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Further Reading


What Happens When You Challenge a School's Science Curriculum?

by Larry Caldwell

I am the father of three children. In June of 2003, I stood up to speak at a school-board meeting of our high-school district in the relatively small and obscure suburban community of Roseville, California. In my three-minute presentation, I suggested that the board ought to consider adopting a policy to teach some of the scientific weaknesses of Darwin's theory of evolution along with its scientific strengths.

I did not ask my school district to teach intelligent design (ID) or biblical creationism in the classroom, only some of the scientific weaknesses of evolution. I am an attorney by training and profession, so I "argued my case” to the school district with what I thought was reason and restraint.

Perhaps what happened over the course of the next year is pretty typical of what happens anytime a parent or group of parents asks their school district to teach Darwin's theory in an objective manner: Darwin's defenders in the science and education establishments pulled out all the stops to make sure that no biology student would hear any criticism of Darwin's theory of evolution.

Within a week of my brief presentation to the school board, our regional newspaper, The Sacramento Bee, ran a page A-1 article that included statements of opposition to my remarks by Barry Lynn, the national Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and by a representative of the National Center for Science Education, the American scientific establishment's "propaganda” arm.

Even though I never asked that ID or creationism or Genesis be taught in the classroom, my opponents quickly mislabeled my proposal as an effort to require a creationist curriculum. The local chapter of Americans United promptly sent a letter to our school board threatening legal action if my proposal was adopted. Our school board also received unsolicited letters opposing my proposal from Professor Donald Johansen, discoverer of the famous "Lucy” fossil and a member of the California Academy of Sciences, and from the entire biology department of California State University Sacramento, among others. Later, biologist Kenneth Miller of Brown University and professors from the University of California joined in the chorus, denouncing my effort as one more "creationist” attempt to inject ID and religion into biology classes.

Despite such resistance, in early August of 2003, I submitted to our district for possible adoption a policy on teaching evolution that read as follows:

Because "nothing in science or in any other field of knowledge shall be taught dogmatically” and "scientific theories are constantly subject to testing, modification, and refutation as new evidence and new ideas emerge,” teachers in the Roseville Joint Union High School District are expected to help students analyze the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories, including the theory of evolution.

I later named my proposal the "Quality Science Education (QSE) Policy.”

Our school board has five members. When I submitted my proposal, I knew I had two board members solidly in favor of it, two board members who would probably oppose it, and one swing-vote member. Based on votes on other issues by the swing voter, there appeared to be a good chance that my policy proposal would be adopted by the board.

The prospect that the QSE policy might be adopted by our school board apparently frightened our school district's administration and teachers. As a result, school officials led me through a year of bureaucratic and political maneuvering before the policy was finally voted on.

Our school district's science teachers also made a concerted effort to defeat my QSE policy. In a memorandum to the school board in the fall of 2003, they falsely accused me of submitting "supplemental materials” to the school district for use in biology classes that included a book published by the Jehovah's Witnesses and a book presenting a "Biblical Young Earth Creationist” presentation of origins.

I had never heard of either of these books until I read this false rumor about me, repeated by Eugenie Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, in an article she wrote in the California Academy's California Wild magazine in April 2005. After I filed suit against Scott for libel, the California Academy withdrew Scott's article from the online version of California Wild, printed a retraction letter from Scott, and printed a lengthy letter to the editor from me.

A science teacher at my daughter's high school told her class that I was part of a nationwide group called "the ID Movement” that doesn't believe the Holocaust happened. The principal of the same high school told a parents' advisory council that my QSE policy was the equivalent of a Holocaust denier asking his local school district not to teach about the Holocaust in history class. Science teachers and their allies showed up in force at school-board meetings to speak in opposition to my QSE policy, which they often misrepresented as an effort to put ID or religion in the classroom.

So why were the science teachers so opposed to teaching a few of the scientific weaknesses of Darwin's theory in biology class? To paraphrase how the science teacher who led the teacher opposition summed up his concern to me, "But Mr. Caldwell, if we teach the scientific weaknesses about evolution you are asking us to teach, the students won't believe evolution is true, and then what are we supposed to tell them about evolution?”

I believe the science teachers were also motivated by a more basic opposition to parents and the school board having a meaningful voice in deciding what should be taught in the classroom rather than simply deferring to what "the experts” from the education and science establishments dictate from above. After all, my QSE policy was endorsed by a number of such experts, including live testimony by a Ph.D. biologist and Ph.D. biophysicist, and written endorsements by a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a number of university science professors. But to the teachers and administrators in our district, my proposal wasn't endorsed by the "right experts,” since my experts were independent enough to recommend that Darwin's theory be taught objectively rather than dogmatically.

