Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Barbara Forrest Affair: The Texas Intelligent Design Battle Begins

In news that has the blogosphere all abuzz, and has elicited telling silence from the Intelligent Design community, Chris Comer, the state's director of science curriculum, has resigned, after sending out an e-mail announcing a presentation being given by Barbara Forrest. Forrest is the philosopher of science who was key in exposing the ID movement's pseudo scientific political agenda, thus the email supposedly created the appearance of bias against teaching intelligent design. The State, of course, claims the firing, I mean forced resignation, was for other reasons:

"In documents obtained Wednesday through the Texas Public Information Act, agency officials said they recommended firing Comer for repeated acts of misconduct and insubordination. But Comer said she thinks political concerns about the teaching of creationism in schools were behind what she describes as a forced resignation."

It isn't hard to see the real reasons for the firing from the language of the Agency spokespeople:

Agency officials cited the e-mail in a memo recommending her termination. They said forwarding the e-mail not only violated a directive for her not to communicate in writing or otherwise with anyone outside the agency regarding an upcoming science curriculum review, "it directly conflicts with her responsibilities as the Director of Science."

The memo adds, "Ms. Comer's e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral."

You've got to be kidding me. The Director of the Science Curriculum, notifying people of a talk given by a philosopher of science who is actively involved in attempting to improve science education, conflicts with her responsibilities? The science agency must remain neutral on an issue of science? What then, pray tell, is the agency for? Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe clues us in:

"There's been a long-standing policy that the pros and cons of scientific theory must be taught. And while we've had a great deal of public comment about evolution and creationism at state board meetings, it's not been a controversial issue with the board."

Ah, there it is, "the pros and cons of scientific theory", a standard IDer/creationist talking point. Of course, the "cons" these people have in mind are never legitimate scientific issues, but instead are erroneous oft-refuted pseudo scientific nonsense. This should come as no surprise to those of us who have followed the comments of Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, who unabashedly supports making ID/creationism part of the science curriculum, and that issue is coming up soon.

"Comer's resignation comes just months before the State Board of Education is to begin reviewing the science portion of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the statewide curriculum that will be used to determine what should be taught in Texas classrooms and what textbooks are bought."

And to see just how brazen these people are in drawing the battle lines against science, one need only go as far as Lizzette Reynolds, senior advisor to the Agency, who previously worked in the U.S. Department of Education.

"This is highly inappropriate," Reynolds said in an e-mail to Comer's supervisors. "I believe this is an offense that calls for termination or, at the very least, reassignment of responsibilities.

"This is something that the State Board, the Governor's Office and members of the Legislature would be extremely upset to see because it assumes this is a subject that the agency supports."

You go Ms. Reynolds! How dare a director of the science curriculum assume the State Education Agency supports science. You should all resign before you bring more embarrassment to the citizens of Texas, not to mention destroying good science education in the state, as far as we have any. Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, nails it:

"It's important to know whether politics and ideology are standing in the way of Texas kids getting a 21st century science education," Miller said. "We've already seen a faction of the State Board of Education try to politicize and censor what our schoolchildren learn. It would be even more alarming if the same thing is now happening inside TEA itself."

Indeed, it is time for all Texans who care about the education our children get to let these people know just how unhappy and embarrassed we are by their actions.

For more on the story, read here, here, here, here, and here.

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