At yesterday's Texas State Board of Education meeting, Barney the Dinosaur asked board chairman Don McLeroy, "How old am I? 4,000 or 64,000,000?" (See Barney here.)
Someone dressed as PBS's big purple pal was there in Austin with dozens of scientists, students, teachers, clergy and other citizens to give testimony in support of sound science standards for Texas public school children.
Barney, in a colorful way, was making the point that science tells us that dinosaurs roamed Earth millions of years ago, not a few thousand, as some fundamentalists claim – and want to teach in public schools.
The Texas school board is currently in the process of reviewing the science curriculum, which it does every 10 years, and will determine whether the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution should still be taught in science classrooms.
"Scientists want to get rid of this weaknesses wording. It's just bad science," Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Scientists, told The Houston Chronicle. "Scientific theories don't have weaknesses."
For scientists, evolution is the accepted bedrock of biology.
"[It] is widely accepted, and any other model should not be used in the science classroom," said Francis Eberle, head of the 60,000-member National Science Teachers Association. "Students are easily impressed and are not often able to comprehend the complexity of adult arguments"
Scientists across the state feel Texas will become a "laughingstock" if state officials continue to water down the concept of evolution in the science curriculum. (According to a new Texas Freedom Network report, 95 percent of Texas scientists say schools should teach "just evolution.") But they're up against a Religious Right faction on the board with its own agenda.
Earlier this year, Board Chairman Don McLeroy made it clear he does not believe in evolution.
"I look at evolution as still a hypothesis with weaknesses," he told the Associated Press back in October.
"Strengths and weaknesses" is known to be creationist code language—a way for the Religious Right to shoehorn religion into public schools—even if it is at the expense of a sound science education.
And what happens in Texas may not stay within the Lone Star State's borders. Texas is the second largest purchaser of textbooks, after California. If publishers cater to a Texas science curriculum that allows for the teaching of creationism alongside scientific concepts, then these ideas may filter into other states.
That's why so many citizens lined up to explain the importance of sound science education to the board. Unfortunately, it is unclear if some of these board members really care what these Texans—and Barney—have to say on the matter.
They seem to echo McLeroy's line and argue that maintaining the "strengths and weaknesses" language is not a means to introduce religion in public schools, but simply about "academic freedom,"—more infamous creationist code language.
"I'm a big fan of academic freedom," said board member Ken Mercer. "We're not putting religion in books."
"All this hysteria has no basis in fact," said board member Terri Leo. (Leo was amongst four board members who support introducing a Bible curriculum into public schools that has already been ruled unconstitutional.)
This "hysteria" is based in fact, and the fact is, we've seen the Religious Right do this before. These tactics aren't new, and it's great to see many Texans have caught on. The Discovery Institute and other Religious Right forces may think they've found a constitutional loophole to sneak creationist concepts into the classroom, but it won't work.
Americans United has promised that a lawsuit will be filed as soon as public schools use the "weaknesses" provision to introduce religion.
Religious indoctrination has no place in public schools, let alone in the science curriculum. The Supreme Court has made it clear that teaching creationism in public school classrooms is a violation of church-state separation. See Edwards v. Aguillard and Epperson v. Arkansas.
The Religious Right should just give it a rest. And these creationist board members should start paying attention to what scientists have to say. After all, they are the experts.