SBOE forced to table adoption of Donna Garner’s “alternative” Language Arts curriculum

The TFN reports today that angry responses from educators as well as the general public have persuaded them to hold off, at least temporarily, the adoption of an “alternative” language arts curriculum put together by a former teacher and current Christian-right homophobe and ideologue named Donna Garner. Creationist Dan McLeroy, who heads up the SBOE, favored Garner’s curriculum, which had already been rejected as too rigid and outdated (in the TFN’s words) ten years ago when the governor of Texas was none other than the clod who’s been stinking up the White House since January 2001. Had the SBOE adopted it now, it would have utterly derailed a very intensive revision of language arts standards that has been underway for a couple of years, and which has the blessing of educators.

However, this is only a temporary setback for the fundies. The SBOE has put together a subcommittee (with McLeroy on it, surprise surprise!) to further study the matter. Expect the fight to protect students from these troglodytes to continue.

Typical, typical, typical

The dishonest morons who produced Ben Stein’s comedy masterpiece Expelled posted a ridiculously deluded rant against Darwin Day to their blog, in which they lie so copiously and egregiously about the positions of Darwin and Dawkins that PZ Myers couldn’t resist laying down the pwnage, which he did with his usual masterful command of all those doggone facts IDiots find so inconvenient.

In response, it now appears that anyone clicking over to the Expelled blog from the link provided in PZ’s rebuttal gets a 404 error. The stupid Expelled post is still up, you just can’t get to it from Pharyngula. Presumably the link provided here will be good for a little while, anyway.

So let’s see what we have here. A movie that claims ID has been “expelled” from academia due to some sort of hostility towards free speech and academic freedom on the part of “Big Science”* has expelled criticism by a legitimate scientist who happens to be one of the scientists they got to agree to an interview in their movie through false pretenses. Hmm. Sounds about typical, all right.

Welcome to the world of ID creationism. Where we tell more lies before breakfast than most people do all day year.

* I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark and submit that “Big Religion” is far bigger than “Big Science” ever dreamed of being.

Texas SBOE promoting the policies of lunatic fundie homophobe?

An email sent out today by the Texas Freedom Network alerts us to the latest shenanigans of the Texas State Board of Education, as it’s currently being run by Dan McLeroy, lackey to Governor Rick “Oh, The Evil Liberal Elite Atheists Are Persecuting Us, Now Drop to Your Knees and Pray, Mofo” Perry. I’ll just post the main section of the email in full.

Today we learned that the far-right faction controlling the State Board of Education wants to torpedo new language arts curriculum standards that took teachers and education experts two years to develop. The Texas Education Agency has even been paying a consulting firm $85,000 to help develop those new standards, which govern what more than 4.5 million children learn in Texas public schools.

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that the State Board of Education’s chairman, Don McLeroy, wants to throw away that money and all of the hard work put in by Texas teachers and education experts. McLeroy is instead promoting an alternative curriculum – one developed more than 10 years ago by a far-right activist more interested in promoting the religious right’s agenda in public schools than making sure Texas schoolchildren get a sound education.

That activist, education gadfly Donna Garner, has promoted her alternative curriculum ever since the state board and then-Gov. George Bush’s education commissioner rejected it in 1997. Now McLeroy and other far-right members who control the state board have breathed new life into Garner’s efforts.

In e-mails to supporters, Garner suggests that her standards are the solution to a host of ills in public schools. She is particularly critical of the use of “multicultural authors” in classes, contemporary literature she deems as inappropriate, and a perceived promotion of the “gay lifestyle.” Her proposed standards even includes specific reading lists – lists that would allow the state board to censor the works of any authors the religious right doesn’t like.

Even though education experts and the board have spent two years working on the revision of the language arts curriculum, McLeroy sent Garner’s alternative to board members just a few days ago! That last-minute surprise prevents parents, teachers and even board members from giving the 100+ pages in the document the thorough review it should get. This is a classic bait-and-switch tactic the religious right has used often in the past.

Now, I support TFN, but I like checking these things out for myself. I Googled Garner, and was disturbed by what I came up with.

I found what I think might be the program TFN is warning about, that Garner endorses, here. Garner declares that she’s more interested in “classrooms where the teacher, an authority figure, teaches curriculum that is academic and knowledge-based, and students are tested primarily through objective testing (i.e., right or wrong answers). The other camp supports classrooms where the teacher is the facilitator who emphasizes a performance-based, constructivist curriculum (e.g., projects, discovery learning, inquiry-based learning) which is subjectively assessed.”

