The long running, if largely ignored, battle over the textbooks used in Texas schools will come to a head when the committee charged with approving textbooks meets on Thursday and Friday. The state Board of Education will hold meetings and the main item on the agenda
will be a series of decisions to approve or reject various textbooks that publishers submitted for consideration. The central issue, for those of you who aren't familiar with the story, concerns a prolonged effort by religious activists and conservatives to change the way that the theory of evolution is taught in schools. This follows up previous efforts to challenge the way that social studies were taught.
Austin American Statesman - Texas will be under the microscope this week in the fight over teaching evolution in public schools as the State Board of Education prepares to vote on biology textbooks that have been at the center of the debate.
The board meets Thursday and Friday to consider proposed changes submitted by 11 publishers. The board's decisions, which could determine which textbooks publishers offer to dozens of states, will end a review process that has been marked by months of heated discussion over evolution.
Religious activists and proponents of alternative science urged publishers to revise some of the 10th-grade books and want the board to reject others, saying they contain factual errors concerning the theory of evolution. Most mainstream scientists assert that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is a cornerstone of modern research and technology.
Board members can vote to reject books based only on factual errors or failure to follow state curriculum as mandated by the Legislature.
"There's a bait and switch going on here because the critics want the textbooks to question whether evolution occurred. And, of course, they don't because scientists don't question whether evolution occurred," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education.
Among those questioning the textbooks are about 60 biologists from around the country who signed a "statement of dissent" about teaching evolution and who say both sides of the issue should be taught. Several religious leaders also testified against teaching evolution.
Any changes to the textbooks will have implications across the country. Texas is the nation's second-largest buyer of textbooks, and books sold in the state are often marketed by publishers nationwide. Texas, California and Florida account for more than 30 percent of the nation's $4 billion public school book market. Three dozen publishers invest millions of dollars in Texas.
A vocal advocate of changing the textbooks is the Discovery Institute, a nonprofit think tank based in Seattle. Institute officials have argued that alternatives to commonly accepted theories of evolution should be included in textbooks to comply with a state requirement that the strengths and weaknesses of an issue are presented.
"These things are widely criticized as being problematic. They aren't criticisms we made up; they're criticisms widely held in scientific community," Discovery Institute fellow John West said.
Bruce Chapman, president of the institute, said his group simply wants publishers to present strengths and weaknesses of evolution theory, and that some have done so.
"We think there's much more to be done, of course, and our proposal to the board is that further changes should be made," he said.
Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science, said there are no weaknesses in current textbooks' explanation of evolution. Publishers are required to cover evolution in science books.
The Discovery Institute has referred to a theory called intelligent design: a belief that life did not evolve randomly but progressed according to a plan. No book on the mainstream market presents that theory.
Although the theory has become part of the debate, Chapman said his group isn't advocating it be put into textbooks.
Samantha Smoot, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, said the Discovery Institute's arguments are rooted in religion. The Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that the teaching of creationism in public schools violates the separation of church and state.
"It says that the theory of evolution can't explain the diversity of life on this planet and that there must have been a designer," Smoot said. "That is a very valid and commonly held religious perspective, but not one that is upheld by scientific evidence."
The Discovery Institute has maintained that its arguments have no religious foundation, but Smoot disagrees.
"The concept of intelligent design was crafted specifically to get around legal prohibitions against teaching religion in public schools," she said. "And as long as proponents of intelligent design deny that they're referring to God when they talk about the designer, they hope to be able to pull this off."
At least one publisher has submitted changes in line with critics' recommendations.
Holt, Rinehart & Winston has submitted a change that directs students to "study hypotheses for the origin of life that are alternatives" to the others in the book. Students also are encouraged to research alternative theories on the Internet.
Okay, perhaps a bit more background would help. While longtime activists like Phyllis Schafley have been associated with attempts by conservatives to influence school curricula in Texas, a key figure now in the push to control the content of textbooks in Texas is James Leninger. Leininger is a 58-year-old San Antonio physician.
