CC-licensed image by Colin Purrington via Flickr

Hey there, Texas State Board of Eduction.  It’s come to my attention that you’re concerned about the textbooks that your children are being taught from; specifically, you’re concerned they might demonstrate favoritism towards the religion of Islam, while vilifying the Christian faith.

In fact, I hear you’re so concerned, you’ve got a resolution awaiting consideration by your august body in which you propose to “reject future prejudicial Social Studies submissions that continue to offend Texas law with respect to treatment of the world’s major religious groups by significant inequalities of coverage space-wise and/or bydemonizing or lionizing one or more of them over others.”

Now, I hear what you’re saying with this.  You’re afraid that your kids might think that Islam is somehow superior to the religion that you, the board members, hold.  And why wouldn’t you be?  The claims of Christianity are hard enough to swallow on their own, but then you’ve got to compete with other, equally ridiculous mythologies? It’s like, your views would have to be held up for scrutiny and comparison, and I think we all agree, that’s the last thing any of us wants for the likes of Christianity. It doesn’t play well.

But I have a few tiny issues I’d like to bring up, just for the sake of discussion.

First, I notice that your resolution contends that evidence for bias can be quantified in terms of how many lines of text are devoted to a subject.  There’s a couple of problems with this methodology.

First of all, sometimes, especially in written material, less is more. If you’ve got a compelling point to make, any editor worth their weight in salt will tell you to use as few words as possible.  It packs more punch.  It carries more weight. Go back and watch The Godfather — who does the talking in the room?  It sure ain’t Marlon Brando, and you know why? Because he’s got power on his side.

So are you really going to tell me that “spending 139 student text lines on Christian beliefs, practices, and holy writings but 176 on those of Islam” is prejudicial?  Really? That doesn’t seem petty to you? That doesn’t seem small?  That doesn’t seem like it’s an argument coming from a fundamental place of weakness to you?

Secondly, high school kids educated in Texas have plenty, plenty of opportunities to learn about Christianity.  After all, in 2008, about 80% of the population of Texas was Christian, while less than 1% is Muslim. (Or were, in 1992.)  So like, what, eight out of ten people that your kids will talk to during their education in your great state have some variant of the Christian religion going on, while less than one out of 100 can tell them anything useful about Islam?  I’d say that, environmentally speaking, Christianity has the advantage, and, just for the sake of argument, let’s call it a 10 to one advantage.

Now, doesn’t it seem reasonable to spend educational time teaching new information to children?  Doesn’t it seem that, instead of spending limited time, attention, and resources on the stuff they’ve already been exposed to, we should be introducing them to new ideas, facts, and cultures? Isn’t that why it’s called “education” and not “indoctrination”?

If you ask me, if you really wanted to be fair, you’d be saying that Islam should get ten lines to every one about Christianity.  After all, this might be the only exposure to the cultures of Islam that they’ll ever get, at least from legitimate, scholarly sources.  Shouldn’t they get to make the most of it?

But, Texas State Board of Education, your methods of detecting so-called “prejudice” in your textbooks aside, there are other reasons why you might want to consider dropping this nonsense forthwith.  Primarily, because it makes Texas look stupid.

Don’t get me wrong, Everyone in Texas that isn’t on the State Board of Education, I’ve got nothing against you personally. I like your chili. I hear Austin is cool.  I understand Pee Wee Herman keeps his bike in the basement of your Alamo.  But this ridiculous State Board of Education thing is making you seem … well, a little dim.

Here’s what’s going to happen if you pass this ridiculous requirement:  Intelligent, thinking people across the country are going to be convinced that a Texas public education is worthless. When the children of your fine state apply for jobs in other parts of the country, that high school diploma isn’t going to count for much.  They’ll be excluded, perhaps unjustly, from better jobs, better pay, and a better life.  Their kids won’t have as many opportunities, and it’ll all spiral downward until Texans everywhere are seen as a kind of second-class citizens. I mean, look what’s happened to Kansas.

I’d really hate to see that happen.  I imagine there’s a great number of smart, capable people in your state, and it’d be a shame to drag down everyone’s reputations collectively because of the blinding ignorance of the Texas State Board of Education.

It doesn’t have to be that way, either. Just look at Florida (a state not normally renowned for it’s intelligence.)  Just this week, the Florida Board of Education refused to approve the use of a science textbook because it contained citations of a “creation-scientist”.

That’s right, Texas.  Florida is smarter than you.  Are you going to take that?  Or are you going to do what’s right, and stop your silly march towards institutionalized Islamophobia?

Now, I understand, this probably will fall on deaf ears. After all, nobody likes to have their glaringly-obvious fear of other cultures called out into the open.  So, if I can’t convince you to stop your idiocy, maybe I can profit from it.

I happen to have the perfect book for your curriculum. I personally guarantee that not only is it historically and scientifically accurate, but it also is 100% scripturally accurate as well.  Why not buy 5 million copies for use in your schools?  You’ll be doing right by your children, you’ll be doing right by your “god”, and most importantly, you’ll be making me rich.

Do the right thing, Texas State Board of Education.  Make me rich.

Wow, this is awesome.  Some folks in England invented a robot that does science — from hypothesis, to testing, to conclusion — and it actually generated new knowledge autonomously!  Outstanding.

“The scientists at Aberystwyth University and the University of Cambridge designed Adam to carry out each stage of the scientific process automatically without the need for further human intervention. The robot has discovered simple but new scientific knowledge about the genomics of the baker’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, an organism that scientists use to model more complex life systems. The researchers have used separate manual experiments to confirm that Adam’s hypotheses were both novel and correct.”

The study will be published in tomorrow’s edition of Science.

I suppose this result is unsuprising.  Novelty=risk=excitement, right?

A group of students were given a list of made-up food additives and were asked to rate how harmful they were. The additives all contained twelve letters, with Magnalroxate being one of the easiest to pronounce and Hnegripitrom one of the hardest to pronounce. The students rated the difficult to pronounce additives as being more harmful. In addition, the hard to pronounce additives were considered to be more novel than those with easier names. In another experiment, students were shown a list of made-up names of amusement-park rides and were asked to rate the rides on how adventurous they would be and how risky (and therefore most likely to make them sick) the rides would be. The names ranged from being easy to pronounce (such as Chunta) to very difficult to pronounce (such as Vaiveahtoishi). Consistent with the first experiment, the students rated the rides with the difficult to pronounce names as being more risky, but also more exciting.