The Arkansas Times has an excellent article on the difficulties of science teaching in that state (an article that was originally published in the Reports of the NCSE, too). It’s darned depressing: the creationists don’t need to get their laws passed in order to kneecap science teaching. Here’s a geology teacher who has been muzzled by fear:
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.”
How can this happen? Arkansas doesn’t have any laws mandating this kind of hesitancy, and evolution is one of the subjects they are supposed to teach. What we have, though, are religious extremists who don’t give a damn about science teaching anyway, and are ready to go into a hysterical fit over it and withdraw support for education. The article is very gentle with the administrators, but I won’t be: these guys are cowards.
With regard to Bob’s geologic time scale issue, the program director likened it to a game of Russian roulette. He admitted that probably very few students would have a real problem with a discussion about time on the order of millions of years, but that it might only take one child’s parents to cause major problems. He spun a scenario of a student’s returning home with stories beginning with “Millions of years ago …” that could set a fundamentalist parent on a veritable witch hunt, first gathering support of like-minded parents and then showing up at school board meetings until the district pulled out of the science program to avoid conflict. He added that this might cause a ripple effect, other districts following suit, leading to the demise of the program.
We have to realize that administrators are a craven lot who are going to bow to the loudest, so there is one thing we have to do: when some fundamentalist loon tries to poison science education in your school district, you have to turn out and outnumber the kooks ten to one. It’s all we can do, and it can be done. The Minnetonka school district did a fantastic job of shutting out a few creationist school board members. I really think local activism is the most important component of any strategy to beat back these nutcases.
Of course, we’ve still got rot at the top. Huckabee, the governor of the state and another crackpot Republican considering a run for the presidency, is another science illiterate who thinks kids should be taught garbage.
Here is an excerpt from one of [Huckabee’s] broadcasts, from July 2004:
Student: Many schools in Arkansas are failing to teach students about evolution according to the educational standards of our state. Since it is against these standards to teach creationism, how would you go about helping our state educate students more sufficiently for this?
Huckabee: Are you saying some students are not getting exposure to the various theories of creation?
Student (stunned): No, of evol … well, of evolution specifically. It’s a biological study that should be educated [taught], but is generally not.
Moderator: Schools are dodging Darwinism? Is that what you …?
Huckabee: I’m not familiar that they’re dodging it. Maybe they are. But I think schools also ought to be fair to all views. Because, frankly, Darwinism is not an established scientific fact. It is a theory of evolution, that’s why it’s called the theory of evolution. And I think that what I’d be concerned with is that it should be taught as one of the views that’s held by people. But it’s not the only view that’s held. And any time you teach one thing as that it’s the only thing, then I think that has a real problem to it.
The author has the same feeling I do about all of this.
Because anti-evolutionists have been quite successful in placing members of their ranks and sympathizers in local legislatures and school boards, it is imperative that we point out the danger that these people pose to adequate science education. The science literacy of our future leaders may depend on it. Although each school, each museum, or each science center may seem to be an isolated case, answering to — and, perhaps trying to keep peace with — its local constituency, the examples suggest that evolution is being squeezed out of education systematically and broadly. Anti-evolutionists have been successful by keeping the struggle focused on the local level. The fallout is widespread ignorance of the tools and methods of science for generations to come.