It’s bad enough that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has appointed three anti-science creationists in a row to chair the State Board of Education. This weekend we read something that shines an even brighter light on the governor’s carelessness and even indifference when it comes to a deeply dysfunctional and hyper-politicized board that guides what millions of Texas kids learn in their public schools.
The Waco Tribune-Herald has published an interview with Gail Lowe, a Lampasas Republican who is seeking re-election to her District 14 state board seat. (The newspaper also interviewed Lowe’s opponent, Sue Melton of Waco, in the Republican primary for that seat. Subscription required for accessing either interview.) We were astonished to read that Lowe says she had no conversation with Gov. Perry when he appointed her to chair the board in 2009:
“I never spoke with the governor. I’m sorry, but that was not a personal relationship.
That’s a jaw-dropping revelation considering that Lowe’s appointment came at an especially sensitive moment for the board. The Texas Senate had failed to confirm the appointment of Don McLeroy, R-College Station, to a second term as chair of the state board. Senate rejections of a governor’s nomination are pretty uncommon, but McLeroy had led the board’s creationist faction in a divisive, all-out assault on evolution during the revision of science curriculum standards in 2008 and 2009. Declaring that “somebody’s gotta stand up to experts,” McLeroy — appointed as chairman by Gov. Perry in 2007 — had pushed through revisions to the standards that he and other creationists hoped would force publishers to include anti-evolution propaganda in new science textbooks.
McLeroy’s anti-science crusade, the board’s stunning rejection of the pleadings from teachers and scientists, and vicious attacks on the faith of board members and others who support teaching students established science brought an avalanche of embarrassing attention from state and national news media. (At one point McLeroy endorsed a new book that called scientists “atheists,” parents “monsters” and clergy members “morons” if they support teaching about evolution. One Republican board member felt compelled to defend herself and two other GOP board colleagues from a smear campaign launched by “ultra-religious extremists” during the science debate.)
But how did Gov. Perry respond to the blazing controversy that was engulfing the state board and creating the impression that Texas is hostile to sound science education? He nominated Lowe, another creationist, as chair — and he couldn’t be bothered to make even a simple phone call to his nominee.
So, apparently, there was no insistence by the governor that his new chair lead the board away from the “culture war” battles in which her predecessor had reveled. There was no request that Lowe and other board members take into more careful consideration the recommendations of teachers, scholars and other experts when approving curriculum standards and textbooks. There wasn’t even a simple plea for Lowe to keep the board from embarrassing Texas any further.
Well, we know how things turned out. Lowe proceeded to lead the board into an even more outrageous revision of the social studies curriculum standards. With Lowe’s support, the board’s creationist faction rammed through approval of new standards that the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute has sharply criticized as a “political distortion of history” with “misrepresentations at every turn.” Embarrassed for the state yet again, the Texas Senate refused even to vote on Lowe’s nomination for a second term as board chair in 2011.
The governor appointed a third creationist, Barbara Cargill, as chair shortly afterward. He did talk to Cargill — but one has to wonder what he told her because Cargill almost immediately angered a majority of state board members by claiming that she was one of only “six true conservative Christians on the board.” The state board is scheduled to adopt new science textbooks in 2013 and social studies textbooks the following year.
How has Texas gained a reputation across the country for putting the culture wars ahead of giving schoolchildren an education that prepares them for college and the jobs of the future? Maybe it’s because we have a governor who apparently couldn’t care less.