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The Evolution of Texas

I almost feel sorry for people trying to keep up with politics in the rest of the country these days. Life in Texas is so much easier. Down here, we're still fightin' over the stupid stuff -- like evolution.
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I almost feel sorry for people trying to keep up with politics in the rest of the country these days. They must be overwhelmed - having to analyze the complex maneuverings of the stock market, forced to pore over the arcane elements of Wall Street bonuses and buyouts, mesmerized into memorizing the details of derivatives.

Life in Texas is so much easier.

Down here, we're still fightin' over the stupid stuff.

Like evolution.

Now, I must confess that living in Texas for the past 20 years has led me, on occasion, to doubt Darwin. To wonder if I had moved to some sort of land-locked political Galapagos, a dry island where species no longer found in the rest of the world still roam free.

After all, there has to be some explanation for why Texas is welcoming back with open arms a moral and political pariah like you-know-"W"ho.

We're even building him a lie-berry.

But the notion that evolution ensured that the whole human race would end up at more or less the same cognitive level hits a real speed bump when you factor into the primordial pool some of the Lone Star State's leaders.

Darwin clearly isn't finished with some of them yet.

Look at Tom DeLay. Before he became a Congressman, he worked as an exterminator -- but he will always be a bug.

Well, a bug with a bad facelift.

Unluckily for the school children of Texas, these kinds of guys are the very people making decisions about the content of public education science programs.

Here in one of the last bastions of conservative Christian control, about half of the people on the Texas Board of Education have made it clear that they don't believe in the far-fetched idea of fish turning into frogs, dinosaurs turning into birds, or monkeys turning into Rush Limbaugh fans.

Conservatives on the Texas Board of Education don't believe in evolution.

No, sir.

They believe in Noah's Ark, Jonah and the whale, the parting of the Red Sea and talking snakes.

Actually, talking snakes do exist in Texas politics. We call them lobbyists.

But I digress.

This week, a conservative cabal on the Board will pick up where the Scopes Monkey Trial left off, triumphantly grabbing the nearly worn out baton and waging once more the eternally popular religious right battle against reality, common sense, and every piece of empirical evidence ever gathered.

In this latest skirmish, the Board will be considering the adoption of a school science curriculum that would give teachers in Texas schools textbooks that openly challenge the basic tenets of evolution.

Texas Board of Education members are elected from a number of similarly sized districts. State Democrats have been pushing to get education professionals onto the Board and they've had some success.

But some of the most reactionary members have retained their seats. One guy, known for sitting through hearings with his back to witnesses he doesn't like, still has a place on the board and still refuses to listen to testimony. By his side is a lovely woman who claims that Barack Obama is plotting with terrorists to attack the U.S.

If that isn't bad enough, the Governor always gets into the act, choosing the Chairman of the Board, typically someone who will most endear him to the craziest Christians in the state.

Governor Rick Perry, who brings the intellectual heft of a Sears catalog underpants model to his job, did not disappoint, naming Don McLeroy, to chair the Board's business.

McLeroy works as a dentist when he is not busy lecturing others on the origins of the earth, which he believes is less than 10,000 years old. Furthermore, he thinks "evolution has a problem," and says school books just need to be "honest with our kids."

At least until we start talking sex.

As a devout evangelical Christian, he is a big proponent of the Texas abstinence-only approach to sex ed, known down here as "Don't ask, Don't tell," a policy that has led the state to a constant presence on the nation's teen pregnancy top-five list.

Maybe it's a blessing that this guy doesn't want to help educate Texas kids about sex. I get the impression he thinks referring to someone as a "homo sapien" is talking dirty.

McLeroy and his ideological voting partners on the board say they want Texas schools to get "back to basics" in the classroom.

You know, less studying the cosmos, more work on cosmetology. So they have called for a hearing to examine the state textbooks' approach to evolution.

Public testimony before the Board begins Wednesday and will continue for three days or until someone is injured.

The 15-member board is tightly divided. Seven votes against evolution. And on the other side, seven people who can read.

Out on a limb is one poor soul who is probably afraid of both sides and has been known to swing both ways. Evolutionarily speaking, that is.

How the vote will go is completely up in the air.

What is certain is the anger that will attend the meetings. Things have gotten so tense in years past that it's been reported that an armed guard had to be brought in to keep the discussion from breaking out into hair-pulling slap-fights between people with different views.

Not in the audience, mind you, but between board members.

All of this is probably shocking if you live outside the state. But you shouldn't laugh too hard.

Since Texas is such a large purchaser of school textbooks, the bruised and compromised state standard has a way of seeping into other parts of the country, places where people smugly think they are beyond the reach of the anti-evolution forces.


Everybody out there snickering about what a backwards, backwoods state this is may end up with the same monkey on their backs. Their children's science books may ultimately be vetted by Texas Education Board members - conservative activists who home-schooled their kids, who think public education is a "tool of perversion" and who treat the Bible as a beginning biology book.

But then, it could be worse.

Wait 'til they find out about gravity.

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