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California Board Says Science Books Too “Watered Down.″

September 14, 1985

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ The California Board of Education on Friday rejected every science textbook submitted for use in seventh and eighth grade next year, saying publishers ″water down″ instruction on evolution to avoid controversy.

The unanimous vote by the 10-member board came the day after parents and spokesmen for fundamentalist religious groups contended the textbooks over- emphasized evolution, and presented it as fact, not theory.

The board rejected about 30 books submitted by a dozen national publishers. It invited publishers of the seven books judged best by its science curriculum committee to rewrite the books, with more comprehensive sections on evolution.

The board action affects an estimated $25 million in annual science textbook sales for nearly 1 million junior high school students.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig said the vote was ″a momentous decision″ with a national impact because California holds such a large share of the national textbook market that publishers usually follow the state’s wishes. He also said other states follow California’s lead on textbook selection.

″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 said.

Honig stessed that the issue was not science versus religion, but quality.

″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,″ he said in a written statement.

″The issue here is, are we going to allow publishers to water down texts and draft them politically to avoid controversy? Or are we going to insist on quality standards?″ Honig added in discussion before the board vote.

″We have looked at these books from a science perspective, and they just don’t come up to a level that’s acceptable as far as making these ideas understandable to our students.″

Creationists said they were disappointed by the vote Friday, but their criticism was muted.

″We will look carefully at the revisions. We don’t object to evolution being presented as a theory,″ said Kelly Segraves of the Creation-Science Research Center of San Diego. ″But we are concerned that there is nothing which gives the impression that it is fact ... that creation is wrong,″

One creationist, Jean Sumrall of Irvine, said in testimony Thursday that book said by the commission to have inadequate sections on evolution already go too far.

″Evolution is a theory, to be presented as a theory, in a theoretical context, not as history, in an historical context,″ she said, objecting to such things as one science book using the chapter title ″History of Living Things″ to introduce evolution to seventh grade students.

The theory of evolution, generally accepted by the established scientific community, holds that life evolved over a great period of time, and that man evolved from lower life forms. Creationists, who usually hold to the biblical account of man’s origin, believe life appeared over a much shorter time.

The commission said all the publishers whose books it reviewed had ″systematically omitted″ thorough discussions of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Local schools in California are free to purchase any books they want with district funds, but as a practical matter, they rarely deviate from the state textbooks guidelines because state funds may be used only for state-approved books.

The state revises its list of approved textbooks every six years, so the board’s action would affect science textbooks purchased through 1992.

Honig said California also will reject inadequate textbooks in other fields, such as history books that gloss over the Holocaust and other ″unpleasant″ subjects.

″Are they going to duck controversial issues in history? We have a requirement that the religious nature of the settlement of this country be addressed.

″If you look at the history books, that’s really not talked about because it’s somewhat controversial. That is a part of our history and should be in history books,″ Honig said.

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