The next act in the long and ugly creationist end-game will take place in Texas. After the previous two acts, my confidence is high.
One of my dearest hopes for the next generation is that they get a real shot at understanding evolution. My own teenage understanding of the theory was fuzzy around the edges, since we touched on it for all of about eight minutes in high school. I didn't encounter it again until Anthro 1 at Berkeley--at which point it dazzled me so much I changed my major from psych to physical anthropology.
And am I ever glad I did, because understanding evolution changes everything. It is not just true but transformative and elegant and exquisitely, lastingly wonder-inducing. And the wonder is increasingly evident the deeper you dig -- as opposed to religious wonder, which pales with each stroke of the spade. Yes, I want kids to understand evolution because it's true, but I also want to gift them with the giddy perspective it brings, both humbling and exalting in its implications. It is indeed the "best idea anyone ever had," but also the most astonishingly wonder-full.
When I fight to keep evolution in the schools and creationism out, it's that wonder that I'm fighting for as much as fact. The fact that ignorance and cowardice among parents and educators keeps our kids from learning much about the Coolest Thing We Know simply breaks my heart.
That's why I'm so excited to hear that creationists are busily reviewing state science standards in Texas.
You heard me. When I read about this on Pharyngula, I squealed with girlish glee. Here's why: When lunacy flies too far below the radar, the good guys slumber, the middle shrugs, and untold damage is done. But once in a while it flies high enough and caws loud enough to wake enough of us up to do something serious about it. That's why I'm a big fan of those flights of nonsense.
It happens in politics as well. A recent such flight was piloted by the ghastly Michele Bachmann, a fascist (and I don't use that word lightly) from my former state who won a seat in Congress in 2006 despite my objections. She's been a dangerous nut for two years but only came to the country's attention when she went on Hardball recently to call for a McCarthyesque rooting out of "anti-Americanism" in Congress:
Bachmann's no more dangerous this week than last -- she's simply visible. As a partial result, the most admired Republican in the country endorsed the man she slandered. And as a direct result, three quarters of a million dollars poured in to her opponent's campaign.
Another example: Would the left ever have gotten its act together if John McCain had selected a sensible running mate?
So we really shouldn't gnash our teeth too much when nonsense flies high. Pass out the peanuts and encourage them to enjoy the in-flight movie while you spread some foam (or not) on the runway.
Evolution education has benefited tremendously from such high-visibility nonsense in recent years. The Dover trial was a lopsided victory for evolution, and the judge, a Bush appointee, wrote the most devastatingly powerful and scornful evisceration of "intelligent design" in the history of the issue. (If you haven't seen the NOVA program about the trial, oh my word, people, click here.)
Without that high-flying attempt by the creationists, a crucial moment of progress couldn't have occurred.
Then there's Kansas, where the state Board of Education's attempt to throttle evolution education ended with evolution more firmly ensconced in the curriculum standards than before and every last one of the creationist board members out of a job. Again, progress not in spite of, but because of, overt lunacy.
Now the flight is landing in Texas, where the Texas Board of Education (itself stocked with two creationists for every science-literate member) has named a six-person committee to review science standards -- three science-literates and three high-profile creationist activists. The committee is headed by a seventh member, Don McLeroy, a creationist dentist (of all things).
Publishers will use the new standards to create new textbooks. Because Texas is such a large market for textbook sales, publishers typically craft their textbooks for this state and then sell those books to other schools across the country. So the results of this curriculum process could have consequences for far more than just the 4.6 million children in Texas public schools.
So be glad the lunacy is flying high where we can see it -- but don't be complacent, especially y'all in Texas. If nothing else, get yourselves informed before the board election by listening closely to this incredibly clear message from a well-informed Texas gentleman whose resemblance to Satan is almost certainly coincidental:
"What happened in Kansas and in Dover, Pennsylvania is about to happen here in Texas, too," he says. Well I certainly hope so. It won't be easy or smooth. The fable purveyors will do some damage along the way. But I've never been more confident in our ability to win in the end.