NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2011/12/16
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, John Freshwater appeals his termination as a middle school science teacher. A county school superintendent in Kentucky blasts evolution -- and the state education commissioner replies. And the Turkish government is accused of censoring a website on evolution.
THE FRESHWATER CASE STILL CONTINUES With a brief filed in Ohio's Fifth District Court of Appeals, John Freshwater is appealing a court's ruling to uphold his termination as a middle school science teacher in Mount Vernon, Ohio. It is the latest twist in a long saga that began in 2008, when a local family accused Freshwater of engaging in inappropriate religious activity -- including teaching creationism -- and sued Freshwater and the district. The Mount Vernon City School Board then voted to begin proceedings to terminate his employment. After administrative hearings that proceeded sporadically over two years, the referee presiding over the hearings issued his recommendation that the board terminate his employment with the district, and the board voted to do so in January 2011. Freshwater challenged his termination in the Knox County Common Pleas Court on February 8, 2011. After the court found "there is clear and convincing evidence to support the Board of Education's termination of Freshwater's contract(s) for good and just cause," the Rutherford Institute, a Virginia-based conservative legal group, promptly announced its intention to appeal the decision on Freshwater's behalf. The latest brief was filed by Freshwater's attorney R. Kelly Hamilton "in conjunction with" the Rutherford Institute. It asks for a reversal of the lower court's decision, monetary damages for wrongful termination and violation of civil rights, and reinstatement of Freshwater in his teaching position. With respect to Freshwater's teaching of creationism, which was cited in the board's resolution to terminate his employment with the district, the brief alleges, "Freshwater sought to encourage his students to differentiate between facts and theories, and to identify and discuss instances where textbook statements were subject to intellectual and scientific debate," claims, "his encouraging students to think critically about scientific theories ... cannot be rendered illegal based solely on the presumption that Freshwater's personal beliefs happen to align with one of the competing theories considered," and accuses the board's actions of constituting "an outright hostility to religion that ... violates the Establishment Clause." For NCSE's collections of documents from the various proceedings involving Freshwater, visit: http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/doe-v-freshwater-mv http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/freshwater-v-mount-vernon http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/freshwater-termination-hearing And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Ohio, visit: http://ncse.com/news/ohio COUNTY SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT BLASTS EVOLUTION The superintendent of the school system in Hart County, Kentucky, is complaining about the emphasis on evolution in the state's new end-of-course test for biology, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader (December 13, 2011). In a November 21, 2011, letter to state education commissioner Terry Holliday and the state board of education, Ricky D. Line expressed "deep concern about the increased emphasis on the evolution content required in the new End-of-Course Blueprint ... I find the increase is substantial and alarming." He continued, "I have a very difficult time believing that we have come to a point in education that we are teaching evolution, not the theory of evolution, as a factual occurence, while totally omitting the creation story by a God who is bigger than all of us. I do not believe in macroevolution, and I do believe in creation by our God." Line oversees six schools with about 2200 students. Toward the end of his letter, Line posed these questions to the commissioner and board: "1. Do you consider macroevolution to be fact or theory? 2. Do you believe that macroevolution contradicts the Bible and God's hand in creation? 3. Are you personally willing to promote macroevolution as what our students should be learning as fact? 4. Do you believe it is the role of the state to mandate the teaching of macroevolution at the exclusion of other theories or beliefs?" He added, "If you don't believe in macroevolution, then please rethink what we are mandating our teachers to instill in our students. ... Stop requiring our teachers to teach, as fact, an evolution that would convince our children that they evolved from lower life forms and, therefore, have reason to discount the Bible and the faith beliefs that follow. This is not an improvement in our public education system." In a written response to Line, Holliday explained the difference between the vernacular and the scientific uses of the word "theory," emphasized that "science is not a system of belief" and that "creation science" is not considered to be appropriate for science classrooms, remarked that evolutionary theory "is one of the foundational components of modern biology," and reviewed the treatment of evolution in Kentucky's state science standards (which received a D in Anton Mates and Louise Mead's 2009 review of the treatment of evolution in state science standards). Unsatisfied, Line told the Herald-Leader, "My argument is, do we want our children to be taught these things as facts? Personally, I don't," adding, "I don't think life on earth began as a one-celled organism. I don't think that all of us came from a common ancestor ... I don't think the Big Bang theory describes the explanation of the origin of the universe." Holliday told the newspaper that no further response to Line was contemplated. "I think what was unclear to Ricky is that we certainly are not teaching evolution as a fact, but as a scientific theory," he said. "That's been in the program of study for a number of years." Controversy over the teaching of education in Kentucky is not new, however. Still on the books is a statute (Kentucky Revised Statutes 158.177) that authorizes teachers to teach "the theory of creation as presented in the Bible" and to "read such passages in the Bible as are deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of creation," although the Louisville Courier-Journal (January 11, 2006) reported that in a November 2005 survey of the state's 176 school districts, none was teaching or discussing "intelligent design." The most recent antievolution bill in the state, House Bill 169, died in committee in March 2011. For the article in the Lexington Herald-Leader, visit: http://www.kentucky.com/2011/12/12/1992514/kentuckys-plan-for-biology-tests.html For the text of KRS 158.177 (PDF), visit: http://www.lrc.ky.gov/KRS/158-00/177.PDF And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Kentucky, visit: http://ncse.com/news/kentucky EVOLUTION CENSORED IN TURKEY? Evolution "ranks alongside pornography and terrorism as topics that the Turkish government's controversial new Internet filtering scheme keeps out of the hands of children," according to a post on the ScienceInsider blog (December 9, 2011). The Hürriyet Daily News (December 8, 2011) reported that a website explaining evolution was blocked for children by the new filtering scheme." Users choosing the "children profile" for their internet connection are able to access "only several types of web pages such as public and educational websites," the newspaper explained. Acknowledging that the block was subsequently lifted, ScienceInsider observed that nevertheless, "science advocates and Internet freedom activists say it's a worrying sign of the government's attitude toward evolution." Aykut Kence, a biologist at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, told the blog that the censorship "shows the mentality of people censoring the websites ... Apparently they thought that this was deleterious for kids." Kence added that the creationist websites operated under the Harun Yahya name were available "without any restriction." For the ScienceInsider story, visit: http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2011/12/controversial-turkish-internet-c.html For the Hürriyet Daily News story, visit: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/internet-filters-block-evolution-website.aspx?pageID=238&nID=8758&NewsCatID=341 And for NCSE's previous coverage of events abroad, visit: http://ncse.com/news/international Thanks for reading. And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it. -- With best wishes for the holiday season, Glenn Branch Deputy Director National Center for Science Education, Inc. 420 40th Street, Suite 2 Oakland, CA 94609-2509 510-601-7203 x305 fax: 510-601-7204 800-290-6006 firstname.lastname@example.org http://ncse.com Read Reports of the NCSE on-line: http://reports.ncse.com Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter: http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd http://twitter.com/ncse NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncse.com/join