Glenn Branch's picture

Party Time! Part 4

Themed birthday party, ca. 1910-1915, likely in New Jersey. Via Wikimedia Commons.

In part 1, I reported that in 2006, there were eight state Republican parties with antievolution planks embedded in their official platforms, and that in 2014, there were again eight such state Republican parties. In part 2 and part 3, I offered pairwise comparison between the earlier and the later versions of those planks in the states in both lists, namely Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, along with a few comments.

It was all somewhat discouraging. But there’s hope. In 2004, I also checked the platforms of the state Democratic parties, finding none with planks opposing the teaching of evolution and only one with a plank that arguably supported the teaching of evolution: the Texas Democratic Party platform decried “efforts by right-wing extremists to censor textbooks,” presumably in part a reference to the state’s struggle over the adoption of biology textbooks in 2003.

Well, in 2014, I found no fewer than five state Democratic party platforms with planks arguably supporting the teaching of evolution: in Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Texas. To be sure, none is as explicit in supporting the teaching of evolution as any of the antievolution planks are in opposing the teaching of evolution. Still, I’ll present all of them here, even though Texas’s is the only party that had a comparable plank in 2004, along with comments.

  • Iowa: “We oppose attempts to distort science or health education.”

This is short and sweet. Since state-level controversies about evolution in Iowa are rare, it wasn’t entirely clear that the platform’s authors were thinking about evolution, but since the Iowa Republican Party’s platform in 2004 and 2014 was firmly antievolution, it’s plausible to understand the plank as included as a response.

  • Michigan (PDF):  “Our state’s Board of Education should base science class subject matter on current scientific knowledge, not religious beliefs. ... Academic textbooks should be written only by recognized experts in each subject. Teaching material for our public schools should not be subject to modification by people who have a political, religious, or other agendas [sic] to advance by discarding legitimate educational material and compelling the use of their own version of scientific knowledge or historical events.” (emphasis in original)

Michigan is hardly free of creationist activity, but the planks here are responding, I suspect, not so much as to events in Michigan as to events in Texas. The constant furor over science (and social science) standards and textbooks in the Lone Star State provoked reactions elsewhere, up to and including legislation to insulate textbooks from ideologically-motivated revisions forced by Texas’s board of education, such as California’s Senate Bill 1451 of 2010 (which passed both houses but was subsequently vetoed) or Mississippi’s House Bill 1103 (PDF) of 2011 (which died in committee). It’s plausible to regard these planks as in the same vein.

  • Nevada (PDF): “We support the accurate and comprehensive teaching of science and history.”

Like Iowa’s, this is short and sweet and not explicitly aimed at evolution, but like Michigan’s, the reference to science and history suggests that the authors of the platform were looking at events in Texas and registering their opposition to their replication in their own state.

  • New Hampshire: “We support policies that ensure excellence in primary and secondary education for all New Hampshire students, including: … education that is scientifically-based and not driven by ideology … .”

Again, this is short and sweet and not explicitly aimed at evolution, but since New Hampshire saw not one but two antievolution bills in 2012—perhaps because it was a presidential election year, so a chance for state politicians in the state with the first presidential primary election to make a bid for national attention—it is plausible to regard the plank as included as a response.

  • Texas (2004): “Texas Democrats believe we should: ... Oppose efforts by right-wing extremists to censor textbooks ...”
  • Texas (2014): “The Republican extremists steering the State Board of Education have made a laughingstock of our state’s process for developing and implementing school curriculum standards that determine what our students learn. The damage they have done is no laughing matter. In rewriting the curriculum for … science, they repeatedly have dismissed the sound advice of professional educators. … Texas Democrats will put the interests of our schoolchildren ahead of politics and ideology. We will realign curriculum with objective reality and the facts of history and science …”

There’s no room for doubt here, at least, that the 2014 plank is aimed at efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution. There’s been antievolution legislation in Texas over the past decade, such as House Bill 220 from 2005, whose sponsor claimed that it would enable the state board of education to ensure that creationism was taught alongside evolution, and House Bill 4224 from 2009, which would have required the state board of education to retain the “strengths and weaknesses” language in the state science standards. But the action in Texas, as the 2014 plank indicates, is at the state board of education, whose creationist members have continually strived to undermine the treatment of evolution in the state science standards and in the textbooks submitted for state adoption. Emblematic of these efforts was a remark from Don McLeroy, the young-earth creationist who served on the board from 1998 to 2011, and as chair from 2007 to 2009: “Somebody’s got to stand up to experts!”

The fact that in 2004, there was one, but in 2014, there are five state political parties with platforms including planks that arguably support the teaching of evolution against attempts to undermine it is encouraging—up to a point. It’s when you consider that the authors of these platforms might not have seen the need to adopt these planks in the absence of attempts to undermine the teaching of evolution that you might become discouraged again. A good reason to support NCSE, if you ask me...