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Science Textbook Adoptions in Alabama: Part I

Alabama has just witnessed its most serious challenge to the integrity of science education since 1977. The State Textbook Committee voted on October 2, 1989 not to consider Of Pandas and People a textbook submitted by Haughton Publishing (Dallas, Texas) for inclusion on the recommended list for science text adoptions. One committee member, quoted in a newspaper interview, remarked that Pandas "is a strictly religious book."

Unlike some states, Alabama reviews only one or two subjects each year. Consequently, science books, once adopted, remain so for a period of six years. The long interval between adoptions means that successful submission is a must for publishers desiring a presence in the Alabama textbook market. Haughton Publishing submitted the title (not the book) to the Alabama Department of Education earlier this year for consideration as a science text. And there hangs a tale.

The State Textbook Committee scheduled the public hearing for September 12. To prepare for the hearing, I obtained in late August a list of science books submitted to the Department of Education. I then visited the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) library, one of 22 libraries across the state designated for the public display of all submitted books.

Having served as vice-president of the 1983 State Textbook Committee, I heard during its public hearing the usual arguments by members of the Eagle Forum and other citizens on the supposed "dogmatism" of evolution. Perhaps because of the successful passage of the 1981 balanced-treatment legislation in Arkansas, these individuals also argued for the inclusion of creation "science" into the Alabama science curriculum. In 1983, these appeals for creation "science" could not have been satisfied, even if that were the recommendation of the Textbook Committee (it was not) or the decision of the State Board of Education. Not one of the science books submitted in 1983 included any substantive discussion of the topic.

Evolution and the fossil record are normally the foci of attacks by those espousing creation "science," so I limited my reviews to appropriate sections of the life science, earth science, and biology texts. Checking the display copies against the submission list, I found it odd that a few books were missing. With the public hearing a few days away, I had no time to investigate the missing texts.

As the first speaker of the September public hearing of the 1989 State Textbook Committee, I emphasized that the average book was better than its 1983 edition. In my opinion, few books exhibited poor treatments of life science, earth science, or biology. I also pointed out some errors of fact and recommended that one biology book be denied a place on the adoption list.

None of the books I reviewed provided coverage of creation "science," so I thought the remarks of opponents of evolution would be similar to those I heard in 1983. Imagine my shock when Joan Kendall, director of the Birmingham chapter of the Eagle Forum, praised Pandas as an exemplary scientific text presenting an alternative to modern evolutionary theory. Mrs. Kendall said "intelligent design" is the basis of the alternative.

I could not believe I had missed such a critical text. Upon returning to Birmingham, I immediately checked with Gordon Dunkin, the UAB librarian who received the submitted texts. He confirmed that Sterne Library had never received Pandas. Was there a deadline for receipt and display of these texts by the designated libraries? Gordon extracted from his file a June 16 letter from Barry Buford of the State Department of Education instructing him to ensure that all submitted texts were on display by July 10.

Pandas was now nearly 3 months late to the UAB library! Because I wanted to review this text, I called every one of the other 21 designated libraries across the state. Not one of them had a copy of Pandas. The absence of the book from the designated libraries raised a serious question: If a book were not on public display as required by the Alabama Department of Education, could it be voted on legitimately by either the State Textbook Committee or the State Board of Education?

I completed my survey about two weeks prior to October 2, the date on which the State Textbook Committee was to vote on its recommendations for adoption. During this interval, I obtained a copy of Pandas from Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of NCSE. Upon reading the text, I realized that this book was potentially much more damaging to the integrity of science education than I had expected. I sent a detailed criticism to each member of the State Textbook Committee just three days prior to their vote. I argued that Pandas should be eliminated from consideration because of the lack of public review.

After my discovery that Pandas was unavailable for public review before the September 12 Textbook Committee hearing, Haughton Publishing sent bound copies to each library by Federal Express. They arrived on September 29, one business day before the committee's vote.

The Textbook Committee meetings are open, but I could not attend the October 2 session. I later learned from a newspaper reporter who attended the meeting that Pandas elicited extensive dialogue among the committee members about its suitability as a primary or supplemental biology text.

Pandas does not cover basic biology. It addresses only problems of life's origin and evolution through the comparison of "intelligent design" and modern evolutionary theory; therefore, the authors explicitly declare it to be supplemental to major biology texts.

Perhaps for that reason a majority of the State Textbook Committee voted not to consider Pandas as a primary biology text. The book was also voted down as a supplemental text, at least in part because of its thinly disguised religious underpinnings.

I believe the science adoption in Alabama of Pandas would damage the integrity of our science curriculum and set a dangerous precedent for science textbook adoptions in other states. I am currently working to publicize this book and its nonscientific views to scientists throughout the state.

The State Textbook Committee's votes are only advisory to the State Board of Education, so it is possible for the board to reconsider this book at its December 14 meeting, when the votes for adoption will be taken.

Stay tuned for the final count.

The following was originally published as a sidebar to Scott Brande's article.

Good News from Idaho!

by Anonymous

The creationist supplemental textbook in biology, Of Pandas and People, was submitted for adoption in the state of Idaho. We have learned that the Textbook Committee, at its meeting on November 27, rejected Pandas by a lopsided majority. Idaho CC liaison Garvin Chastain and the NCSE office provided information to the Committee to help them in their decision, and we commend them for their discernment.

NCSE will provide our promised extensive review of Of Pandas and People in our next issue. The article was omitted due to space limitations this month. If the book appears in your district and you want reviews by scientists and educators, call NCSE. We are here to help.