SBOE debates science at next week’s meeting, after partisan words from new chair Cargill
Evolution is back up for debate next week, when the Texas State Board of Education meets to select supplemental science curriculum materials for Texas’ public schools. Discussions of the already controversial topic will be especially tense in the wake of partisan comments made by the board’s new leader.
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.
The statement irked Republican board member and vice chair Bob Craig, who phoned Cargill right away, the Houston Press reported.
“I was offended that her comments seemed to indicate that only six people on the board were Christians,” 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.”
Thomas Ratliff, a moderate Republican new to the board, issued his own response criticizing Cargill’s remarks.
“It’s an unfortunate start to her tenure as chairwoman,” said Ratliff, a Republican from Mount Pleasant. “These kind of comments only further divide the board rather than bring us together for the benefit of our students and our schools. I look forward to better days ahead for our new chair.”
Cargill was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry this month after his initial nominee and former chair Gail Lowe’s (R-Lampasas) confirmation was blocked by a handful of lawmakers unhappy with the board’s direction. On many issues, Cargill’s voting record and conservative views on science and social studies, and concerns over the inclusion of Islam in textbooks, largely mimic Lowe’s.
Cargill, a longtime science educator, takes the helm at the next set of meetings, where the board is set to decide on supplemental science materials — an issue that may deepen the fissures in an already divided board.
As a proponent of reintroducing the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution intoscience textbooks, Cargill helped nominate an out-of-state intelligent design creationist to the science standards review panel in 2009.
While Democrats Lawrence Allen, Mary Helen Berlanga, Mavis Knight and moderate Republicans Bob Craig and Pat Hardy voted against reintroducing the “strengths and weaknesses” language, the social conservative bloc, like the board chair, voted for diluting textbooks’ focus on evolution.
For assistance, they called on creationism/intelligent design proponents such as Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based anti-evolution group. Now the same group hopes to insert its position into supplemental materials, sending a 71-page report to board members that argues the proposed instructional materials are not critical enough of evolution.
How new Republican members George Clayton, Marsha Farney, Charlie Garza and Ratliff will vote is an open question, but there are some signs of how the members will tilt.
Farney, for example is supportive of evolution but contends there are, “still gaps,” and encourages students to question and investigate the theory. Ratliff says he would have voted with moderate Republicans, such as Craig, and Democrats against introducing “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution while Clayton appears frustrated by the politicization of the issue.
The board will meet in Austin July 20-22.