A Texas-sized battle is brewing within the State Board of Education over what must be included in public-school textbooks.
Recently the 15-member board split over state’s English, language arts and reading curriculum standards, a debate that included charges of censorship of books. A decision due this November about science standards is expected to be even more contentious, with the board divided between an eight-member majority made up of Democrats and moderate Republicans and seven social conservatives pushing for teaching of intelligent design.
Cynthia Dunbar, an attorney and homeschool mother elected to the State Board of Education in 2006, said opponents of intelligent design don’t want to have an intelligent discussion about weaknesses in the theory of evolution.
“If you go that route, what you find is a vehemence that gets off of the scientific discussion and becomes just a screaming match of saying ‘You’re not going to bring religion in the back door,’ to which my comment is ‘No, I’m simply trying to kick it out the front door,'” Dunbar said recently on the CBN television program “The 700 Club.”
A 1990 graduate with honors of Pat Robertson’s Regent University School of Law and founding editor of the Regent University Law Review, Dunbar said evolution is basically a religion cloaked in science.
“What you have is a belief system that’s based upon faith that’s being taught, and they’re mandated to be taught, without exception, and that the students are not allowed to even to be able to think about these issues,” she said.
Whatever the Texas State Board of Education decides will have implications for everyone else. Texas buys more textbooks than any other state except California. Publishers won’t want to create different editions for smaller states, so books ordered in Texas will wind up in classrooms around the country.
Texas isn’t the only state embroiled in textbook battles. Last month the Florida State Board of Education voted 4-3 to adopt science standards calling evolution “the fundamental concept underlying all of biology,” turning back efforts by religious conservatives to have evolution labeled a theory and not a fact.
Florida lawmakers responded by introducing a bill called the “Academic Freedom Act,” sponsored by Rep. Alan Hays, a member of First Baptist Church in Umatilla, Fla., opposing “dogmatic standards [that] create a legitimate fear among teachers and students that they may be penalized if they try to discuss the scientific weaknesses as well as the strengths of modern Darwinism.”
The Florida Family Policy Council, which is associated with James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, brought in actor Ben Stein to support the bill. Best known for his roles in the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” television’s “The Wonder Years” and the Comedy Central game show “Win Ben Stein’s Money,” Stein stars in a movie due out April 18 titled “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” which documents allegations of professors who say they were censored or punished for supporting intelligent design.
Stein told Pat Robertson in a “700 Club” interview March 25 it is more to him than a role in a film.
“I’ve always questioned Darwinism, because Darwinism leads to Social Darwinism that believes that some races are superior to other races, and that the superior races have it as their moral duty to eliminate the ‘lesser’ races, and that means my fellow Jews and of course African-Americans, Indians, Aborigines–just kill them; they’re worthless,” he said. “The only people who count are the master race, like the Germans or the Danes. And there could have been no Holocaust without Darwinism. That’s my view.”
Back in Texas, Dunbar, 43, recently announced she is running for Congress. A Republican activist, she has been endorsed by David Barton, founder and president of Wallbuilders, and Alan Keyes, former assistant Secretary of State for international affairs under Ronald Reagan.
The Texas Freedom Network, which is calling on state officials to adopt science curriculum standards that do not undermine instruction on evolution, has criticized Dunbar for trying to drag the State Board of Education into the culture wars.
Dunbar said it is Texas Freedom Network that is waging the culture war. “I believe the people who elected me do not want their children taught homosexuality and promiscuity as part of the public school curriculum,” she said. “Rather, they want me to make sure that reading, writing and arithmetic are the core of our Texas educational system.”
The Texas Freedom Network described Dunbar’s “extensive” connections to the Religious Right: “She earned her law degree from Pat Robertson’s Regent University Law School, which seeks to ‘fully integrate the study of law with biblical principles.’ In addition, her list of supporters includes far-right groups such as the Texas Eagle Forum, the Free Market Foundation, American Family Association, Wall Builders, the Texas Home School Coalition, Concerned Women for America and the Christian Coalition.”
Dunbar countered that what TFN considers “far right” is viewed by most Texans as mainstream. “In politics, sometimes being hated by the wrong people is as important as being loved by the right people,” she said. “The fact that they seethe with venom when they say my name is a good sign. It simply means I must be doing a good job representing the conservative people of my district who overwhelmingly elected me to office.”
The anti-evolution minority on the Texas school board failed in the recent Republican primary to win a majority spot, when member Pat Hardy of Fort Worth defeated challenger Barney Maddox, a young-earth creationist on record as calling evolution a “myth” and saying children are brainwashed to believe it.
Last year Gov. Rick Perry appointed Don McLeroy, a creationist and fourth-grade Sunday school teacher at Grace Bible Church in College Station, as chairman of the State Board of Education.
The Texas Freedom Network called McLeroy “a clear ideologue who has repeatedly put his own personal and political agendas ahead of sound science, good health and solid textbooks for students.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.