The Club, the Stiletto, and Evolution in Texas

By Sean Cavanagh — February 02, 2009 1 min read
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Rodney Ellis is fed up, and he’s fighting back the way state legislators usually do.

The Texas state senator, having witnessed the latest hubbub over the teaching of evolution on his state’s board of education, has filed a bill to strip the board of the bulk of its authority over textbooks and curriculum.

According to this story in his hometown newspaper, the Houston Chronicle, Ellis’ move would leave the board with more narrow duties under the state constitution. The measure is unlikely to pass, even Ellis, a Democrat, acknowledges, because of conservatives’ influence in the legislature.

So Ellis has filed what the newspaper calls “Plan B,” a second bill that would establish a regular sunset review of the board by the legislature. Presumably, that would create more oversight of the board.

Ellis told the paper he was frustrated to see the topic of evolution once again emerge as a source of controversy over the past few weeks on the board, a discussion that he believes is weakening the teaching of science. On Jan. 23, the Texas board on the one hand approved science standards that removed language calling for students to be exposed to the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories. That move pleased scientists, who saw the “weaknesses” language as a misleading jab at evolution. Yet the board also approved language that called for students to analyze the “sufficiency or insufficiency” of common ancestry, a core piece of evolutionary theory. A final vote on the standards is expected in March.

“While on the national level in America there is more emphasis on a healthy respect for science, our board is engaged in a debate on how to teach evolution,” Ellis said in the Chronicle story. A House lawmaker has filed a similar sunset bill in the other chamber.

Ellis, in an interview with the paper, described his first bill as a “club,” and his second as a “stiletto.” They play rough in Texas.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.