She is a strong proponent of teaching the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution – code language for religiously grounded attacks on accepted science -- and was instrumental in the board’s passage of the current science standards.

During the 2009 debate, Cargill nominated Ralph Seelke, a crony of the Discovery Institute, to serve on the recommendations panel. The Discovery Institute is a Seattle-based outfit that pushes so-called “intelligent design,” a variant of creationism.

This round of Texas deliberations doesn’t seem to be any different. Cargill is responsible for appointing one of three anti-evolutionists serving on the current science review panel. The panel will make recommendations to the state board about the science materials.

In a recent speech to the Eagle Forum, Cargill explained her concern that the board was short one Christian since it approved the creationist-friendly curriculum standards in 2009.

"Right now there are six true conservative Christians on the board, so we have to fight for two votes,” she said. “In previous years, we had to fight for one vote to get a majority."

Her comments alerted critics that Cargill planned to continue voting based on her fundamentalist religious beliefs – not based on what scientists recommend or what’s best for Texas students.

Her words also offended other members of the board. Though they choose to vote for sound science, they are also Christian and don’t like intimations that they aren’t.

"It's going to continue the divisiveness rather than bring us together for the benefit of the schools and the kids,” said board member Thomas Ratliff (R-Mount Pleasant), a Sunday school teacher and leader in the United Methodist church. “She's continuing to draw a line that is very judgmental.”

But for all the criticism Cargill has received from fellow board members and scientists, she’s drawn praise from the Religious Right.

Needless to say, there is reason for alarm once again in Texas.

If you live in the Lone Star State, let the board of education know that you want sound science materials produced by scientists – not the Religious Right.