An insider’s perspective on Dover

Via Ron Sullivan, who posted a link on the Great Blue Evil, an amusing story about a visit to Big Bend National Park in which the ranger in residence turns out not to be from around there:

Bob Hamilton 65, is a retired biology teacher and high school principal from Carlisle, Pa. He works six months a year in Big Bend and five more in Yellowstone.
I ask him where he was principal. He says York. I ask what school. He says Dover.
My eyes must’ve been wide as dinner plates. My insides roiled with barely contained glee.
My unexpressed response: No shit!
What I say: “The infamous Dover High School?”

That’s this Dover, the school district in Pennsylvania where creationists pressured the local Board of Education to introduce “Intelligent Design” into the high school biology curriculum in January 2005. Parents sued the Board, which subsequently got its collective ass handed to it in court. The judge’s 139-page opinion on the case called the change in curriculum “breathtakingly inane,” for instance.

Apparently, the inanity was taking people’s breaths for a few years before 2005:

Hamilton, who retired as principal of Dover High School in 2002, stood on the ground floor of Dover’s Intelligent Design era. He saw the storm brewing.
“Don’t quote me on this, but I knew that board was going to get us in trouble,” he said.
There was no doubt I was going to quote him on this. I think he realized this. I hope so, anyway.
“There are great kids in the community,” he says. “The kids in the community in no way reflect the ideas coming out of that school board. None of those people had any connection to the kids.”
According to Hamilton, then-school board president Donald “Daddy” Bonsell used to haunt his office and harangue him on behalf of the burgeoning wingnut conspiracy. Bonsell badgered Hamilton to do his part to get Intelligent Design into the Dover curriculum.
“He came in one day, and finally I told him, ‘OK, I’ll put Intelligent Design into the curriculum … if you start a petition and get all the local ministers in the community to sign it saying they’ll allow the teaching of evolution in Sunday school,’” Hamilton says.

I like the fact that this guy “retired” by continuing to teach kids about science on the National Park Service’s dime. Good for him.


  1. Francisco Bacopa says

    I guess he works in Big Bend in the winter and Yellowstone in the winter. Still cold as hell in Big Bend. I’d go for Padre Island.

    I think the best lesson we can get from Dover is that people who read Pharyngula need to go to school board meetings.

  2. says

    get all the local ministers in the community to sign it saying they’ll allow the teaching of evolution in Sunday school,’

    To many of them, they already do. “Teaching evolution” to the IDiots and other creationists means nothing but lying about it. As in, they want to “teach more evolution,” like the “probabilities against” it.

    So I might go with a petition, but it would have to be worded so that real evolution is taught in Sunday School.

    Glen Davidson

  3. ronsullivan says

    I got that post via association with Lauri Lebo, whose book about the Dover trial is still my favorite. Maybe it’s a homegirl thing.

    Thanks for posting this, Chris; I’m thinking it might gratify any rangers who happen upon it here.

  4. unbound says

    @1 – Definitely need to get more sane people to go to the school board meetings (as well as city council / county supervisor meetings). The school board is capable of a great deal of good or a great deal of damage, and, from my own experiences dealing with my school board, they tend to make their decisions based on how much complaining is directed their way. I don’t see my school board heading towards ID / creationism on their own, but based on how they behave when there is literally hours of complaints lined up, I could see them bowing to pressure to give the crowds what they want.

    I’ve seen redistricting occur based on complaints of the masses, and the school board ends up voting their way if no one is there to defend the more intelligent choice. This is how my neighborhood middle school children got bused to a distant middle school for a few years due to overcrowding…because the neighborhood that made sense to bus (cutting the bus time in half) were the ones to complain, and no one from my neighborhood was there to defend our interests (mostly because we were the furthest away from the school, so why would we even be considered).

  5. frankb says

    I visited Big Bend National Park when I was young. Having studied geology I found the park fascinating. I am glad Bob Hamilton got away from that mess in Dover to enjoy the out of doors in two excellent places in the west.

