Bad Astronomy

CA to TX: we’ve got our eye on you

Speaking of Texas political goofballery…

I’ve written extensively about the maniacal practices of the Texas State Board of Education: promoting creationism, twisting reality, and most recently engaging in ridiculous historical revisionism. Because, after all, Joseph McCarthy was simply a misunderstood patriot.

texasandallofus_doomedWell, there’s been an update to this insanity. Two actually: one is that the Texas BoE is now an international embarrassment, since the UK paper The Guardian has picked up on this story. I’d like to think that the more publicity this story gets, the more pressure there will be on Texas citizens to throw those antireality bums out of the BoE. However, I suspect that the people who voted them in in the first place will consider stories like this a badge of honor. The second bit of news sounds good at first, but I don’t think will make much difference: a California legislator is introducing a bill that will make sure that any Texas nonsense introduced into textbooks will be reviewed by the California BoE, and the results reported both to the Legislature and the secretary of education.

Personally, I don’t see much use for this bill. The concern behind it is that the decisions made by the Texas BoE have national ramifications, since they have such a huge educational system that it’s easier for textbook publishers to simply use the Texas standards in their books that they sell in the national market. That’s not strictly the case; in reality there are four very large markets that influence textbooks (California is bigger than Texas, in fact, and the other two are Florida and New York). It is true, though, to the best of my knowledge, that Texas does unduly influence the way education is presented in textbooks in national markets, however. I used to work in this business, and talked to quite a few teachers, educational experts, and people who helped create national education standards, so I have some experience in this.

Be that as it may, the California bill doesn’t really do much. It just says that the California BoE has to report any problems they see, but it’s vague on the next step. Even a staff member of Leland Yee, who introduced the bill, says it’s just a precautionary measure. It strikes me that the California BoE should be doing stuff like this anyway, so I’m unsure of the efficacy of a bill like this.

I’ll note that in 2005, Yee passed bills making it illegal to sell video games rated M to minors. I’m a bit of a libertarian when it comes to such things; while I don’t think young kids should be playing violent video games, I don’t think it’s the government’s place to be making it illegal. It strikes me as the government being in loco parentis, as well as just being a bandaid on a much larger issue.

This new BoE bill appears to me to be more of the same thing. We’ll see. I will add one thing: despite my admonitions above, I’m very glad that the government of a big state sees right through the snake oil the Texas BoE is peddling. While I don’t think California needs legislation to make sure the Texas BoE silliness doesn’t infect other states, they certainly need to keep a jaundiced eye on it.

Tip o’ the mortarboard to Slashdot.