Texas Board's Darwin Vote Said Misreported
Texas education officials said last week that the State Board of Education's rejection this month of two amendments to its guidelines for the adoption of biology textbooks had been misreported by the press.
The board's 14-8 vote defeated measures that would have required biology textbooks to stress the "testability" of theories of origin and to include lists of major contributors to biological science, including Charles Darwin.
But that vote, the officials said, in effect left the state's 1974 textbook proclamation unchanged, and thus did not imply the bar-ring of Darwinian theory, as was nationally reported.
The state's 10-year-old rule requires that, if evolution is included in science textbooks, it must be taught as "only one of several explanations of the origins of humankind [in a manner] not detrimental to the other theories of origin"; textbooks that are adopted must print a disclaimer explaining that evolution is a theory, not a fact. Of the five biology textbooks adopted during the last biology adoption process in 1976, all include information on the theory of evolution, textbook-selection officials said.
"The vote has been misunderstood," according to J. Henry Perry, director of the Texas Education Agency's textbook division, which coordinates the adoption process. "[The board members] voted not to make any changes to the proclamation," he said. "We're going to leave [the 1974 proclamation] as is."
The Darwin amendment was defeated, according to Mr. Perry, because board members want to give publishers flexibility in writing textbooks ''as they deem appropriate."
He added: "There's nothing to prohibit publishers from putting Darwin in; the board just didn't want to mandate it."
"I was just trying to have specifications to get a publisher to write the best damn biology book he could write," Virginia Currey, the board member who introduced the amendments, said. "I just couldn't imagine biology without mentioning Darwin."
The confusion over the meaning of the defeat of the amendments was amplified, in the view of state officials, because some groups reacted so angrily to it.
"This sends a clear signal to the publishers across the entire nation that in Texas, you can sell science and biology books without any mention of Charles Darwin, natural selection, evolution, or the fossil record," said Michael Hudson, Texas coordinator for People for the American Way (paw), a civil-liberties advocacy group founded by the television producer Norman Lear.
"The ultimate irony is that at a time when all the national studies [on education] and all the politicians across the country are stressing more emphasis on basics like science, the state of Texas seems to be going in the other direction," Mr. Hudson said.
The civil-rights group asked Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox last month to decide whether the rule violates the First Amendment by seeking to bring religion into the schools, Mr. Hudson said.
"Do you really think a child should graduate from Texas schools without ever hearing the name of Charles Darwin?" asked Ms. Currey, who is a professor in the political science department at Southern Methodist University.
Ms. Currey said her first proposal had enough votes for passage until the board's chairman, Joe Kelly Butler, advised the 27-member board not to change or amend the specifications until the attorney general's ruling is in.
Texas's textbook-adoption process is closely watched by other states and by publishers nationwide because the state is the largest single purchaser of texts in the country. Although California, New York, and Illinois each purchase more textbooks as a whole, Texas's method of adoption makes it the largest single purchaser; in 1982, Texas spent $64 million on books for the state's 1,150 districts, according to the Texas Education Agency.
The state's textbook-adoption process, which has evolved over the past 20 years, begins each winter when the state board announces the subjects and grade levels for which textbooks will be chosen that year and issues a "textbook proclamation" for publishers outlining required content.
For the next several weeks, publishers file samples of textbooks, citizens and organizations file specific objections, and publishers respond in writing.
In hearings scheduled by the state education department, oral criticism is heard by the statewide textbook committee and, in a rule adopted last year, positive testimony is also presented.
Following its review, the textbook committee makes recommendations to the state education commissioner, after which a second set of hearings is held.
Finally, the education department reviews the textbooks and the state board meets to make the final adoption decisions. Once books are selected in a subject, they are used for six to eight years.
Texas's textbook purchases account for 6.37 percent of sales, according to Donald Eklund, vice president of the schools division of the Association of American Publishers. California is first in total sales with 8.14 percent, followed by New York with 7.17 percent, and Illinois with 6.43 percent, Mr. Eklund said.
Because the Texas market is so important and because it is impractical for publishers to print separate editions for use in Texas schools, some industry officials have noted that changes that are made in textbooks to be eligible for the Texas market are also included in books offered to schools throughout the country. Mr. Hudson of paw agreed, noting that he has seen books in several states with the evolution disclaimer printed inside the jacket.
"The publishers are running scared that they won't get a Texas adoption. ... [they] are knuckling under," Ms. Currey said.
Mr. Eklund of the publishers' association counters that publishers do not "throw away 94 percent of the market just for 6 percent of the market."
But evidence that Texas's influence has been felt in the industry can be seen in changes made to some of the biology textbooks that were adopted in the last biology adoption process in 1976, according to Barbara Parker, director of the Freedom to Learn Project of paw
Ms. Parker noted, for example, that in the 1981 edition of Modern Biology, a Holt, Rinehart, and Winston textbook now in use in Texas, the number of words pertaining to evolution decreased by 6,000 over previous editions. An official at Holt, Rinehart declined to comment on the textbook.