Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Update on the Budget Proviso and the EOC

Okay, here's what I can piece together from various bits of information concerning the creationists activities in this state. In my last post on the subject, I pointed out that the Education and Public Works committee stomped on Rep. Bob Walker's attempt to insert two amendments into a bill that would require no less than 10% of the material in textbooks to promote "higher-order thinking skills", whatever that means. Aside from the bizarre wording of the proposals, this is a standard Discovery Institute tactic: Call something the opposite of what it actually is. Say you're serving apple pie and then serve cow pie. I sometimes wonder if these people aren't a bigger threat to the English language than they are to modern science.

But the committee rejected those amendments unanimously, and, better yet, they saw right through Walker's motives. However, there was that mysterious budget proviso that Walker talked about. His argument was that the committee needed to adopt these amendments to get in-line with the budget requirements that already existed. The proviso he mentioned really does exist, and one of our sleuths was able to track it down. Here's what it says:

1A.71. (SDE-EIA: Core Curriculum Materials) The funds appropriated in Part IA, Section 1, XI.A.3 for instructional materials for core curriculum shall be expended consistent with the requirements of Section 59-31-600 of the 1976 Code requiring the development of higher order thinking skills and critical thinking which should be integrated throughout the core curriculum instructional materials. Furthermore, the evaluation criteria used to select instructional materials with funds appropriated in Part IA, Section 1, XI.A.3 shall include a weight of up to ten percent of the overall criteria to the development of higher order thinking skills and critical thinking.
Basically, it's just as advertised. You can find the proviso on this page if you look hard enough. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done at this point to undo it. Either Walker or Sen. Mike Fair or some other genius inserted this innocuous-sounding language into the budget bill when no one was looking, and now they're going to use it (we presume) to argue that the textbooks the state purchases must contain "critical analysis" of evolution. For those of you not already familiar with the Orwellian language of the Disco Institute, this means that they will contain arguments against evolution that biologists consider completely invalid.

There is a bit of sort-of good news though. The Academic Standards and Assessments Subcommittee of the Educational Oversight Committee (EOC) met Monday and voted to adopt the curriculum standards that the Board of Education (BOE) proposed. If you'll recall, it was Sen. Mike Fair working through the EOC who started this nonsense to begin with. He convinced the EOC not to accept those standards that dealt with evolution, and proposed that the BOE insert "critical analysis" language into each of the standards before they would be accepted. The Board however didn't budge, so the language was never added in. But the EOC still had the option of rejecting the standards and sending them back to the BOE. Fair ended this impasse on Monday by accepting the standards as written. Why? Because he's apparently convinced that the budget proviso will get him what he wants.

What still isn't clear in all of this is what's going to happen when the proviso is actually enforced. I assume that the BOE or the Department of Education (DOE -- I've told myself that I'm going to write a rap with all of the acronyms we've got) are going to look at it and shrug, and then carry on with business as usual. Walker, Fair, and others however are going to step in and try to get them to accept textbooks containing creationist materials. But I suspect that this is going to be difficult for them to do, because the language is so amusingly vague and meaningless that the BOE or DOE will interpret it however they wish. And with a lot of people standing guard and keeping an eye on Walker, Fair, and the rest of those jokers, they aren't going to control the textbook purchase process unnoticed. That would leave the court system as their only recourse, and I really can't imagine any judge reading that "10% higher-order thinking skill" nonsense as a call to teach creationism. The creationists have an extremely poor track record in court.

Here's another reason why they're going to have a hard time: There really aren't any textbooks out there that contain creationist arguments that aren't blatantly creationist texts. During the recent Dover trial, the textbook Of Pandas and People was mandated by the school board of Dover, PA. It was what you would call an "Intelligent Design" text, but the plaintiffs were able to successfully show that it was simply a creationist text that literally had the word "creationism" replaced with "intelligent design" in later editions. Supreme Court precedent already holds that creationism is a religious belief that cannot be taught as science, so this was devastating to the defense's case. (Here's an interesting aside: Nick Matzke often points out that the very first book produced by the ID movement was Pandas, which is a textbook intended for schools. This kind of belies their pretense that they only want to do science and gain acceptance through the academy.)

So it's rather hard to know what textbooks they have in mind. They certainly aren't going to adopt Pandas, since that already failed miserably up in Dover, but there aren't any other ID or creationism textbooks with which I'm familiar that don't automatically give the game away. Maybe they're hoping that legitimate textbook publishers will start including creationist falsehoods? Who knows. We'll be watching.