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The Holy (Text)Book: Former SBOE Chair Don McLeroy’s Strange Return

Photo: Mary Tuma, License: N/A

Mary Tuma

“The idea of creationism versus evolution has been a divisive topic for such a long time. I think it’s just this conservative ploy to inject politics at the cost of children’s education and we need to put a stop to that,” said Perez, who is leading a charge to include more educators and school administrators in the process. While once elusive to the media, Perez has come out as a vocal opponent of the fundamentalist machinations of some of her fellow Board members, challenging the Board’s lack of transparency and possible ideological meddling when it comes textbook adoption.

“Regardless of our personal ideologies, we are in a role where we need to prepare our children for the future. When we review these books, we need to ultimately ask, ‘Is this going to prepare our kids for higher ed, for the workforce, and are they going to be competitive with those outside Texas?’ If the answer is no, it shouldn’t even be a topic of discussion,” she said.

The controversy came to a head during a public hearing last Tuesday where a train of nearly 60 Texans, from science educators and advocacy groups to proponents of creationism, testified before the board about the proposed changes. In the fact-based camp, Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science, described the creationist-backed recommendations as “pseudo-science, incorrect and illegal.” The suggestions would, “damage evolution instruction,” and “mislead and confuse children.” On the other side, folks like Gary Bennett, chairman of the Christian conservative group the Center for the Preservation of American Ideals, asked the board to include “intelligent design” and stick to “Biblical truth.”

As if the scene couldn’t get more embarrassing for the SBOE, in walks former Board chair Don McLeroy, who arguably stole the show.

McLeroy, a Young Earth creationist, showed up downright giddy to throw his two cents in, this time as a citizen and not a member. He flatly told his former colleagues to adopt the textbooks in order to, “strike a final blow to the teaching of evolution,” and “support the Bible.”

A Sunday school teacher and College Station dentist, McLeroy was appointed SBOE chair by Gov. Rick Perry in 2007 and is credited with helping take the Board to new heights in the culture wars battle. During the board’s 2009 debate over science curriculum, McLeroy supported maintaining the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution in the books. The conservative was defeated in the 2010 GOP primary by moderate Republican Thomas Ratliff, signaling an important tide shift in the board’s right-wing bloc makeup. But last week, a wave of the old guard came rolling back.

While McLeroy described some of the evolution instruction in the unedited books as “unsubstantiated” and “dogmatic” (pot, kettle?) he, unlike other creationist proponents, oddly considers the statements weak enough to support overall. Within the pages lie, “hidden gems just waiting to be mined by inquisitive students that could destroy evolution,” he said, referring to a supposed open door to evolution denial he slipped into the books as Board chair. But those loopholes don’t seem to actually exist—researchers with the University of Texas at Austin and Southern Methodist University found the books to affirm evolution as, “factual, well-established, mainstream science.”

The fight over evolution v. creationism is sadly nothing novel in the Texas textbook wars, but the former Board chair’s overt admission may be. In the end, McLeroy, clawing at his last shot to wield influence and now untethered to the careful religious boundaries one can’t overstep in public office, only helps put to rest any questions about his intention to inject creationism and religious dogma into textbooks during his infamous tenure on the SBOE.

In a line of questioning from the seat he once occupied, McLeroy gave further indication of his motives, with a nod to his more moderate successor “I’m just hoping a young creationist—a young Thomas Ratliff that’s a creationist—will sit there and say, ‘look, is this all the evidence they have? Well, maybe

God didn’t use evolution to do it.’”

“God help us,” uttered Ratliff under his breath.

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