Testimony to the Texas House Public Education Committee
2008 July 16
Steven D. Schafersman, Ph.D.
President, Texas Citizens for Science
6202 Driftwood Drive, Midland, TX 79707
(432) 352-2265, firstname.lastname@example.org
My name is Steven Schafersman, President of Texas Citizens for Science. I was a science professor for 22 years and currently work in the petroleum industry. My advocacy organization--composed of scientists, science educators, and citizens who are interested in protecting science--was started in 1980 to defend the accuracy and reliability of science content in science textbooks, standards, curriculum, and instruction in Texas public schools. For 28 years, I have visited Austin countless times to speak to public officials, primarily the members of the State Board of Education (SBOE), about the need to have high quality science education in Texas that is not degraded, censored, and corrupted by the same Texas public officials. This work continues today with even more urgency, because the United States does not today enjoy unrivaled scientific and technological mastery over other countries. Our citizens are falling behind those in European and Asian nations. We are being out-competed in most technologically advanced fields, and the only way we can stop this is by greatly improving science education. The best way to do this is to not damage and censor science in the first place.
Let me get right to the point: for the last several years, the SBOE has been working hard to censor science textbooks and damage science standards. The current Board is out of control and must be reined-in by the Texas Legislature. For various reasons, it will be difficult to stop the Board's harmful activity by the efforts of voters at elections or by the courts, so we scientists and science teachers need your help. In the late 1990s, the Texas Legislature took away many of the State Board's powers to damage and censor textbooks, but the Board has found innovative new way to continue this activity, primarily by self-defining what is or is not a "factual error" regardless of reality and, lately, by simply rejecting books for no stated reason at all, in contemptuous violation of the statutes--your statutes. This illegal activity simply has to stop.
I urge you to take even more powers away from the SBOE. Specifically, I urge you to revise the law so that textbooks in Texas are adopted by each individual school district, as they are in most states and all other large states such as California, New York, and Illinois, rather than by a central state authority that uses its powers to abuse the process. I also urge you to change the law so that state science standards are written and adopted only by qualified professionals, such as by our state's university professors and science curriculum experts, as is the case in California and other states. We desperately need these reforms to halt the continuing demeaning process that goes on every year in Austin, in which scientists, science professors, and science teachers must travel to Austin to fight the SBOE for good science standards and textbooks. This sideshow shouldn't be happening in Texas or any state. In most states, the State Boards of Education want good science standards, textbooks, and instruction, and they listen to and cooperate with science professionals to ensure that their states have these. Also in Texas, the same sorry story applies to other academic disciplines, such as English, math, health education, history, government, economics, and Bible studies, not just science. When will Texas be free of this constant embarrassing and destructive behavior?
Let me cover a few specific examples. During the last 28 years, I have had to constantly oppose Creationists and anti-evolutionists on the SBOE. It has taken a tremendous effort for my organization, several other good organizations, and many Texas scientists and science educators to keep good science in our state's biology and Earth science standards and textbooks in the face of continuous opposition by some extremist members of the SBOE. For many decades, the SBOE has used its powers to censor science and other textbooks and standards, and this still goes on today. The current SBOE contains seven Young Earth Creationists who believe the Earth was created 6-10,000 years ago. This includes its Chair, Dr. Don McLeroy. These individuals despise scientific methods, principles, practices, and conclusions in standards and textbooks, and have worked unceasingly to corrupt and damage them.
They have in the past, for example, pressured textbook publishers to change "millions of years ago" to "a long time ago." In 2002, the State Board illegally rejected an excellent environmental science textbook that contained factual information about the industrial sources of chemical pollution that Dr. McLeroy and other members objected to for ideological reasons. The book met all the proper standards, and when it was rejected, the publisher sued the State Board. The subsequent lawsuit and two court decisions did not resolve the problem of the Board's flouting of the law, which remains its practice. In 2003, the State Board tried to censor biology textbooks that some members claimed contained inaccurate information about evolution. Fortunately, an enormous effort by the scientific, business, and educational communities prevented the biology textbooks from being damaged. But this tremendous effort should not be necessary in a society that values accurate and reliable science.
