Ever wonder how a widely used math textbook could illegally promote “New Age religion”? If not, you clearly don’t share the same wild imagination as creationists in Texas do.
Texas State Board of Education member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, seems to have taken on the role of chief defender of the board’s creationist faction. Now he’s criticizing editorials in newspapers across the state that are calling on the Texas Senate to reject the confirmation of Don McLeroy, R-College Station, as board chairman.
Mr. Mercer portrays himself, Chairman McLeroy and their allies on the board as champions of reform doing battle with “education bureaucrats and lobbyists” — “educrats,” he calls them. Among the “victories” he points to in this “reform” campaign are the board’s rejection of a mathematics textbook two years ago and the adoption of new curriculum standards for language arts and science.
Let’s unpack this a little bit.
Mr. Mercer neglects to tell readers that the board rejected a third-grade mathematics textbook that many schools, including in Dallas, had been using successfully to improve student performance. So why did the board reject it? The board’s creationist faction and their outside allies argued that the textbook did a poor job of teaching students multiplication tables. But that’s really not the whole story:
“Students shouldn’t be set adrift to develop their own problem strategies,” said Neal Frey, president of Educational Research Analysts, a Christian conservative group based in Longview that voluntarily reviewed the book, along with others up for consideration by the board.
What did Mr. Frey really mean? Take a look at what Educational Research Analysts had to say about the sixth-grade mathematics textbook, Everyday Math, in the same series from the same publisher as the rejected third-grade textbook:
In Everyday Math and Connected Math, students laboriously concoct their own computation methods instead of just quickly learning best practices. Replacing standard algorithms with haphazard searches for personal meaning unconstitutionally establishes New Age religious behavior in public school Math instruction. (Emphasis in the original)
Talk about nutty. But that appears to pass for “reform” as far as Mr. Mercer is concerned.
What about the language arts curriculum? Mr. Mercer doesn’t tell readers that he and his board allies threw out three years of work by teachers and education specialists to craft new language arts and reading standards. A handful of Mr. Mercer’s board allies patched together a standards document the night before the final vote and then slipped it under the hotel room doors of other board members an hour before the final meeting and vote.
That’s not “reform.” That’s sabotage. Language arts teachers are still trying to work through the wreckage.
And what about the science curriculum? Mercer claims the religious beliefs of the board’s creationists had nothing to do with their efforts to dumb down instruction on evolution:
Editorial Boards are now promoting a falsehood that the newly adopted standards somehow contain religious doctrine put there by the SBOE conservatives. Put simply, that is a lie. I challenge every Editorial Board in Texas to go online and review all of the new Math, Reading, Grammar, Writing, Spelling, and Science standards. The press will not find any references – ZERO – to anyone’s religion.
The dishonesty in that passage screams at anyone who has been paying attention. The arguments Mercer and his board allies made in opposing evolution were based almost entirely on creationist critiques. The mainstream scientific community long ago debunked nonsensical arguments such as “gaps in the fossil record,” the “Cambrian explosion” and “irreducible complexity” — all arguments creationist opponents of evolution, including Mr. Mercer, trotted out repeatedly.
Moreover, if promoting their religious beliefs had nothing to do with their attacks on evolution, why did Mr. Mercer himself claim opposing board members were aligning themselves with “secular humanists” and “atheists”? TFN Insider has noted numerous other instances when creationists made clear their intent to promote religious beliefs in Texas science classrooms, including here and here.
Here’s some unsolicited advice for the state board’s creationist faction: look for another chief defender. Mr. Mercer simply makes it clearer that your actions have been, in fact, indefensible.
The Texas Senate should refuse to confirm Mr. McLeroy as board chairman. And while they’re at it, they should insist that Gov. Rick Perry appoint as chairman someone not from the McLeroy-Mercer faction that has so endangered sound education in Texas public schools.