Is misdeed a creation of political doctrine?

Is misdeed a creation of political doctrine?
By The Editorial Board - Austin American-Statesman Sat, Dec 1, 2007 - original
Is this stateís education agency being driven by a political orthodoxy so fierce that it dumped its science director for passing along a harmless e-mail? Itís possible.

Chris Comer was director of the science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency for nearly a decade when she was forced to resign recently. Her offense, as unbelievable as it is to relate, was forwarding an e-mail message about a presentation by an author critical of the intelligent design approach to science education.

The education agency, of course, portrays the problem as one of insubordination and misconduct. But from all appearances, Comer was pushed out because the agency is enforcing a political doctrine of strict conservatism that allows no criticism of creationism.

This state has struggled for years with the ideological bent of the state school board, but lawmakers took away most of its power to infect education some years ago. Politicizing the Texas Education Agency, which oversees the education of children in public schools, would be a monumental mistake.

This isnít the space to explore the debate over creationism, intelligent design and evolution. Each approach should be fair game for critical analysis, so terminating someone for just mentioning a critic of intelligent design smacks of the dogma and purges in the Soviet era.

But then, this is a new and more political time at the stateís education agency.

Robert Scott, the new education commissioner, is not an educator but a lawyer and former adviser to Gov. Rick Perry. This presents an excellent opportunity for the governor and his appointee to step in firmly to put an end to ideological witch hunts in the agency.

The person who called for Comer to be fired is Lizzette Reynolds, a former deputy legislative director for Gov. George Bush. She joined the state education agency this year as an adviser after a stint in the U.S. Department of Education.

In her memo criticizing Comer, Reynolds said that Comerís passing along the e-mail ďassumes this is a subject that the agency supports.Ē Thatís absurd, of course, but it is in keeping with enforcing a doctrine that says creationism must not be criticized.

Creationism is a religious belief that rejects Darwinís theory of evolution and holds that life on Earth was created by a deity. Intelligent design is the theory that the universe is the result of an intelligent cause - a designer - not natural selection.

Intelligent design has been debated for two decades, and some view it as a way to explain both the biblical account of creation and aspects of evolution. Critics, such as the author whose presentation Comer passed along, believe it is mere cover for creationism.

Whether one accepts the theory of intelligent design or not, discussion encourages scientific exploration, which is what a science curriculum director should do. Forcing Comer out of her job because she passed on an e-mail about the criticís presentation is egregiously wrong.

It looks like the Texas Education Agency has fallen victim to a smelly little orthodoxy, to quote author George Orwell. And that cannot be good for the schools or the schoolchildren of Texas.

If this agency is indeed in the grip of an unforgiving political ideology, it bears close scrutiny by all Texans.