NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2012/04/20
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, A new issue of Reports of the NCSE. What's next for evolution education in the Volunteer State? NCSE will be at the Science Expo of the USA Science & Engineering Festival. Plus editorials continue to criticize Tennessee's new monkey law, and John Freshwater is taking his case to the Ohio Supreme Court.
RNCSE 32:2 NOW ON-LINE NCSE is pleased to announce that the latest issue of Reports of the National Center for Science Education is now available on-line. The issue -- volume 32, number 2 -- features Michael W. Hart and Richard K. Grosberg's essay-review of Frank Ryan's The Mystery of Metamorphosis and Kelly C. Smith's "I Also Survived a Debate with a Creationist." For his regular People and Places column, Randy Moore discusses the career of Dudley Field Malone, the attorney generally agreed to have given the most memorable speech during the Scopes trial. Plus a host of reviews of books on science and religion: Daryl P. Domning reviews Theology after Darwin, edited by Michael S. Northcott and R. J. Berry; George L. Murphy reviews John F. Haught's Making Sense of Evolution; Robert J. Schneider reviews Intelligent Faith, edited by John Quenby and John MacDonald Smith; Lisa H. Sideris reviews Reg Saner's Living Large in Nature; Dennis R. Venema reviews Denis O. Lamoureux's I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution; and David R. Vinson reviews Denis Alexander's Creation or Evolution. All of these articles, features, and reviews are freely available in PDF form from http://reports.ncse.com. Members of NCSE will shortly be receiving in the mail the print supplement to Reports 32:2, which, in addition to summaries of the on-line material, contains news from the membership, a regular column in which NCSE staffers offer personal reports on what they've been doing to defend the teaching of evolution, a new regular column interviewing NCSE's favorite people -- members of NCSE's board of directors, NCSE's Supporters, recipients of NCSE's Friend of Darwin award, and so on -- and more besides. (Not a member? Join today!) For the table of contents for RNCSE 32:2, visit: http://reports.ncse.com/index.php/rncse/issue/current/showToc For information about joining NCSE, visit: http://ncse.com/join WHAT NEXT IN TENNESSEE? What difference will Tennessee's new monkey law make in the state's science classrooms? That was the question asked by the Nashville Tennessean (April 15, 2012). The new law encourages teachers in the state's public schools to present the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of topics that arouse "debate and disputation" such as "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." Despite his concern that the bill would cause confusion, Governor Bill Haslam decided to allow the bill to become law without his signature on April 10, 2012. "Maybe it has a no-religion clause," the Tennessean characterized the law's critics as arguing, "but it gives a wink to teachers looking to promote their beliefs in the classroom -- a move that would launch costly lawsuits that history shows school districts tend to lose." Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, told the newspaper that her group is in touch with concerned parents across the state, "waiting for one to report First Amendment violations teachers could make under the mistaken notion that they now have full protection." Vic Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, who was on the team representing the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 case establishing the unconstitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" creationism in the public schools, argued that the law places local school districts in a precarious situation: "It basically neuters school boards and administrators from disciplining teachers who run off the rails," he said. "And when the district gets sued by a parent, the teacher gets off scot-free? Why would you do that?" Walczak added, "I would love to come down and do Dover II." Gary Nixon, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education, was sanguine, saying, "We have some very solid science standards to be taught, and we expect those to be taught." But the Tennessean noted that the state's science standards received a grade of D in the Fordham Foundation's latest evaluation of state science standards, with the life science section faring poorest. Tennessee is committed, however, to adopting the Next Generation Science Standards, due later in the year, in which evolution is emphasized as one of the "disciplinary core ideas" of the life sciences. What's in the standards and what's in the classroom are not necessarily the same. Mike Kohut, a researcher at Vanderbilt University studying evolution education in Tennessee, found in his interviews of students and teachers that "one director of schools admitted he knew teachers taught creationism in the classroom. A teacher said he was offended he is forced to teach evolution. A science coordinator said teaching evolution was a good way to get fired in her district." Kohut regarded it as likely that teachers who wish to introduce intelligent design would understand the law allowing them to do so. Confirmation that evolution may already be ignored or disparaged in Tennessee classrooms came from the Chattanooga Times Free Press (April 15, 2012), which quoted one teacher as saying, "We don't even call it evolution. We call it genetic change," and contending, "[Evolution] has nothing to do with whether man was once a monkey." Becky Ashe, president of the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, told the Times Free Press that she (like Kohut) feared that teachers, especially in small rural districts, might take the law as license to teach creationism to their students. Derek DeSantis, a high school biology and anatomy teacher -- and the husband of Larisa DeSantis, the Vanderbilt University paleontologist who organized a petition calling on Governor Haslam to veto the bill -- told the Tennessean, "It's not taboo to discuss [religious questions about the veracity of evolution] now ... So if the questions arise, you can talk about it, but it's not the curriculum to teach. So you answer a child's question and move onto the facts of the curriculum." He added, "Honestly, as an educator and a parent, as a teacher in the system, I don't see the need for [the law]." For the article in the Nashville Tennessean, visit: http://www.tennessean.com/article/20120415/NEWS0201/304150102/TN-evolution-law-may-change-nothing For the article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, visit: http://timesfreepress.com/news/2012/apr/15/we-dont-even-call-it-evolution/ And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Tennessee, visit: http://ncse.com/news/tennessee NCSE AT USA SCIENCE & ENGINEERING FESTIVAL NCSE will be participating in the Science Expo of the USA Science & Engineering Festival, April 28 and 29, 2012, in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington DC. The culmination of a month-long celebration of science and engineering, the Science Expo is a giant science party in America's capital city, aimed at inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers. All events are free and open to the general public. So come and explore the world of science and engineering with over