04 July 2007

Richmond Magazine Article

Dick Lessard has just posted at the Alliance for Science's web site an article called "Rumblings of Intelligent Design in Chesterfield County, VA"--an excellent commentary on Richmond Magazine's recent article on the Intelligent Design movement in Chesterfield (the text of the article is not yet available on RM's web site).

Dick does an especially fine job of explaining why the "teach all views on all issues" policy--this is really the heart of the CCSB's statement--will wreak havoc in the classroom:
One has to wonder what the average working teacher would say about letting students speak their minds about any subject in school. If a student in history class were to expound that the Holocaust was a fiction perpetrated by liberal media and the worldwide Zionist conspiracy, would the teacher be reprimanded if he or she attempted to contradict or censor that student’s speech? If, in geography class, upon studying the cattle industry in South America, should a teacher accommodate a lengthy diatribe on animal rights and allow distribution of PETA literature? Given the limited time and the demands of covering the extensive material required by the state Standards of Learning (SOL), it’s safe to say that most teachers would insist on maintaining order. It seems, however, that Chairman Doland may be encouraging students to engage in just this sort of disruptive behavior. Or does this doting on students’ rights only apply in biology class?
What can we add to Dick's shopping list of problematic debates? Should students who are Christian Scientists be allowed to develop arguments against the germ theory of disease? Should students who are Scientologists be allowed to rebuke psychology? Should discussions of HIV/AIDS be balanced by the view that the virus is really God's way of punishing homosexuals? Should students also be advised that God creates floods in order to punish immorality?

27 June 2007

Intelligent Design in Chesterfield County's Science Classes?

I've set up this blog in order to organize community response to a statement [pdf] that the Chesterfield County Virginia School Board appended to its Textbook Adoption Memorandum [pdf] on 22 May 2007. The local media coverage so far has been restricted to an article in the Chesterfield Observer, a column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and an unsigned editorial in the same newspaper. There have also been a number of letters to the editor in both publications on the topic. There has been some coverage of this on science and ID blogs as well.

The statement appears to be a result of pressure from individuals and groups, including the Family Foundation, who want intelligent design (ID) to be included in the school's science curriculum. Although the School Board statement doesn't sanction (or even mention) the teaching of ID in Chesterfield's science classes, it appears to promote a set of guidelines that might be viewed as a de facto endorsement of ID, as long as students are the ones who introduce the "debate" into the classroom.

Here are a few problems that some of us have with this statement:
  • The language is extremely vague and equivocal, and it may send different messages to different people. Some of us have asked the School Board to clarify its statement, but they have been unresponsive so far.
  • By urging teachers and students to explore "alternative views," it appears to promote one of the main ID talking points--"teach the controversy."
  • It appears to remove control of classroom content from teachers by encouraging students to engage in an "unimpeded" and "unrestricted" study of "an almost infinite number of [Internet] resources" as part of the learning process. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it appears to encourage students to supplement (corrupt?) their classroom instruction in evolution with ID materials from the Internet.
  • Although the statement is broadly applied, evolution is singled out as a topic that, "along with all other topics that raise differences of thought and opinion, should receive the thorough and unrestricted study we have . . . articulated." The statement therefore appears to urge students and teachers to investigate a controversy about evolution that doesn't really exist.
  • The final paragraph appears to encourage students to discuss ID as a form of religious expression in their science classes (this is an unusual formulation--most ID advocates argue that it is science). This seems to strain the conventional understanding of how religion can be expressed in schools, and it likely conflicts with legal decisions (e.g., Kitzmiller v. Dover) that have ruled that ID cannot be taught in science classes. It may also lead to uncomfortable and embarrassing situations for students who introduce ID into science discussions, because their teachers would be obligated to tell them that ID is not a legitimate scientific alternative to evolution.
I encourage others to submit other ideas and comments on this statement.

Although the main audience for this blog is the metropolitan Richmond, Virginia area, I welcome any help we can get from others who have had to battle this problem elsewhere.

At this point, we need to do the following:
  • We need more people to write letters to the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Chesterfield Observer to counter the numerous letters from ID proponents who are largely spewing the standard Discovery Institute talking points.
  • We need more people to attend School Board meetings, or to express their concerns to the CC School Board directly.
  • We need local clergy to get involved--especially those who might have signed the Clergy Letter Project.
  • We need to let get as many people in Chesterfield County involved in whatever ways we can.
  • We need to get candidates to explain their positions on this topic before the November elections.
Please contact me if you want to be involved, but don't feel comfortable posting to the blog.