Friday, March 24, 2006

"Give me that old time religion"

Arkansas Teacher Can't Say 'Evolution' in Class:
Arkansas Times
The missing link. Scientist discovers that evolution is missing from Arkansas classrooms.

In the fall of 2004, I received an e-mail from an old friend back in Arkansas, where I was raised. She was concerned about a problem her father was having at work. “Bob” is a geologist and a teacher at a science education institution that serves several Arkansas public school districts. My friend did not know the details of Bob’s problem, only that it had to do with geology education. This was enough to arouse my interest, so I invited Bob to tell me about what was going on.

He responded with an e-mail. Teachers at his facility are forbidden to use the “e-word” (evolution) with the kids. They are permitted to use the word “adaptation” but only to refer to a current characteristic of an organism, not as a product of evolutionary change via natural selection. They cannot even use the term “natural selection.” Bob feared that not being able to use evolutionary terms and ideas to answer his students’ questions would lead to reinforcement of their misconceptions.

But Bob's personal issue was more specific, and the prohibition more insidious. In his words, "I am instructed NOT to use hard numbers when telling kids how old rocks are. I am supposed to say that these rocks are VERY VERY OLD ... but I am NOT to say that these rocks are thought to be about 300 million years old."

As a person with a geology background, Bob found this restriction hard to justify, especially since the new Arkansas educational benchmarks for 5th grade include introduction of the concept of the 4.5-billion-year age of the earth. Bob's facility is supposed to be meeting or exceeding those benchmarks.

The explanation that had been given to Bob by his supervisors was that their science facility is in a delicate position and must avoid irritating some religious fundamentalists who may have their fingers on the purse strings of various school districts. Apparently his supervisors feared that teachers or parents might be offended if Bob taught their children about the age of rocks and that it would result in another school district pulling out of their program. He closed his explanatory message with these lines:

"So my situation here is tenuous. I am under censure for mentioning numbers. … I find that my 'fire' for this place is fading if we're going to dissemble about such a basic factor of modern science. I mean ... the Scopes trial was how long ago now??? I thought we had fought this battle ... and still it goes on."
Read the rest.

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