  6. hypatiasdaughter says

    I’d like to shake that man’s hand!
    As it is now, one cannot teach creationism in the schools because it is a religious belief and teachers cannot critique it because it is a religious belief.
    I wonder if the CreoID pushers have ever considered that putting it on the curriculum as a science means that it would be open to criticism – i.e. all it’s inane stupidities pointed and out and shredded? My kids would have had a ball doing that.

  7. magistramarla says

    Hey all,
    Speaking of talking about science to the public, I saw an interview of Alan Alda today and I was very impressed. He’s involved with a challenge to get scientists to explain big questions so that 11 year olds can understand them. Here’s a link that I found:

    It stems from a question that he asked his teacher at the age of 11 – “What is a flame?”
    I would love to see some Pharyngulites participating in this!

  8. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    If you haven’t seen it yet, NOVA did a pretty good show about the trial.

    Very good show. Doesn’t impress IDiots though.

  9. gardengnome says

    The NOVA piece Judgement Day is an excellent doco but you need to read the books to get the background. Lauri Lebo’s The Devil in Dover is great for its personal insights while Edward Hume’s Monkey Girl is best for the overall story (in my humble opinion of course) – I’m reading the latter for the severalth time right now. I often wonder if Donal ‘Daddy’ Bonsell wasn’t actually masterminding behind the scenes.

  10. magistramarla says

    I just finished reading the interview of Alan Alda at the site that I referenced above,

    I had to come back to post the last paragraph:
    ALDA: “And I think you’re right. I think it’s a danger to create the illusion of certainty. Because science, it seems to me, thrives on uncertainty. One of the great personal benefits I’ve had from reading science and listening to scientists talk is to appreciate the pleasure of uncertainty. For me, getting through life is surfing on uncertainty in every way. And science, rather than pumping us full of truths, encourages us to keep looking.”

    I thought that this was pretty profound. As a non-science person who is married to a science person and likes to hang out at places like Pharyngula just to learn more about science, this says it all for me.

  11. Tony ∞The Queer Shoop∞ says

    From your link–
    ” What is time? And how would you explain it to an 11-year-old?”

    Um, ok. I can’t wait to see the best answer.

  12. carlie says

    magistramarla, if you haven’t watched Scientific American Frontiers, go and do so post-haste. You will be many hours of happy.

  13. fullyladenswallow says

    I hope Mr Buckingham was forced to pay compensation, along with an apology to the young artist whose evolution mural he burned.

  14. magistramarla says

    Thanks Carlie,
    I’m familiar with it. I live with Mr. Science – LOL – and he loves to watch these and other science documentaries, especially when a grandchild is around.

  15. vhutchison says

    I was able to speak briefly with Judge Jones during his visit to the University of Oklahoma earlier this month. After telling him that I followed the Kitzmiller trial throughout and read all of the despositions, etc., as they appeared he replied that perhaps the most unexpected thing from the trial was the intense interest of academics, something he did not expect. It seemed from other comments that he may have had no real idea of the importance and impact of the trial until the decision became known.

    His public lecture at Oklahoma was well-received and ism available at:

  16. hexidecima says

    Very nice story to hear. I live about 20 minutes away from Dover. We are indeed in the “t” that is Pennsyltucky but we aren’t all wannabee theocrats.

  17. David Wilford says

    Six years after Kitzmiller v. Dover, ID is still pushing up the daisies, showing that public school boards now get it with respect to creationism and the Constitution.

  18. alexanderz says

    Chris Clarke

    “Don’t quote me on this, but I knew that board was going to get us in trouble,” he said.
    There was no doubt I was going to quote him on this. I think he realized this. I hope so, anyway.

    Sounds totally not cool. He might have had a good reason not to divulge his real thoughts on the matter. And Since when does “no” means “yes”?!

  19. Rey Fox says

    Dammit, I’ve wanted to run off to Big Bend for Xmas for several years, and now I want to even more.