In 2004, the SBOE adopted inadequate health education books that censored vital information about contraception and disease prevention, in spite of the fact that Texas leads the nation in illegitimate teenage pregnancies and teenage sexually-transmitted diseases. In 2007, a math book was rejected by the SB that met all the state's standards and should have been adopted, especially since it was widely and successfully used in several large Texas school districts, including Dallas ISD. Instead, the math text was illegally rejected by the SB without specifying a legitimate reason. The SB broke the law--your law. The publisher appealed, but the appeal has been dropped since the publisher received a waiver to continue selling the book in the large districts and because its other math textbooks are selling well and it doesn't want trouble with this Board.
The SBOE rejected the math textbook because it disagreed with the book's pedagogical philosophy and its content, not for any legal or legitimate reason. The Board does not have the authority to reject textbooks, write standards, and specify educational curricula and programs in ways that force its own pedagogical biases on school districts, but it continues to do this. The most recent egregious example is the writing of the English Language Arts and Reading standards, in which the SB ignored the wishes of the professional teachers and forced on them standards that are inadequate, incomplete, and out of date. Another example is the Bible curriculum. Contrary to your legislative intent, the SB refused to write scholarly and objective standards for this Bible education course, as required by law, instead using the old, ad hoc standards that permit schools to teach courses that are unscholarly, unscientific, and proselytize students in sectarian religion.
We scientists are worried that the SB wants to damage science standards during their upcoming revision. Several members of the SB, including Chairman McLeroy, have stated their intention to keep the unscientific language of "strengths and weaknesses" in the standards, so as to be able to force teachers and textbooks to include unscientific and bogus "weaknesses" of scientific information that the Board members consider to be "controversial," such as evolution, the origin of life, global warming, and the age of the Earth, rocks, and fossils. These alleged "weaknesses" have been identified by Creationist organizations and have no basis in scientific reality. These SB members are blocking the best science education in Texas by continuing to oppose accurate and reliable scientific information that conflicts with their religious and ideological views. They want to injure science instruction in improper ways. This constant negative pressure intimidates teachers and textbook publishers, who too often submit to the SB's anti-scientific coercion and self-censor their science instruction and textbooks. The result is that our students do not obtain a first-class science education in our state's public schools, and earn low science test scores compared to other states and other countries. Believe me, this will seriously damage our state's economic ability and potential.
I urge you to investigate the actions of the State Board of Education and act to remove its powers to specify, reject, edit, and censor science standards and textbooks. Good State Boards do not engage in this activity, but the Texas State Board continues to do so. It has been abusing its powers for decades and it must be stopped before public education is further damaged.
The power to control the final text of curriculum standards and the practice of statewide adoption of instructional materials are the sources of the SBOE's power to censor or reject textbooks that contain content that is inconsistent with their ideological, political, and religious agendas. Most states allow individual school districts to adopt textbooks and instructional materials. Few states--14 I believe--have a central adoption policy. Texas is by far the largest adoption state. All the other large states--California, New York, Illinois, etc.--allow school district choice of textbooks. Texas adopts textbooks this way because unlike most states, the state provides textbooks to the school districts at no cost that are paid for by the Permanent School Fund. The practice has persisted because of the highly centralized power it gives a few people to censor and control K-12 instructional materials. Christian fundamentalists and other zealots with a political or ideological agenda are attracted to the Texas SBOE like flies to a corpse, because the office gives them enormous power to promote their beliefs in the public school system of Texas and other states (primarily in the U.S. South) that adopt textbooks written for Texas. The SBOE race is a down-ballot position to which most voters pay little attention, and plenty of campaign money from a right-wing money man (such as James Leininger, who financed the seven radical religious right Republicans on the Board), gives religious Fundamentalist candidates a good chance of being elected. All subjects are censored, not just science, including history, government, social studies, economics, and health science. Censorship in these disciplines supports arch-patriotic, U.S. can do not wrong, American military hegemony is good, free enterprise, anti-social policies, anti-contraception, pro-abstinence-only, pro-sectarian Christian policies.
