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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

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.


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

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 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: 

For information about joining NCSE, visit: 


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: 

For the article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, visit: 

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Tennessee, visit: 


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

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: 

For information about the Evolution Thought Trail, visit: 


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: 

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Tennessee, visit: 


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: 

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Ohio, visit: 

Thanks for reading. And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- -- where you can always find the latest news on 
evolution and climate education and threats to them.


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

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