Scientists, Creationists Each Claim Victory in Texas Evolution Vote
The Texas Board of Education last week adopted a controversial rule that would, for the first time, require publishers to include discussions of evolution in biology textbooks.
But in a move that pleased supporters of creationism, the board also amended the guidelines to mandate instruction in other "reliable" theories as well.
"We're very happy with what the board did," said Mel Gabler, a long-time anti-evo6lution textbook critic and activist.
"If it is observed," he said of the rule, "we'll see an entirely different type of teaching of evolution. For every argument for it, there will be an argument counter to the theory. That has been censored from students for a long time."
Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education Inc., a California-based group that defends the teaching of evolution, said the board's action sends a "confused" signal to publishers, particularly in light of a recent policy on the subject adopted in California.
In January, the California Board of Education issued a policy statement urging teachers to reject "dogma" and restrict their teaching to "observable facts and testable hypotheses."
"Publishers are going to be confused," Ms. Scott said. "Here are the two biggest markets in the country. California is standing up strongly for scientific integrity. Texas takes one and a half steps forward and one step back."
The new guidelines are part of a proclamation the Texas Education Agency will send to publishers to solicit bids for textbooks for the 1991-92 school year.
The proclamation lists numerous topics, instructional strategies, and materials that must be included if the books are to be adopted.
Publishers are expected to pay close attention to the guidelines, because Texas is the largest bulk purchaser of biology textbooks in the country. Although California buys more books, that state does not adopt high-school texts statewide.
As submitted to the board last month by the state's commissioner of education, William N. Kirby, the proclamation listed evolution as one of the topics that must be included in texts.
At the time, Texas Education Agency officials said the guidelines were aimed at bringing textbooks in line with classroom instruction, which has for years called for the teaching of evolution.
Science and civil-liberties groups hailed the move, saying it would send a stronger signal to publishers than the previous proclamation, which has resulted, critics say, in a watered-down treatment of the subject.
But the proposal also provoked an outcry among some fundamentalist Christian groups, who contend that evolution is an unproven theory that conflicts with the bibli4cal account of the creation of the earth. Those groups vowed to appeal to the board to either strike the evolution requirement or mandate "equal treatment" for creationism.
The groups launched a letter-writing campaign to urge board members to modify the guidelines.
"We asked our friends to contact board members and let them know how the public felt," Mr. Gabler said. "We were amazed by the volume of mail" the appeal generated.
At a meeting on March 10, a board committee charged with overseeing the regulations amended the guidelines. In addition to requiring instruction in evolution, the revised rules stated that textbooks should also include "reliable scientific theories to the contrary."
"Obviously, that caused us tremendous discomfort," said Michael Hudson, director of the Texas chapter of People for the American Way, a civil-liberties organization. "That goes beyond neutral."
The committee also agreed to require books to include content to develop skills in "examining alternative scientific evidence to test, modify, or refute" the theory of evolution.
Both Sides Claim Victory
The following day, however, after lobbying by scientists and civil libertarians, the full board agreed to modify the revisions.
By a vote of 12 to 3, the board rejected the requirement to include content on evidence contrary to evolution, and instead specified that texts could include such information if there is any.
In addition, the board agreed to require materials to develop skills in examining evidence to "verify or refute" all theories, including the theory of evolution.
Mr. Hudson said the board's actions were a victory for science.
"We got 99 percent of the way back to a totally strong statement that evolution has to be included in textbooks," he argued. "The message to publishers is to stick to science and science only."
But Mr. Gabler, the evolution critic, also claimed victory. He conceded, however, that the board did not mandate the teaching of creationism.
"Teachers don't have to bring creationism into science class," he pointed out. "This is not a matter of teaching science or religion."
"The new proclamation," he predicted, "will result in more honest and accurate science. Many scientific ideas have been kept away from students. We want students to have a well-rounded education."
Mr. Gabler added that he would continue to monitor the textbooks submitted for adoption to make sure they adhere to the guidelines.
"If publishers are willing to do so, they can give a fair presentation of evolution," he said.
Mr. Hudson predicted that the adoption process would reignite the "political battle" fought at the board meeting last week. "That will be a battle in which vigilance is going to be necessary," he said.