Publishers will do anything to get their textbooks on the adoption list, since the Texas and subsequent state textbook contracts are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Many publishers have little integrity and will write their textbooks in ways they think the SBOE will accept. This is termed self-censorship or pre-censorship. Publishers know that the SBOE will find some reason--even illegal ones such as have been used recently--to reject their textbook unless they are edited and the content changed. Publishers comply because the Texas market is so huge (an adopted book for any subject earns many millions of dollars). Few publishers have the integrity to stand up to SBOE coercion, and its ultimate weapon against a publisher (rejecting a textbook) is used as an implicit example to other publishers about what will happen to those who defy the SBOE. Biology texts were censored of much evolution content from the 1950s to the late 1980s. All Texas history textbooks are censored of trade union histories, history of American violence against other countries and its inevitable bad effect, the extent and history of socialistic policies in our economic system, etc. Health texts are today censored of contraception information.
I have long advocated that Texas school districts be allowed to select their own textbooks directly from publishers without the SBOE/TEA as the middleman. Money to pay for textbooks could just be given to districts from the state's Permanent School Fund in an amount proportional to the number of students. This would directly end the censorship problem. True, some school districts would adopt inferior texts, even a few Creationist texts such as Explore Evolution produced by the Discovery Institute, but most would not because teachers committees would select the books and the overarching censorship problem by a small number of individuals with great power would be gone.
The centralized adoption practice also allows for error checking of textbooks. Textbooks from publishers always contain errors of fact, even later editions. Errors always creep in and the publishers do not catch them; their proof-reading is actually quite poor. The error-checking process by experienced and knowledgeable individuals--such as university professors--is beneficial, but other parts of the process are ripe for abuse. The process allows anyone to comment on errors, so ideologues (Creationists for biology textbooks, global climate change naysayers for environmental textbooks, right-wing and libertarians for economic textbooks, anti-contraception proponents for health textbooks, etc.) can document "errors." The SBOE can then use these analyses to censor the textbooks in line with their complimentary biases and ideologies. The SBOE uses the error-checking process as a means to censor, damage, and reject textbooks. Unless the positive and negative aspects of this process can be separated, I recommend that even the error checking be stopped, since its continued existence is being abused by the SBOE ideologues with their right-wing agendas against evolution, environmental protection, sex education, history of U.S. exceptionalism and militarism, government social policies (such as national health care, social security, welfare), and many other topics.
The harmful effects of the centralized, authoritarian textbook adoption process have been ongoing since the 1960s and show no sign of stopping. The only solution is to strip the SBOE of its powers to control textbook content by changing the adoption process. The Legislature tried to do this in 1997, but the effort failed because the restrictions were not strong enough. Today, the SBOE can only legally reject (and thus force censorship of content) textbooks if they don't meet the TEKS, contain factual errors, or the binding is poor. The SBOE has taken upon itself to define what is or is not a "factual error," even when what they identify as factual errors is ludicrous and belies reality. In the past year, the SBOE has begun rejecting textbooks for no stated reason at all, daring a publisher to sue it or the Legislature to stop it. So far, this hasn't happened. So the SBOE feels free to reject any book they want for any reason they want, regardless of the three legal reasons which permit them to do that. Since the Board has final authority to decide what the TEKS require, they can force textbooks to omit certain topics (such as contraception or pollution) or contain certain topics (such as the attempt to require bogus "weaknesses" of evolution).
In the past (1950s-early 1980s) the topic of evolution was censored in biology textbooks in Texas. In the last 20 years, efforts by organizations such as TCS, NCSE, PFAW, TFN, and University of Texas science professors have stopped the SBOE from mitigating the content of evolution seriously in Texas, but the effort required has been tremendous, and the necessity to keep doing this never ends. Every six years scientists must go to Austin to advocate and lobby for good biology textbooks. This circus sideshow will continue as long as the SBOE has authoritarian adoption power. Environmental science has been hit hard since the books are not widely used and have few advocates who defend them. Other topics, such as teenage health, have been seriously affected, as have history, government, and economics. The majority of SBOE members have multiple ideologies and agendas they express using censorship: anti-evolution, anti-contraception, anti-sexuality, anti-environmentalism, anti-science in general, anti-intellectualism, anti-pro-social policies, anti-government intervention, anti-unions, anti-liberalism, pro-hegemonic Americanism, arch-patriotism, religious fundamentalism, Biblical literalism and inerrancy, and arch-conservatism, which is actually right-wing religious radicalism and reactionaryism.
Texas Citizens for Science Last updated: 2008 July 21