A tiresome tussle in Texas

A TIRESOME TUSSLE IN TEXAS…. At some point in the future, we’ll stop seeing foolish disputes like these. That day has not yet arrived.

The latest round in a long-running battle over how evolution should be taught in Texas schools began in earnest Wednesday as the State Board of Education heard impassioned testimony from scientists and social conservatives on revising the science curriculum. […]

In the past, the conservatives on the education board have lacked the votes to change textbooks. This year, both sides say, the final vote, in March, is likely to be close.

Even as federal courts have banned the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in biology courses, social conservatives have gained 7 of 15 seats on the Texas board in recent years, and they enjoy the strong support of Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican.

The chairman of the board, Dr. Don McLeroy, a dentist, pushed in 2003 for a more skeptical version of evolution to be presented in the state’s textbooks, but could not get a majority to vote with him. Dr. McLeroy has said he does not believe in Darwin’s theory and thinks that Earth’s appearance is a recent geologic event, thousands of years old, not 4.5 billion as scientists contend.

In this particular dispute, the creationists want public school science classes to “analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence.” As a practical matter, that means incorporating religious dogma into the curriculum to undermine modern biology.

Michelle Cottle noted how tempting it is to “let Texas revel in its own ass-backwardness.” But it’s best to resist that temptation.

First, Texas is “one of the nation’s biggest buyers of textbooks, and publishers are reluctant to produce different versions of the same material.” Weaker science classes in Texas has far-reaching consequences for students elsewhere.

Second, Texans have elected nutjobs to the State Board of Education, but that’s not a good reason to punish the state’s public school students.

And third, this nonsense really needs to stop as a national phenomenon. Fundamentalists are entitled to their personal beliefs, but these efforts to undermine science education have gone on long enough. The country just can’t afford to tolerate this nonsense anymore — the competitive advantage the United States used to enjoy is vanishing, and conservatives’ anti-science push comes with too high a burden for the country.

Fortunately, there’s some push-back in Texas, not just from educators and scientists, but also from the business community, which worries about attracting educated workers and their families to a state with a ridiculous science curriculum. A software executive told the NYT, “The political games we are playing right now are going to burn us all.”