[Texas Monthly, Nov 2002] - Few Texans have heard of James Leininger, as his involvement in politics takes place far behind the scenes. But his influence is pervasive. The founder of Kinetic Concepts, Incorporated, a specialty medical-bed company that made him one of the richest men in Texas, Leininger is among the state's most active political donors. He was the top contributor in the 1996 and 1998 election cycles, when he gave a total of $1.9 million and, in the latter, co-signed two last-minute loans, of $1.1 million and $950,000, respectively, to Rick Perry's campaign for lieutenant governor and Carol Keeton Rylander's bid for comptroller.
In the 2002 election cycle, Leininger has again proven himself an aquifer of campaign cash: Between January 2000 and June of this year , he dropped $1.5 million on state campaigns and causes. And while Leininger's giving is liberal, his leanings are decidedly not; he supports Republicans and conservative groups almost exclusively.
What makes Leininger one of the most powerful people in Texas politics is less the amount of money he has given over the years than the broad reach of his spending and his commitment to a conservative agenda. By pumping tens of thousands of dollars into the previously ignored State Board of Education races, he turned an obscure committee of retired teachers into an ideological hornet's nest, whose debates over curriculum and textbook content have made national news. In addition to funding candidates personally, Leininger has launched several political action committees to support conservative judicial and legislative candidates and advocate for school vouchers.
... In 1994 Texans for Governmental Integrity [a group started by Leninger] sent out a mail piece in East Texas, illustrated by a photograph of a black man and a white man kissing, which warned voters that Democratic State Board of Education (SBOE) incumbent Mary Knott Perkins had voted to approve textbooks that promoted abortion and homosexuality. Leininger also directly supported conservative SBOE candidates to the unfamiliar tune of tens of thousands of dollars, in races that had previously been low-key. "He single-handedly changed the composition of the State Board of Education," says Samantha Smoot, the executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, an organization founded in 1995 to counter religious-right initiatives. "It went from a body that had been dominated by parents and teachers to a group characterized by a bloc of members who are there simply to push a right-wing ideology."
... In 1989 Leininger was instrumental in founding the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), because, he later told the Houston Chronicle, "I realized there wasn't any intellectual capital in the state of Texas." (Alas, he is neither the first nor the last to arrive at that conclusion.) Taking the Heritage Foundation, the conservative national think tank, as its model, the TPPF aimed to influence policy by publishing research reports on state issues; its early preoccupations mirrored several of Leininger's own: tort reform, vouchers, and reduced government. Working in tandem with the new SBOE members, the TPPF began objecting to textbook material deemed liberally slanted or morally suspect. The Legislature retaliated in 1995, forbidding the SBOE to question any aspect of textbook content other than "factual errors." Despite the restriction, the TPPF continued to analyze proposed books, hiring researchers to ferret out errors both of fact and of insufficient patriotism. Last winter the group helped bat down an environmental-science textbook (in large part because of a poorly written sentence linking democracy to pollution); this summer  it criticized proposed social science and history textbooks for failing to disavow socialism.
Some of the changes that were forced to be included in social studies textbooks during last years review by the Board of Education included; deletion of passages that describe Islam positively, addition of text on the appeal of Christianity, elimination of scientific dates so as not to conflict with Biblical timelines, deletion sections on other cultures, and elimination of critical thinking exercises that discussed social issues
. For example, a reference in a sixth-grade social studies book to glaciers forming the Great Lakes "millions of years ago" was changed to "in the distant past."
The phrase "Millions of years ago" supported the theory of evolution and excluded theories such as intelligent design. One publisher agreed to eliminate references to "fossil fuels being formed millions of years ago"
That was last year. This year the efforts of conservatives have been directed towards changing the way that biology is taught, most significantly the way that the theory of evolution is addressed. Two key players in the battle have been the Texas Freedom Network
, which is a group dedicated to fighting the influence of the religious right in Texas, and the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank based in Seattle. A visit to the Discovery Institute website
shows that among recently posted articles, while there are three articles addressing the "intelligent design" and school textbook issue, there were actually more (5) that discussed Terri Schiavo (not surprisingly, these uniformly attacked her husband and supported efforts to prolong her life). Here is more information about the Discovery Institute
[Steve Benen] - While supporters of church-state separation frequently consider groups such as the Christian Coalition and Family Research Council their principal adversaries, the Discovery Institute has quietly positioned itself as the most effective and politically savvy group pushing a religious agenda in America's public school science classes.