Certainly I support the notion of making sure kids get facts first and foremost. But if Garner is the Christian-right agent provocateur the TFN is making her out to be (and which seems to be the case the more I learn), then my own dealings with average creationists lead me to wonder exactly how accurately she’s portraying the dichotomy between how she’d like to see students taught, and how students actually are being taught. Garner’s tendency to use emotionally laden language like this also sends up red flags:

Texas teachers have been led by the TEA into utilizing failed fads such as whole language, teacher-as-facilitator, holistic scoring, self-esteem movement, inventive spelling, group grading, outcomes-based-education, fuzzy math, rain-forest algebra, block scheduling, open concept, portfolios, integrated curriculum, year-round schools, subjective scoring, etc. The public is disillusioned with the public schools and rightfully so. Parents are tired of their children being used as guinea pigs in education experiments.

Just what in tarnation is Garner babbling about when she throws out terms like “rain-forest algebra” or “inventive spelling” or “holistic scoring”? Once this kind of rhetoric starts getting tossed around, I have a hard time taking anything the person is saying seriously. And even good points about making sure kids get the best education they can get washed overboard once the crazy comes out. I was a student in Texas public schools from the fifth grade on, and I can’t ever remember learning “rain-forest algebra” or being told I could just make up my own spellings to words. I’ll be the first to admit our public schools are in major need of a firmware upgrade, and that lazy policies like “teach to the test” do nothing to get a child excited about learning, instead resulting in the indifferent, assembly-line processing of mediocrity that only cares that a student does well enough to pass with a C- and go away. But bizarre rhetoric tends to cloud good solutions.

Now we get to the more disturbing stuff. I discovered that someone who may or may not be the same Donna Garner posted to a Christian-homophobe hate site. The email on this article is different than the one Garner uses on the Lone Star Foundation page, but that doesn’t mean anything; I have at least five email addresses, two of which I never even use. I was inclined to believe it was the same Garner, as I then found this article in which she goes off on illegal immigrants, titled “This Is Not Being Racist,” but which is also inexplicably titled “Promoting Homosexuality in the Public Schools” in the header. Maybe she meant to write the one, then chucked it and wrote the other instead.

In the Americans for Truth (gag!) post, Garner talks about her experiences dealing with Wal-Mart, where she warns all red-blooded American apple-pie eating straight folk that, using Wal-Mart’s search engine, “I typed in the words ‘gay and lesbians.’ In the top, lefthand corner, it states, ‘576 items found for ‘gays and lesbians.’ Wal-Mart still has some cleaning up to do before it can say it is not supporting the gay and lesbian agenda.” Oh yes, the empire is sure to fall!

In my effort to make sure that the teacher Donna Garner was the same person as the homophobe Donna Garner, I narrowed my Google search to “donna garner homosexuality,” and this article at Baptist Press essentially confirmed it, in which it’s written that…

Donna Garner, a retired English teacher, is an example of a leader in the grassroots effort to help Wal-Mart live up to the family friendly description the company gives itself…. One of Garner’s main concerns is that adolescents can easily stumble upon the homosexuality-promoting books and be drawn into a lifestyle that is proven to be detrimental to their health. “I have extensive medical data to show how very dangerous the homosexual lifestyle is,” she told BP.

So that pretty much nails it then. The Donna Garner who writes so passionately about improving students’ learning skills — only to overplay her hand with weird rants about presumed hippy-dippy new-age teaching techniques that are supposed to be state-approved — is the same hateful homophobe who thinks a store merely offering products to a certain segment of their clientele involves some kind of organized push to force teens everywhere into sodomite gangbangs. Apparently Garner missed the shelves in Wal-Mart that are stacked to the ceiling with delusional monkeypoo like this. Wal-Mart stocks more fundie drivel than any other major retailer I’ve ever seen. But for Garner, even that’s not good enough. It has to be all Christianity, all the time, with no room allowed for anyone “unsaved.” And they say gays are the ones with “an agenda.”

For the record, I did an “entire site” search at for “gay and lesbian,” and got 37 results total. “Gay” alone got 153, and “lesbian” got only 43. “Homosexuality” only got 5, and “homosexual” a mere 3. “Christianity” got 1,829 results, and “christian” got 4,385. (“Atheist” only got 6, and half of those were lame Christian attempts at rebuttals such as the fake Antony Flew book.) So where’s the big “gay agenda” promotion, Mrs. Garner? Or are you still threatened by the fact those search numbers are any higher than zero?

Here’s another stupid rant on a website with the hilariously inappropriate name of (well, you know, Socrates was a cat), in which Garner continues her vendetta against Wal-Mart and bolsters it with such asinine nonsense as this:

Race and ethnicity cannot be changed; they are inherent. Homosexuality can be changed and is not inherent. The proof is that thousands of homosexuals have walked away from the homosexual lifestyle and are now happily married heterosexuals. No one has ever met a person who was born an Anglo and who has changed himself into an Afro-American. Putting homosexuality under the same umbrella as race/ethnicity is a ploy developed by the homosexual movement to give legitimacy to their terribly destructive sexual practices, and Wal-Mart and HEB have bought into the lie.

