California schools will become a rightful object of ridicule if a small band of fundamentalists successfully challenge new requirements for science textbooks. State Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig and the members of the California Curriculum Commission have stood staunchly behind the position that only evolution, and not creationism, should be discussed in the state's science textbooks. These educators deserve just as strong support from the state Board of Education and from an informed public.
California selects new textbooks every seven years. Before local school districts actually buy the books, the state writes guidelines--called frameworks--for the textbook publishers. Once textbooks adhere to the framework, they can be placed on the list of approved books. Over the last few years, California has been preparing tougher requirements for its approved books because Honig wants to reverse the trend of "dumbing down" textbooks. That degradation has occurred as publishers try to sell books as widely as possible and thus seek to avoid controversy. California has especially great influence because it represents such a large share of the textbook market.
Honig urged the state board to establish as policy that only scientific fact, hypothesis and theory should be presented in approved textbooks. Last winter the state board agreed with Honig that religious beliefs "not subject to scientific test and refutation"--such as the biblical story of creation as the way life developed--should not be discussed in a science curriculum.
But since then the makeup of the board has changed, and some members may be trying to weaken the framework's section on evolution, which is precisely what the fundamentalists want. (The curriculum commission is voting again today; the board will make its final decision in the fall.)
One board member says the guidelines represent the advocacy of evolution. What the guidelines advocate is the truth as best as scientists know it. That is what should be offered in California classrooms and in textbooks. The curriculum commission and the Board of Education must reaffirm that principle and not bow to pressure from groups that want to confuse science with religion.