May 20, 2005

'What we saw in there was religious extremism, and what we are seeing in Kansas is happening all across this country.'

With everything else that's been going on, we never got around to posting about the recent hearing in Kansas about implementing new science teaching standards for the state's schools. Those standards, as you might have guess, include the teaching of 'intelligent design' — the latest weasel word for 'creationism' — on an equal footing with evolution and natural selection. The religious right has the majority on the state school board, so the hearings were really window dressing to cloak their inevitable adoption of the new guidelines. Those guidelines, by the way, replace a set that mandates only the teaching of evolution — which themselves replaced a set of creation-friendly guidelines put into effect the last time Christian fundamentalists controlled the school board

We've felt very guilty about not covering the hearing, but luckily we can now refer you to an excellent piece on the hearings at AlterNet, written by Kansan Stan Cox (who, incidentally, has a doctorate in plant breeding and cytogenetics). We were especially struck by the following section, which shows how the teaching of 'intelligent design' would likely play out in the classroom:

A biology teacher who discusses with her students the case for intelligent design — as she would be allowed to do under the alternative science standards -- might well be asked by students, "So, tell me, who or what did the designing?" At the hearing, most witnesses wanted to discuss only design, not a designer. That often required some fancy footwork. Here is Irigonegaray's exchange with Russell Carlson, professor of biochemistry and microbiology at the University of Georgia:

Irigonegaray: "The intelligent designer is God?"

Carlson: "Well, yeah, I'd agree with that."

Irigonegaray: "Science should be neutral with respect to religion?"

Carlson: "Yeah."

Irigonegaray: "But intelligent design places faith in ... "

Carlson: "No, the designer is neutral."

Irigonegaray: "You said the designer is God."

Carlson: "We shouldn't discuss the identity [in the classroom]."

Irigonegaray: "We should keep that a secret?"

Carlson: "When children have questions about the materialist explanation, we now send them to their parents or pastors. Instead, design should be offered as an explanation."

Carlson later added that if a child asks about the identity of the designer, that is the point at which he or she should be sent to a parent or pastor.

Following Angus Menuge's testimony, I asked him what should happen when children ask, "Who's the designer?" Menuge said, "You should cut off discussion at that point, and pursue it in a forum other than the classroom."

But it will be teachers and administrators, not university professors, who determine what actually happens in Kansas public schools under the new standards -- and the pro-ID members of the state Board of Education do not appear to be so circumspect when it comes to religion. During an intermission, I asked board member Kathy Martin whether, as Menuge suggested, a teacher should cut off discussion of the designer's identity.

"Oh, no," she said. "If a student wants to have that conversation, there's nothing wrong with the teacher discussing that. It's all about the students' needs, and as you know, they have a lot of needs these days. I was a teacher myself. If, say, a student's puppy has been run over by a car, the student and I might pray about it together, privately. It's not about religion -- it's about helping the student."

Connie Morris, another pro-ID school board member, told me, "No, we can't mandate intelligent design or creationism in the school standards. But as the fellow from Ohio said, we have to let students go where the evidence leads. I'll give you an example. Did you know there is evidence now that prayer is beneficial in treating cancer?" I asked if teachers should be able to teach about that. Morris, her eyes brightening, said, "Absolutely!"

Those school board members gave substance to a scenario foreseen by Harry McDonald, spokesperson for Kansas Citizens for Science: "They don't even have to introduce ID into the standards. All they need is for a child to ask about it, and that will open the classroom door to religion."

Via The Panda's Thumb.

Posted by Magpie at May 20, 2005 12:00 AM | Education | Technorati links |