Ultimately, the twenty-plus science teachers in our district persuaded nearly 250 teachers in our school district to sign a petition opposing the school board's adoption of my proposal. The non-science teachers who signed the petition were reportedly convinced that if I were permitted to have my QSE policy affect the teaching of evolution in biology class, it would set a bad precedent that would lead to parents, rather than professional educators, dictating curricula for all subjects.

Our school district's superintendent finally agreed to put my QSE policy proposal on the agenda for potential adoption at a school-board meeting in May 2004, nine months after I had first submitted it to the district. Over 200 people attended the meeting, including 100 citizens who supported my effort. I am told it was by far the most people who have ever attended a school-board meeting in our district.

The scene that night was right out of a movie, and indeed a local television news crew was there to capture the drama. It would be difficult to overstate the intensity in the room. Most of the people who showed up at the meeting in opposition to my policy were teachers, many of whom sounded fanatical in their commitment to their cause. Altogether, the discussion of my QSE policy lasted more than two hours.

During a prior school-board meeting, the school-board member who was most vocal in his opposition to my proposal had conceded that it was a secular proposal that was not asking for ID or religion to be taught in the classroom. Yet at the May 2004 meeting, he portrayed my QSE policy as a thinly veiled attempt by a Christian to inject Christian beliefs into biology class. As proof of this accusation, he read aloud from a private email from me to a member of my local church in which I had expressed praise to God that the district had finally agreed to put my QSE policy on the agenda, had asked my fellow Christians to pray for my efforts, and had signed the email "In His Service.”

This same board member also asked the school district's outside attorney to look into the possibility of suing me if I continued to exercise my rights to use district procedures to have my QSE policy and materials considered for adoption, apparently in an attempt to intimidate me into abandoning my effort.

The climax of the meeting came when a board member made a motion for adoption of a revised version of my QSE policy, which was seconded by the swing-vote board member. It looked as though it was going to pass by a 3-2 majority when, suddenly, the superintendent asserted a procedural objection, claiming that the school board could not vote on the revised version of the QSE policy at that particular meeting.

The superintendent later admitted to me that his procedural objection had been based on "Robert's Rules of Order” rather than an actual law or administrative rule. Nonetheless, the superintendent's questionable objection was enough for the lay board members to postpone a vote until the next board meeting.

By the time of the next meeting, June 2004, the opposition had managed to convince the swing-vote board member—who had seconded my QSE policy in May—to vote against it. The policy was defeated, 3-2.

I've learned some important lessons in this battle, chief of which is that parents aren't welcome to provide input regarding the curriculum in their local schools nor to participate meaningfully in the governance of their schools. Professional educators and teachers view schools as "their schools” and are convinced that they know "what's best” for our students.

Even though our local school board is still elected by the people, in reality, the people have ceded total control over the curriculum to educational bureaucrats and teachers. The people have lost control of their schools, largely by being uninvolved and uninformed in school-board elections.

It is easy to blame the committed defenders of Darwin in the educational and scientific establishments and their allies in the ACLU and the judiciary for the dismal state of evolution education in our public schools. School-board members understandably fear costly lawsuits by the ACLU and Americans United, which, through a combination of intimidation, settlements, and favorable court decisions, have managed to quash nearly all of the evolution initiatives enacted in local school districts in recent years.

Moreover, local school-board members around the country who are courageous enough to vote in favor of policies to teach evolution objectively often find themselves voted out of office in the next election. The teachers' unions and others who support the status quo of evolution teaching are much more organized and reliable than our side is in turning out the grassroots support and financing necessary to win contested school-board elections.

"We the people” also have ourselves to blame for why our public schools don't teach evolution objectively. Until citizens are willing to stand up to the authoritarian forces of Darwinism and support quality science education at the ballot box with the same passion and persistence as our opponents, nothing will change in our schools.

So it is that more than three years after that 2004 school-board meeting, students in the Roseville Joint Union High School District still aren't being taught any of the scientific weaknesses of Darwin's theory of evolution. Instead, they are being taught, in the words of the district's biology textbook, that "there is overwhelming evidence from fossils and many other sources that living species evolved from organisms that are extinct.” 

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More articles from Intelligent Design: A Primer

The Last Days of Darwin? by James M. Kushiner
What Does Information Tell us About ID? by William A. Dembski
Can ID Explain the Origin of Evil? by Jay Richards
Has ID Been Banned in Public Schools? by Casey Luskin
Do ID Proponents Get Persecuted in the Academy? by Caroline Crocker
What Happens When You Write Positive Blog Posts About ID? by Mike Egnor

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