Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Dilemma of Rick Perry

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has an article on the current dilemma of Rick Perry, who's renomination of Don McLeroy as head of the Texas State Board of Education just went down in flames. They are not hopeful for a quick resolution:
The board’s most recent factionalism came during discussions of science curriculum standards, and McLeroy led the faction that pushed for teaching students about adding creationism and intelligent design. That debate exploded into what was taken as inserting religion into public school classrooms.

Some would argue that it wasn’t that at all, that it was an attempt to teach all theories of mankind’s origins. If that’s the case, McLeroy was not effective in getting the message across.

Indeed, he struggled during the debate. His point seemed to be that "experts" are wrong when they say evolution is the foundation of modern biology. He said genetics, the study of heredity and variation in similar or related animals, provides that foundation.

He called evolution "philosophical speculation" that reflects a certain religious viewpoint. Other views should be presented in classrooms as well, he said.

Eventually, the state board said schools should be encouraged to scrutinize all sides of scientific theories. That didn’t really settle anything, because many people who back the teaching of evolution say creationism and intelligent design are religion, not science.

McLeroy’s hometown senator, Steve Ogden of Bryan, said during the confirmation debate last week that rejecting McLeroy’s nomination would send a message that would be interpreted by some Texans as "if you are a conservative, if you believe in the infallibility and the literacy of the Bible, there’s no need to apply to be on the State Board of Education."

It was certainly McLeroy's comment that evolution is "philosophical speculation," (which is like calling Newtonian physics "philosophical speculation"), that got the ball rolling. His comment about "someone has got to stand up to the experts" didn't help matters. McLeroy neither attempted to learn about evolution, nor tried to understand why scientists felt so strongly about teaching it. Such a position was simply untenable for the job he held.

The statement of senator Ogden is disturbing on several levels. One one level, it shows that he has completely bought into the notion that evolution = atheism, a position that is unfounded. On the second level, though, it furthers the politicization and "religiousization" of the problem. Science should never be politicized, which is exactly what McLeroy did, by representing and promoting a particular constituency. Having said that, the YEC constituency exists regardless of what people like McLeroy do or don't do. Promoting shoddy science on their behalf, though, does nobody any favors.

In a sense, the writer of the piece is correct in that this problem will never go away. As long as the constituency exists that believes in a literal 6k year-old creation, they will vote in the people that will support teaching that. This is why the school boards must be removed from the political process, as the Texas legislature is trying to do. That won't stop Rick Perry from appointing another creationist to head the board, though. The key is to insulate the curriculum writers from the actions of the board. I do not have high hopes that that will happen anytime soon.

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