Founded in 1991 by former Reagan administration official Bruce Chapman, the Seattle-based Institute has an operating budget of over $2 million. "Intelligent design" creationism has become such a central feature of the organization's work that it created a separate division, the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, to devote all of its time to that cause.
The Institute enthusiastically endorses what law professor and ID champion Philip Johnson calls the "wedge" strategy. (See "Insidious Design," page 8.) The plan is straightforward: use intelligent design as a wedge to undermine evolution with scientific-sounding arguments and thereby advance a conservative religious-political agenda.
To promote the concept, the Institute works with 48 fellows, directors and advisors who are responsible for producing research, publishing texts and hosting conferences. The Institute team includes some of the biggest names in the ID movement. Johnson serves as an advisor, while Michael Behe, David Berlinski, William Dembski and Jonathan Wells are senior fellows. All of them have advanced degrees from respected universities, giving the group a level of credibility generally denied to fundamentalist creationists at the Institute for Creation Research and Answers in Genesis Ministry.
Legitimate scientists reject the validity of intelligent design concepts, however, and are unimpressed with Institute activists' credentials.
"They're trying to make it appear like they're scientists who just disagree with other scientists," said Lawrence Krauss, professor at Case Western Reserve University. "A number of them have scientific credentials, which helps, but in no sense are they proceeding as scientists."
Over the last decade, nearly every book used in the intelligent design movement has either been distributed by the Institute or was written directly by one of the group's scholars. Of Pandas And People, Icons Of Evolution and Darwin's Black Box are all staples on the Discovery bookshelf. _Institute representatives are well aware of legal restrictions on religion in public schools, so they rarely use theological criticisms of evolution in their work. Behe, for example, is a Catholic with eight home-schooled children. When asked about creationism in a February interview on National Public Radio, he said it isn't his area of expertise.
"To tell you the truth, I'm not real knowledgeable about creationism," Behe said.
The strategy of making ID appear scientific, and not religious, is intentional. The Institute's Stephen Meyer co-authored an article in the Utah Law Review in 2000 critiquing the legal landscape. While Meyer noted that the Supreme Court prohibits traditional creationism from public schools because it is based on biblical literalism, he wrote that excluding intelligent design, with its "scientific" underpinnings, would be tantamount to "viewpoint discrimination."
In order for that scheme to work, ID advocates at the Discovery Institute try desperately to hide a religious agenda. Occasionally, however, one of the Institute's fellows will slip and speak his mind.
Two years ago, at a National Religious Broadcasters meeting, the Discovery Institute's Dembski framed the ID movement in the context of Christian apologetics, a theological defense of the authority of Christianity.
"The job of apologetics is to clear the ground, to clear obstacles that prevent people from coming to the knowledge of Christ," Dembski said. "And if there's anything that I think has blocked the growth of Christ [and] the free reign of the Spirit and people accepting the Scripture and Jesus Christ, it is the Darwinian naturalistic view.... It's important that we understand the world. God has created it; Jesus is incarnate in the world."
The Institute's religious agenda has won it the backing of wealthy financiers and foundations. For example, California multi-millionaire Howard F. Ahmanson Jr., has singled out the Discovery Institute for big contributions. (Ahmanson is aligned with Christian Reconstructionism, an extreme faction of the Religious Right that seeks to replace democracy with a fundamentalist theocracy.)
The Institute also has friends on Capitol Hill. In May 2000 the Institute held a briefing in the Rayburn House Office Building that attracted members of Congress and their staffs. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) spoke at the event.
Though the Discovery Institute describes itself as a think tank "specializing in national and international affairs," the group's real purpose is to undercut church-state separation and turn public schools into religious indoctrination centers. That's unlikely to change anytime soon.
As Institute President Bruce Chapman told The Washington Times, "[Intelligent design is] our number one project."
See also here for a letter written by Dr. Steven Ettinger (Ohio State University) to the Ohio Board of Education in rebuttal to a submission by the Discovery Institute when that state was considering textbook changes last year