The Texas Education Agency [TEA] has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought by Chris Comer, who lost her job as the TEA’s top science education specialist after forwarding an email announcement of a talk by Barbara Forrest. ‘a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, a co-author of “Inside Creationism’s Trojan Horse” and an expert witness in the landmark 2005 case that ruled against the teaching of intelligent design in the Dover, Pa., schools’ (NYT)
In its motion, the TEA argues that
The central claim in this lawsuit arises from a fundamental misconception of the relationship between the Texas Education Agency … and the State Board of Education [SBOE]. The plaintiff’s pleadings … imply that TEA and the Board are jointly responsible for developing the curriculum that will be used for teaching academic subjects in Texas public schools. (p. 4)
The TEA is arguing that its responsibility is to implement policies dictated by the SBOE, not only for science education, but also on other controversial curriculum questions, including:
- Whether schools should teach “whole language” or “phonics” in English Language Arts;
- Whether schools should have grammar as a separate section of the English curriculum or embedded in the overall curriculum;
- How schools should present the treatment of minorities in U.S. or Texas history;
- Whether schools should have required reading lists in English or other subjects (and if so what books should be included on them);
- Whether schools should emphasize scientific processes or content.
- Whether schools should require laboratory instruction in science courses;
- How schools should integrate the Spanish-language grammar or decoding skills into English TEKS for students with limited English proficiency (LEP);
- Whether to include instruction on contraceptives along with abstinence, in the presentation of human sexuality in health education. (pp. 7-8)
Although the case might be decided on other grounds, the TEA motion raises with exceptional clarity a general question that is ubiquitous in curriculum controversies — the question of whether (or, to avoid the binary yes/no: in what ways, and to what extent) curriculum questions such as these are fundamentally political questions, best decided as political outcomes, or are questions that are fundamentally of a nature that they must be answered on the basis of principles that are other than political.
Texas SBOE chairman McLeroy’s position is quite clear and explicit. He sees these as politically controversial matters that, in a democracy, are to be decided as politically-determined policy, by those who have been elected to do so by the citizens.
The ramifications of this general position range fare beyond the evolution controversy, as we see in the TEA motion’s bulleted list, and as observed by Scott Gold in the LA Times (2004):
Conservatives’ efforts over the years to edit textbooks are legendary here [in Texas]. In a nod to those who believe God created the Earth 6,000 years ago, a sentence saying the ice age took place “millions of years ago” was changed to “in the distant past.” Descriptions of environmentalism have been attacked as antithetical to free-enterprise ideals; a passage describing the cruelty of slavery was derided as “overkill.”
The view that experts should be the deciders is by no means shared by everyone.