Ah, Texas, a place where the teaching of science is always just a state school board vote away from including the Book of Genesis, where the state’s textbook selection process sets the agenda for textbooks across the nation, and where the state GOP platform actually calls for schools to stop teaching “critical thinking skills” (risk of “undermining parental authority,” you know). So it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that the Houston Independent School District is worried that science teachers might do irreparable harm to the schools’ reputation by stooping to include (horrors!) funny comedy jokes in their classroom materials. In response to a teacher’s request to purchase Fake Science 101: A Less-Than-Factual Guide to Our Amazing World, a parody textbook spun off from Phil Edwards’ Fake Science website, HISD sent this mind-blowingly tone deaf memo:
I received one such request for an alternative textbook “Fake Science 101.” I am aware how it would be used, but we are concerned it will reflect poorly on the district. A book like that may be intended humorously, but it is mocking the quality of education in our district.
We cannot have our district ridiculed as a non-scientific one (see many Westinghouse/Intel awardees). This book is not permissable for you to distribute or your students to have. Our textbooks are not “fake” and no textbook should give that impression. It would negatively impact students.
We will not have the serious business of education tainted by such japes and tomfoolery! Learning cannot involve “amusement,” for heaven’s sake! It’s bad enough they let that godless heathen Thomas Jefferson back into the history standards.
Fake Science 101 co-author Phil Edwards had a typically elitist reaction to the foofaraw:
Lessons from the blog have been used by teachers to introduce scientific concepts in the past and many classrooms have enjoyed using Fake Science to start conversations. I also think satire encourages the skeptical thinking that makes science work. That thinking shouldn’t be prohibited.
Happily, Edwards has also incorporated the ban into the book’s marketing plan, featuring it prominently on the Fake Science site. He has also offered to help the anonymous teacher whose book request was turned down: “tell him I’m happy to speak in front of the class until I’m tazed or something.”
UPDATE: Also, too, here is a nice piece that Phil Edwards wrote for Slate, about being a fake scientist and meeting real scientists.