AU, Barney The Dinosaur Urge Texas School Board To Support Sound Science

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has joined with activists in Texas in an effort to urge the state Board of Education to adopt sound science standards.

The battle over science education has roiled the state for months now. The board is currently in the middle of reviewing the science curriculum used in public schools, a process it goes through every 10 years.

Religious Right groups have seized the opportunity, hoping to introduce their creationist ideas into science classes. (See “Lone Star Wars,” December 2008 Church & State.)

This year they have a powerful ally. Board Chairman Don McLeroy has made it clear he does not believe in evolution. McLeroy rejects the idea that the Earth is ancient and told the Associated Press, “I look at evolution as still a hypothesis with weaknesses.”

Defenders of evolution gathered in Austin on Nov. 19 to speak at an open meeting of the board. They were joined by an unusual ally: one attendee dressed as Barney, the famous purple dinosaur from public television.

“Barney” wore a sign around his neck reading, “How old am I? 4,000 or 64,000,000?”

The costumed character hoped to make the point that fundamentalists regard Earth as only a few thousand years old, while scientists find evidence that many millions of years is more likely.

The big purple guy was not alone. Dozens of scientists, students, teachers, clergy and other citizens addressed the board, giving testimony in support of sound science standards for Texas public school children.

Opponents of creationism are especially alarmed at wording in the standards that encourages teachers to discuss the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolutionary theory. Critics say the language is code that will allow for creationist concepts in class.

“Scientists want to get rid of this weaknesses wording. It’s just bad science,” Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Scientists, told the Houston Chronicle. “Scientific theories don’t have weaknesses.”

Andrew Ellington, a biochemistry professor at the University of Texas, told the board that Texas would become a “laughingstock” if evolution is watered down.

Rabbi Nancy Kasten from Dallas raised a church-state argument.

“As a member of a religious minority, I rely on the Constitution to ensure that our government and its institutions, including our public schools, serve Americans of all faiths and no faith,” she said.

AU points out that what happens in Texas may not stay within the Lone Star State’s borders. Texas is the second largest purchaser of textbooks, after California. If publishers cater to a Texas science curriculum that allows for the teaching of creationist concepts alongside evolution, then these ideas may filter into other states.