“…Terribly destructive sexual practices.” Remember, in the mind of the Christian homophobe, being gay is about nothing more than fudge-packin’, day in and day out!

So I guess I have to join TFN in opposing any influence Garner may have on the course of education in Texas. Even if her ideas about teaching were entirely valid, that fact that she’s such an obvious and unrepentantly frothing bigot and hatemonger — and one who validates her hate with brazen lies — frankly disqualifies her from any respectful consideration. She needs to be relegated to the fringe and ignored, where she can spew her bile without splashing it on decent folks.

But then, that idiot McLeroy ought to be out on the fringe too. And look where he is. Looks like education in Texas is going to be a bigger battleground than we originally thought. And you thought it was just about evolution!

Happy 199th, Chuck D!

You don’t look a day over 162!

Thanks to Google Books, there’s no reason not to read On the Origin of Species. It isn’t the last word on evolution, of course. But it was the first word that actually meant something, that stated the theory in clear terms and defended it with sufficiently sound science that the following 150 years of science were able to build upon it and refine it, supporting its claims with such then-unknown disciplines as genetics. The deniers may follow Ray Comfort in preferring to wallow in their feeble “imaginations,” while the rest of us celebrate the vivid understanding of reality Darwin gave us. Tip of the hat to the man whose work literally changed the world! Happy Darwin Day, gang!

This is what we need to see more of in the papers!

In today’s Statesman there is a wonderful editorial by Steve Bratteng, a science teacher at Westwood High School, in which he takes on the IDiots and evo-deniers the right way: not by going into the usual routine of debunking creo canards and falsehoods (which is certainly necessary to do, but likely to fall on deaf ears), but by introducing a series of 13 examples of real-world situations having to do with health and biology that evolution explains (e.g.: Why does each of your eyes have a blind spot and a significant tendency for retinal detachment, but a squid’s eyes, which provide equally sharp vision, do not have either problem? Why do people of European descent have a fairly high frequency of an allele, which, in the homozygous condition, confers resistance to HIV infection?). Then he challenges readers who might think these can be explained by recourse to intelligent design to do so. I can’t wait to hear what answers the creos try to invent for these.

This is what I want to see more scientists and pro-science citizens getting into our media: positive presentations and understanding of science, not just the usual bashing of “creos as morons” that makes them all defensive and further resistant to education. A lot of creos are pig-headed and stupid, sure, but most, I think, simply accept ideas like ID because they haven’t been taught science very well and ID “sounds pretty good” to them.

I know the answers to #5 and #11!

Lena, care to give the creationist answers to Steve’s questions?

Here are the answers.

Darwin Day fun tomorrow

Here in Austin, the fine folks at CFI have another little Darwin Day celebration going on tomorrow afternoon at Book People. Just like last year, there will be talks by UT professors on the subject of “The Relevance of Evolution to Our Everyday Lives,” while for the kiddies, there will be storytime and science activities on the second floor. All of which culminates in the most important part of all, cutting the birthday cake. Check here for more info. Hope every pro-science Austinite can come and bring a friend.

Rick Perry: lying, meretricious asshole

There. Let it never be said I didn’t have gift for bluntness.

If he wasn’t already a big enough tool for appointing young-earther Dan McLeroy to head up the State Board of Education — an act comparable to appointing a person who believes automobiles are powered by big wound-up rubber bands to the presidency of General Motors — Texas’ kendoll governor Rick Perry has now, according to today’s Austin American Statesman, written a book blasting the ACLU, “liberal elites,” and anybody else who doesn’t belong to his golf club, and he’s done it to raise money for the Boy Scouts. Pompously titled On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For, Perry’s polemic essentially reveals that he thinks the most important and precious of those fine American values is hating anyone different. But of course, it’s only because they’repersecuting the poor widdle Christians! Right?

You got to love this button mashing bullshit:

Whether it is protecting the rights of pornographers, molesters, perverts, terrorists, garden-variety thugs, or those merely hostile to a belief in God, the ACLU is there to provide aid and comfort, in addition to a well-funded legal arsenal.

Hey, nice one there, asshat! Slip the atheists in with the perverts, terrorists, and “garden-variety thugs”! Tell me, who’s the one making “unwarranted attacks” here?

