Gail Lowe Appointed the New Chairman of the Texas State Board of Education

Steven D. Schafersman
Texas Citizens for Science
From the Houston Chronicle Evo.Sphere Blog
2009 July 10

Governor Rick Perry today appointed Gail Lowe of Lampasas to be the new Chairman of the Texas State Board of Education. Gail Lowe is one of the seven radical religious right Republican members of the State Board. She is a Young Earth Creationist who invariably voted in favor of new science standards that misrepresented accurate and reliable scientific knowledge.

Lowe and Ken Mercer appointed David Barton to be one of the three radical religious right "expert" reviewers of the proposed social studies curriculum. These three "experts" all believe that the United States was founded as a Christian republic and all interpret the Establishment Clause of the Constitution to mean something very different from how the Supreme Court has interpreted it over the decades. Rather than requiring separation of church and state in most areas and at all government levels, the three believe that the Establishment Clause means only that the federal government cannot establish a national religion or church.

Of the three, Lowe's appointment of David Barton is probably the worst, since Barton has made it his life's mission to damage the legal consensus and precedent of church-state separation. He has written dozens of books and pamphlets for his WallBuilders organization that promote the U.S. as a Christian nation whose Founders created the new country on the basis of Christian principles and that there is no such thing as church-state separation. No mainstream historian believes this. In fact, the Founders based their design of the new country's Constitution on Enlightenment principles, not religious ones and especially not Christian ones. The leading Founders, including the first six presidents of the United States, were not Christians but rather held personal religious beliefs that varied from Deist to Unitarian. None of these believed that Jesus Christ was divine or a god, although most accepted some of Jesus' teachings and other doctrines such as belief in a providential Creator, life after death, the existence of a soul, and the efficacy of prayer. Only Thomas Paine was close to being a Continental Enlightenment Deist. Furthermore, the Founders did indeed wish for there to be church-state separation as demonstrated in their numerous writings about the subject. They were all knowledgeable of the troubling and tragic history of Christian interference with secular government throughout European history, and they wanted to spare their new country the same unfortunate fate.

Gail Lowe has invariably voted against the experience and knowledge of classroom teachers, university professors, and curriculum experts. She voted against them during the revision of the English Language Arts and Reading standards, the science standards, and will no doubt do the same for the social studies standards. While a minor player in the details of the culture wars against mainstream education and professional academics, she is nevertheless an active participant in them. She is notoriously anti-science: she does not believe in the existence of evolution and global warming.  She once said the will turn down any book that blames global warming on the normal activities of everyday people, and in fact she voted against an environmental science text because it placed the blame for air pollution on people and industries. Finally, as discussed above, Lowe is anti-church-state separation. She obviously wants to damage the secular nature of the state's public school system by actively pushing to insert her narrow Fundamentalist religious beliefs into the public school curriculum.

Gail Lowe voted in 2003 against the adoption of accurate and reliable biology textbooks that contained information about evolution. Instead, she advocating censoring the biology texts by including scientifically-inaccurate information promoted by the Creationist Discovery Institute. Fortunately, she failed in this effort.

Gail Lowe voted in 2004 to oppose medically-accurate high school health education textbooks that contained information about contraception. Instead, she voted to adopt health textbooks that promoted abstinence-only sex education, a program that has notoriously failed to stop the extraordinarily high rates of STDs and illegitimate teenage pregnancies in Texas. Unfortunately, this anti-teenage girl effort succeeded.

Gail Lowe voted in 2008 to throw out two years of work by teacher writing teams for new English Language Arts and Reading standards. Over the strenuous objections of English teachers and curriculum specialists, Lowe instead voted for a standards document that the board’s far-right faction patched together overnight and slipped under hotel doors the morning of the final vote.

Gail Lowe voted in 2009 to damage the state's science curriculum by adopting the misguided and misleading science standards promoted by (again) the Creationist anti-science Discovery Institute of Seattle. The inserted standards had the intended effect of promoting Creationist criticisms of evolution in Biology and the new Earth and Space Science courses. Whether this intended effect will be realized in 2011 is yet to be seen. I have written that the new standards can be used by science textbook publishers to achieve the opposite effect by substantially increasing and improving the scientific coverage of the topics that Creationists believe to be controversial (evolution, origin of life, ancient age of the Earth and Universe, complexity of the cell, etc.). Whether this improvement will occur depends on the degree to which the State Board can intimidate science textbook publishers by threatening them with rejection of their submitted textbooks.

Finally, as discussed above, Gail Lowe is now attempting to damage the state's social studies curriculum standards by appointing David Barton to be a social studies standards review "expert."

What is really unfortunate about Gov. Rick Perry's appointment of Gail Lowe is that she will be used as a pawn by Perry, James Leininger, Don McLeroy, Cynthia Dunbar, David Bradley, Terri Leo, Barbara Cargill, Ken Mercer, and other Young Earth Creationists and anti-secularists who have political power and influence. Lowe will do what the radical religious right powers want her to do. She will not stop the continuing politicization of public education in Texas by the Fundamentalist Christians who still have positions of power and influence. It will be business as usual, as as usual, public education and the students and teachers of the state will suffer.

Update, July 10

In his blog Texas Politics, Houston Chronicle writer Gary Scharrer elicited a great quote from SBOE member Terri Leo, R-Spring, a radical religious right colleague of Gail Lowe. Leo says of Lowe,

Philosophically I believe she is the most conservative SBOE member. We tease her, that if we are not voting with Gail we need to check our conservative compasses.

One comment was precisely on the mark: "Right. Because that's how we should decide education, by using a politically biased viewpoint, forget what's best for the kids." This is exactly how Lowe, Leo, Dunbar, McLeroy, Bradley, Cargill, and Mercer operate: they see everything through a radical religious right (certainly not conservative) lens, putting their extremist, wacko ideology before their responsibility for the education of Texas students. Subversives like these are elected only because their districts are gerrymandered, their party is controlled by radical religious right sympathizers, the opposing Texas Democratic Party won't explicitly challenge them (no doubt believing--quite correctly--that to do so would be futile), and most voters just don't care to examine down-ballot candidates very closely.

Scharrer has another revealing quote, this time from Lowe:

"However, when we deal with very controversial issues, it's the philosophical nature of the discussion to have differing opinions," she said. "We'll allow all sides to be able to express their opinion and then have a vote. And when one votes on something that's controversial, some people win and some people lose. But then we have to move forward to the next issue."

When you are both arrogant and confident that you have the votes, you can talk like this. Notice that there is no mention of compromise or following the advice of professional educators and curriculum experts. The radical religious right wants it all, and when they "win," they really don't care if public education loses, because that's precisely what they want. If public education keeps losing, the radical religious right Republicans believe that citizens will turn to private religious schools and finally vote to have the state pay for their children's private religious school education with public tax money--vouchers. That has always been the ultimate goal. Damaging public education is merely the means to an end.

Last updated: 2009 July 10