three thousand interactive exhibits, over one hundred stage shows featuring science celebrities, magicians, jugglers, rappers, and more, and over thirty featured author presentations and book signing events. The two-day Expo is perfect for teens, children and their families, and anyone with a curious mind who is looking for a weekend of fun and discovery. And NCSE will be there too, inviting the general public to "find yourself on the tree of life" -- with displays featuring a panoramic view of the tree of life, the evolution of hominids, and the evolutionary path from dinosaurs to their avian descendants, as well as activities and NCSE buttons for kids. Look for NCSE's Charles Hargrove, Robert Luhn, and Eric Meikle running NCSE's display in Booth 338 in Hall C. NCSE's booth is part of the "Evolution Thought Trail" -- a series of exhibits at the Science Expo, sponsored by various scientific and science education organizations, including the American Museum of Natural History, the National Association of Biology Teachers, the National Science Teachers Association, and the Society for Developmental Biology, aimed at educating and entertaining the public about evolution. For information about the USA Science & Engineering Festival, visit: http://www.usasciencefestival.org/ For information about the Evolution Thought Trail, visit: http://www.usasciencefestival.org/2012festival/finale-expo/2012-exhibits?track=26&age=&keyword=&category=&qexhibits=&peek_friday=&no_page= CONTINUED BOOS FOR TENNESSEE'S MONKEY LAW Tennessee's monkey law continues to attract editorial condemnation within the state and around the country. The new law encourages teachers in the state's public schools to present the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of topics that arouse "debate and disputation" such as "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." Despite consistent opposition to the bill from scientific and educational organizations, and despite his own stated concern that the bill was unclear and would cause confusion, Governor Bill Haslam decided to allow the bill to become law without his signature on April 10, 2012. In the Memphis Commercial Appeal (April 15, 2012), the newspaper's editor Chris Peck wrote, "The legislature has embarrassed itself, and the state, by passing a law suggesting that the part-time legislators know best when it comes to teaching the science of evolution, climate change and cloning," adding that the legislators "aren't experts in the science of evolution, or climate change, or education. And they shouldn't pretend to be. ... Yet these part-time legislators and their colleagues jumped in and decided to take a swing at directing the state's teachers on how to instruct students on complex scientific issues -- without really knowing what they were trying to suggest, and being vague and confusing in the process." The New York Times (April 15, 2012) also offered its editorial opinion: "Eighty-seven years after Tennessee was nationally embarrassed for criminally prosecuting the teaching of evolution, the state government is at it again. This time it has enacted a law that protects teachers who invite students to challenge the science underlying evolution and climate change. The measure is a transparent invitation to indulge pseudoscience in the classroom and a transparent pandering to a vocal, conservative fringe." The editorial concluded, "Scopes presented an enduring lesson in the importance of standing up for science and the truth. It is amazing that so many politicians have still not figured that out." And the Washington Post (April 15, 2012) added in its own editorial: "Rather than removing some kind of official hostility to critical thought in Tennessee?s curriculum, it seems designed to encourage teachers who would introduce pseudo-scientific criticisms inspired by religion or ideology into descriptions of the current state of evolution or climate science. ... Merely emphasizing the existence of notable 'scientific weaknesses' exaggerates the uncertainty among scientists about these theories. That the state legislature has gone out of its way to warn administrators not to touch teachers can only discourage them from pushing back against wayward instructors." For the editorials, visit: http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2012/apr/15/inside-the-newsroom-legislatures-anti-science/ http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/16/opinion/pseudoscience-and-tennessees-classrooms.html http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/tenn-evolution-law-set-to-do-more-harm-than-good/2012/04/15/gIQAkaw2JT_story.html And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Tennessee, visit: http://ncse.com/news/tennessee FRESHWATER APPEALS AGAIN John Freshwater, the middle school science teacher in Mount Vernon, Ohio, who was fired over his inappropriate religious activity in the classroom -- including teaching creationism -- is now taking his case to the Ohio Supreme Court. In 2008, a local family accused Freshwater of engaging in inappropriate religious activity and sued Freshwater and the district. The Mount Vernon City School Board then voted to begin proceedings to terminate his employment. After thorough administrative hearings that proceeded over two years and involved more than eighty witnesses, the referee presiding over the hearings issued his recommendation that the board terminate Freshwater's employment with the district, and the board voted to do so in January 2011. (The lawsuit against Freshwater was settled in the meantime.) Freshwater challenged his termination in the Knox County Court of Common Pleas in February 2011, but 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." Freshwater then appealed the decision to Ohio's Fifth District Court of Appeals in December 2011. NCSE filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the appellate court, arguing that Freshwater's materials and methods concerning evolution "have no basis in science and serve no pedagogical purpose." (NCSE's amicus curiae brief was prepared pro bono by attorneys from Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP and Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP.) In March 2012, the Fifth District Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's rejection of Freshwater's challenge. With respect to his teaching of creationism, Freshwater's latest 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," argues, "[t]he fact that one competing theory on the formation of the universe and the beginning of life is consistent with the teachings of multiple major world religions simply does not justify interference with students' and teachers' academic freedom," and accuses the board's action of manifesting "a clear and distinct hostility toward the major world religions whose teachings are consistent with the alternative theories discussed in Freshwater's classes ... [which] runs directly afoul of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause." For NCSE's collection of documents from the case, visit: http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/freshwater-termination-hearing And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Ohio, visit: http://ncse.com/news/ohio 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 and climate education and threats to them. -- Sincerely, 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