The California Board of Education today rejected all science textbooks currently available for seventh- and eighth-grade pupils until the publishers expand and strengthen the chapters on the theory of evolution.
The unanimous vote of the 10-member board followed a day of testimony dominated by parents and spokesmen for fundamentalist religious groups who contended the proposed textbooks already contained too much on evolution and that they were all written in a “dogmatic” manner that stated evolution as fact and not theory.
“Whether we teach evolution or not is not the issue. That was settled by this board in 1973,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig. “The issue is how well it is taught.”
Evolution ‘Watered Down’
Honig and a state commission on science textbooks complained that textbook publishers had “watered down” sections on evolution and other controversial topics, resulting in books that “are inadequate for California.”
He said the issue was not science versus religion, but quality, and he drew a parallel with earlier board decisions seeking revisions of history textbooks which glossed over the Holocaust and other “unpleasant” subjects.
Creationists who testified against the stress already given evolution in the proposed textbooks in a lengthy hearing Thursday said they were disappointed by today’s vote, but their criticism was muted.
“We will look carefully at the revisions. We don’t object to evolution being presented as a theory. But we are concerned (about making sure) that there is nothing which gives the impression that it is fact . . . that creation is wrong,” said Kelly Segraves of the Creation-Science Research Center of San Diego.
Revision of Seven Books
The board vote specifically asks five national publishers to revise seven different textbooks to include more thorough and detailed segments on evolution.
Francie Alexander, textbook development director for the state, said the state would start immediately reviewing the books with the publishers, and that the revised books would be presented to the board for approval early next year.
Immediately at issue are an estimated $25 million in science textbooks for use beginning next fall by nearly 1 million California junior high school students.
But Honig said the vote was “a momentous decision” affecting far more than just California because California is such a large share of the national textbook market that publishers usually follow the state’s wishes and because so many other states follow California’s lead on textbook selection due to the state’s extremely detailed evaluation of books.
“It is not just this state we’re speaking for . . . for the reality of it is we are going to establish policy for the rest of this country,” Honig told the board before its vote.
“The issue at stake is that of a quality science education in California,” Honig added in a written statement. “We must send a message to the publishing industry that we cannot tiptoe around certain subjects just because they are controversial. Doing so undermines our efforts toward excellence in our classrooms.”
Thursday’s hearing, Page 23.