June 8, 2009
The Daily Texan Staff
Three panelists and about 60 audience members attempted to answer the question of why people should care about the State Board of Education at the Yarborough Library Branch on Saturday.
Ronald Wetherington, a Southern Methodist University professor of anthropology; Alana Morris, a textbook writer and teacher in Texas for the past 20 years; and Julie Cowan, Anderson High School Parent-Teacher-Student Association president, served on the panel and addressed growing concerns about the board.
The board manages the Permanent School Fund, most of which goes to buying textbooks for grades K-12. The board also determines the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for each subject and grade level, defines teacher curriculum and develops standards for textbooks, teacher training and student testing.
Wetherington, who serves as a director for the Center for Teaching Excellence at Southern Methodist University and is one of the experts appointed by the board to review the science TEKS, said political and religious affiliations have suffocated efforts to reach consensus through rational discussion.
“Since 2003, the board has been fundamentally dysfunctional,” Wetherington said. “A volatile combination of religious fundamentalism and social conservatism has resulted in the virtual strangulation of consideration of principles of education and the pedagogical principles that underlie the topics at hand.”
Wetherington said the science-versus-religion debate is related to the lack of cohesion in the board.
“The disagreement has absolutely nothing to do with ignorance of science on the part of the far-right board members,” he said.
Wetherington said the controversy surrounding the ongoing debate between the teaching of creationism and evolution in Texas public schools is more political than religious.
“Knowing the source of the problem does not necessarily give us an automatic solution, but it does point us in the right direction,” Wetherington said.
One solution is to replace board members. Texas Senators rejected the Governor’s nomination of Don McElroy to another term as chairman of the education board in May, but McElroy remains on the board.
“That’s not enough,” Wetherington said. “The answer, I believe, is in getting citizens involved, in getting them aware of the difficulty of managing the [board] when ideology gets in the way of ideas.”
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