If the blurbs in the Statesman article are anything to go by — and the article itself defines “puff piece” to a tee — the book is a veritable buffet of straw man attacks against the aforementioned “liberal elites” (is Perry suggesting there’s nothing “elite” about the circle he runs in?), who apparently prefer to “worship the false idol of self.” Well, I’m not sure if I belong to said group of elites or not by Perry’s determination, but since I believe in elitist ideas like equal opportunity and treating your fellow man with respect and dignity (note: this does not mean I refrain from criticizing stupid beliefs and idiotic thinking), I guess I must. So I can only say that I certainly don’t worship anything, let alone myself, but even if I were inclined to be the mindless worshipful sort, I would at least know that I exist, as opposed to the “idol” in the sky Perry and his ilk favor.

Then again, there are passages where Perry seems actually to have a clue.

The faith that permeates the lives of so many middle Americans is often derided as a crutch for weak people…. They think the public simply doesn’t know better and is easily manipulated by the emotional appeals of troglodyte, conservative commentators.

Et tu, Ricky?

Ray Comfort’s imagination

If there were any lingering question that Ray Comfort deserved the appellation of World’s Dumbest Apologist, it would surely be put to rest by reading the exercise in vacuity that is his blog. Mr. Banana calls it “Ray Comfort Food,” and that’s a fairly apt title: perhaps tasty for undiscriminating people looking for a quick snack, but not healthy or nourishing in the least.

Ray’s latest post typically reflects how little is going on between his ears at any given moment. In “The Atheist’s Battle” (a puzzling title, as he never actually addresses what he thinks that is), Ray actually spends two out of three paragraphs simply restating Pascal’s Wager. Yes, Pascal’s Wager. Then, in his third paragraph he asserts that what allows Christianity to trump atheism is the Christian’s willingness to confuse imagination with fact and entertain all manner of delusions.

Like many nowadays, John Lennon imagined only sky. His mind was limited. However, the Christian’s mind isn’t closed. By the grace of God, he has expanded his horizon. For him, nothing is impossible.

Until, I suppose, the Christian tries to put that assumption to the test by standing on the roof of a 40-story building, flapping his arms with the intent to fly to the building across the street, and jumping off. In his final seconds of life, he will have an admittedly brief opportunity to contemplate that, whatever the religion you’ve chosen to embrace has told you, perhaps there are a few things that are impossible.

Like most people who’ve allowed delusion to guide their lives, Ray confuses mindless gullibility with being “open minded,” and cares not a whit whether what he has chosen to believe is actually true as long as it provides “comfort food.” What Ray lacks the ability to understand is that one’s mind is not “limited” by adopting the intellectual integrity and honesty that enables you to distinguish fantasy from reality. The believer may feel all warm and fuzzy by thinking he has “expanded his horizons” to the point where delusion and reality are a blur. But he is still living in delusion. I’m sure I could follow Ray’s advice, and choose to believe that when I die, I will go to Candyland on the Island of Misfit Toys and live in the Popsicle Palace for all eternity, and that anyone who doesn’t share this belief has a “closed mind.” But would that be sensible?

A common element I’ve heard from my fellow atheists, particularly those who were formerly Christian or otherwise religious, is that we all reached a point where we realized that it mattered whether or not what we believed was actually true, and not just comfort food. And the way you determine what’s actually true is through the reliable methodologies of science.

When you read the sad prattlings of a guy like Ray Comfort, who has decided this distinction clearly doesn’t matter, you realize that the “imagination” he so eagerly touts as the key to “open minded” thinking is really a feeble thing indeed. There’s nothing in Ray’s imagination, except the god Ray has made in his image and the fear of his own mortality he has disguised as eager anticipation of “eternity.”

If he were even a smidgen less scientifically illiterate than he is, he’d quickly find that the wonders and majesty of the real universe that science reveals to us are immeasurably more awe-inspiring than the bereft and self-centered fantasies he has embraced. Ray just doesn’t know much. He doesn’t even know how limited his mind is. If he only had a brain. But there I go imagining again.

MySpace reups Atheists and Agnostics group

I suspected this wouldn’t be any sort of a long-lasting thing. In any event, the 34,000-plus member MySpace group Atheists and Agnostics is back up. It would appear that any fears of Murdoch-imposed religious bigotry among site management might be premature, though the inordinate problems this group has had are a bit absurd and could have been dealt with by the site more efficiently and effectively. The group went down originally because some Christian hackers broke into it and renamed it “Jesus Is Lord,” which goes to show what happens when you take people with too much time on their hands and feed them a steady diet of religious intolerance. But with luck, the group — whose only goal is social interaction among unbelievers, many of whom are likely to be young people living fearfully in this religion-addicted culture, unaware that there are other atheists they can make friends with — will be left alone now. The hostility and attacks it’s had at the hands of angry Christians do not exactly redound to their credit.

PS: It has come to my attention that a Christian MySpace group has been victimized by similar hackery. And yes, the people responsible for that are just as full of shit for doing it too.