(Cross-posted from my actual blog, hosted by the good folks here at Think Atheist!)

When it comes to its education standards, Texas has had a lot of bad luck these last few years.

Whether they were contending with a willfully ignorant dentist whom Texas Governor Rick Perry somehow thought was qualified to chair the State Board of Education (SBoE) and who decided it was his job to stand up to the experts on the subject of evolution, or debating how to keep radical ideologues from revising the social studies curriculum to take emphasis off of the influence of the Enlightenment on America’s founding fathers and “to identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and in... advocates for good education have had their hands full for quite a while.

And honestly, it’s just getting started. Recently, erstwhile SBoE chairman Don McLeroy was replaced by Barbara Cargill, another radical conservative Christian (but at least an actual science educator) intent on Christianizing public education in Texas:

In a speech delivered to the conservative pro-family group Texas Eagle Forum last week, newly appointed chair Barbara Cargill (R-Woodlands) questioned the faith of her fellow board members, saying that she was one of only “six true conservative Christians on the board,” the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network noted.

(As an aside, it can’t be overstated how good of a job TFN has done to fight the looming theocratic influence in their state. Their members are both religious and nonreligious, and their focus is primarily on countering the advances of the Religious Right and their ilk.)

So this quote is bad enough. Cargill is playing some of the same dirty politics that atheists face when they run for office: rallying the troops and pointing a scornful finger at anyone who isn’t entirely on board with them. But it’s not quite so bad as it might be for an atheist; after all, Cargill just said that they’re not as conservative as she is. Maybe that’s true. And that would’ve been a fine place to leave it. But remember… this is Texas we’re talking about.

“I was offended that her comments seemed to indicate that only six people on the board were Christians,” [Republican board member and vice chair Bob] Craig said. “I am a Christian and very active in First United Methodist Church here in Lubbock. I have very strong religious beliefs, so that kind of comment did not sit well with me.

Now I’m in a quandary. Part of me wants to go on commiserating with rational Texans for all the bullshit they have to deal with – and there’s certainly a lot of that. And when a friend sent me this link, that was originally all I was going to bog about. But frankly, Mr. Craig, your response is incredibly offensive. Not only do you come off as desperate to paint yourself in Jesus-colored hues (when she didn’t actually say only six people on the board were Christians…), but you’ve indicated that you find it offensive to even be considered less religious than someone else. There is nothing wrong with being an atheist, and it’s not even remotely relevant to the question at hand. Their ability to perform as members of the State Board of Education does not hinge upon their beliefs in any way. This is just an example of one politician using different degrees of religiosity as a slander, and another recognizing it as such. In a way, it’s analogous to attacking a senator for being effeminate, as if there’s something wrong with women and femininity; being called nonreligious, or even less religious, is seen as an attack that must be rebutted with indignation.

What’s more, both Craig and Cargill seem to have slept through the high school Civics class where you read through the Constitution and learn that it declares that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” That’s right, Ms. Cargill. By using a bully pulpit to attack your fellow board members on religious grounds and paint them as less friendly to your constituents, you’re attempting to subvert the ‘no religious test’ clause by swaying public opinion on the basis of religion.

But back to Texas. This whole kerfuffle was brought about because this week the SBoE will be meeting to discuss/debate various ‘supplemental’ science curriculum materials on offer. Cargill isn’t a big fan of evolution (surprise, surprise):

As a proponent of reintroducing the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution into science textbooks, Cargill helped nominated an out-of-state intelligent design creationist to the science standards review panel in 2009.

And this is where the problem lies. Groups like the Discovery Institute have been petitioning the SBoE to consider scientifically laughable pro-Intelligent Design texts, essentially asserting that unless the science curriculum presents all the scientific weaknesses in evolution (which would be… what, exactly? what arguments against evolution are actually scientific?), then the curriculum wouldn’t meet the new education standards and would have to be rejected. I seriously suggest reading that post from the TFN – it’s eye-opening and would be hilarious if it weren’t so tragic.

As many others have covered in great depth in the past, what happens in Texas could very well influence the rest of the cou....

… award-winning historian James McPherson [said:]

“One can only regret the conservative pressure groups and members of the Texas education board that have forced certain changes in high school history textbooks used in the state.”

“The Texas issue is of greater concern because the board prescribes the acceptable texts for every public school in the state, which not only muzzles school districts and teachers who might want to choose their own books, but also puts pressure on national textbook publishers because Texas is such a large market.”

I’ve seen articles saying that this is really nothing to worry about, because publishers have the flexibility now to be able to publish multiple textbooks in multiple smaller markets. I’m not too sure about that, though; the only sources I’ve found that say that are either opinion pieces dismissive of the idea that such bad standards could spread or far-right news blogs pushing a liberal-trash-talking story. In any case, I know that New York’s science education standards are still pretty damn good :)

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