10 December 2007

Texas Education Agency and Chris Comer, Part 13

Chris ComerThere's a local prediction that "south Texas is the new Florida." The idea is that retirees looking for a warm place to move to will start moving to south Texas, because Florida is full. But here's another interesting comparison to make between Florida and Texas. Someone from a state education agency emails people about upcoming reviews to the state K-12 science curriculum.

In Florida, an email that says:
(I)work for the Florida Department of Education as the Director of the Office of Instructional Materials... I say all of this, obviously, to give this e-mail credibility. ...

Districts will not have a choice in teaching evolution as a theory... Whose agenda is this and will the Christians in Florida care enough to do something about it? ...

The least we can do is make sure evolution is presented to our children and grandchildren as a theory as it has been in the past. Hopefully, though, we can do better than that.
gets a reprimand.

In Texas, a forwarded email with "FYI" gets a forced resignation.

The Florida situation appears to have occurred after news of Chris Comer's resignation broke, so perhaps those in the Florida Department of Education took note at how much attention the Comer situation has received nationally.

Meanwhile, let's see what the Texas Education Agency's education commissioner, Robert Scott, has to say in Dallas News interview:
I'm aware of the reports and a bit disturbed by them because they're not based in reality or fact.
If that's the case, it might have been handy for the Agency to have been communicative. Mr. Scott goes on to say:
The really frustrating part about this is, if I start talking about activities and things that happened, I get sued.
Nevertheless, since the Austin American-Statesman published a TEA memo on proposed disciplinary action, it seems a little coy to say that he can't talk about things that happened. Indeed, the memo absolutely supports Mr. Scott's contention that Ms. Comer was not forced to resign over one thing (i.e., the forwarded email about Barbara Forrest's presentation).

Nevertheless, I think that many reasonable people have looked at that memo. I admit that memos like that don't give the whole story and don't capture workplace dynamics. Unless there was something else really major that was not written down in print there, a lot of people have concluded that the matters in question are not something you normally fire someone over. Ooops... I mean, "not something you normally ask for someone's resignation over."

Regarding whether Ms. Comer advocated evolution, Mr. Scott says:
But she may have given the impression that ... we were taking a position as an agency – not as an individual but as an agency – on a matter.
"May have." So the problem is, as I've said before, is just the possibility of the appearance of a conflict of interest.

You know, the memo published by the Austin American-Statesman has been read by a lot of people. The vast majority (I am being measured here, because I am tempted to say "all") who've looked at this don't see Ms. Comer advocating any position on the subject, much less one that could be confused as a Texas Education Agency position. This is simply not how reasonable people are viewing the situation.

And when the paper calls the bluff of neutrality directly and asks, "Why shouldn't the agency advocate the science of evolution?", you get a very telling remark:
But you can be in favor of a science without bashing people's faith, too.
When did anyone's faith get "bashed"? What kind of "bashing" is he worried will occur?

I'm having a hard time finding sympathy for the TEA at this point. A lot of statements that have been made by people associated with the Agency give the impression that it is run by a lot of people who are very thin-skinned and very, very worried about what one particular group of religious people might say.

Another editorial over the weekend, this one from the San Antonio Express-News.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently released the results of a test that assesses science and math skills of students in 30 industrialized countries. The results showed American students scored in the bottom half — worse than their peers from 16 other countries, and better than only those from Italy, Portugal, Greece, Turkey and Mexico. ...

Do Texans truly want their educators to be neutral on the teaching of religious faith versus science in schools? If so, then the State Board of Education and the Texas Education Agency are well on their way to making students in Italy, Portugal, Greece, Turkey and Mexico feel proud.
Outside of the state of Texas, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is also concerned about America's standing in science education rankings:
Some politicians don't seem to grasp the difference between science and faith, so it's no wonder scientific theory befuddles U.S. high school students.
Over in Utah, Salt Lake Tribune writer Robyn Blumner says:
Really folks, in this information age, when scientific innovation is the key to our nation's future, we don't have the time to be mucking around in this tired debate. You don't produce doctors and scientists by teaching science from the Bible. Period.
He talks a little about Comer, but is more concerned with George W. Bush's track record in science and prospects for the next presidency.

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