Theocracy panic dies hard, and a recent NYT article on the Texas textbooks shows that it’s still alive and well at the Grey Lady. The article covers recent appointments to Texas’ textbook review panel and expresses alarm that the creationist members of the panel could compromise science nationwide:
As Texas gears up to select biology textbooks for use by high school students over the next decade, the panel responsible for reviewing submissions from publishers has stirred controversy because a number of its members do not accept evolution and climate change as scientific truth […]Some Texans worry that ideologically driven review panel members and state school board members are slowly eroding science education in the state […]Historically, given the state’s size, Texas’ textbook selections have had an outsize impact on what ended up in classrooms throughout the country […]Parents are worried that their children will not be able to compete for jobs that require scientific backgrounds.
These worries, however, gloss over a crucial fact: while the article initially states that “a number” of panel members reject evolution, that number later turns out to be only six of out of twenty-eight total members. This is hardly a majority. Moreover, a lot of the power over classroom content lies on the district and teacher level, so even if the state board was dominated by creationists (which it isn’t), that along wouldn’t tell us very much about what students will eventually get taught.Rather than pointing to a “slowly eroding science education,” these appointments expose a dirty but commonplace part of politics: appeasing one’s base with toothless symbolic gestures. By putting six creationists on the panel, the state’s educational commissioner gets to throw the religious right a bone even while ensuring they will do no actual damage to the state’s schools. These kind of symbolic gestures are something both parties do all the time.In other words, this is a non-story. The only reason to cover it is if you so are fearful that powerful Christianist forces still lurk behind the scenes, ready to grab power and turn America into a theocracy, that you will grasp at the slightest event as evidence. But in the real world, Christianists have been losing nearly every major battle they’ve chosen to fight, and creationist textbooks are no different. The NYT is going to have to find something else to write about.