Dover science teachers take a stand

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It has already been reported (Associated Press, York Daily Record) that the science teachers in Dover defied the administration and school board and refused to read the antievolution/ID disclaimer before their students (NCSE news page, PT 1, PT 2). The administration has given in, so now the disclaimer will be read by administrators instead of teachers. The teachers objected to ID purely on the grounds of their professional standards – they won’t teach fake science, and ID is fake science. The letter that the teachers wrote to the administration is a powerful statement, it is quoted in full below. A representative quote:

INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS NOT SCIENCE. INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS NOT BIOLOGY. INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS NOT AN ACCEPTED SCIENTIFIC THEORY.Dover science teachers. Caps original.

Some more details and links are available in the NCSE update. The full letter is quoted below.

To: Dr. Richard Nilsen

From: Bertha Spahr Jennifer Miller Robert Linker Robert Eshbach Leslie Prall Brian Bahn David Taylor Vickie Davis

Date: January 6, 2005

Re: Reading Statement on Intelligent Design

We have individually reviewed the statement you presented yesterday for presentation to our students at the beginning of the Biology unit dealing with evolution. You have indicated that students may “opt-out” of this portion of the class and that they will be excused and monitored by an administrator. We respectfully exercise our right to “opt-out” of the statement portion of the class. We will relinquish the classroom to an administrator and we will monitor our own students. This request is based upon our considered opinion that reading the statement violates our responsibilities as professional educators as set forth in the Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Educators promulgated by the Professional Standards and Practices Commission and found at 22 Pa. Code section 235.1 et.seq. As noted in the introductory paragraph of the Code, section 235.2 (a): “Generally, the responsibility for professional conduct rests with the individual professional educator.” Further, the Code provides in section 235.2 (b): “This chapter makes explicit the values of the education profession. When individuals become educators in this Commonwealth, they make a moral commitment to uphold these values.”

Central to the teaching act and our ethical obligation is the solemn responsibility to teach the truth. Section 235.10 (2) guides our relationships with students and provides that “The professional educator may not Knowingly and intentionally misrepresent subject matter or curriculum.”

INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS NOT SCIENCE. INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS NOT BIOLOGY. INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS NOT AN ACCEPTED SCIENTIFIC THEORY.

I believe that if I as the classroom teacher read the required statement, my students will inevitably (and understandably) believe that Intelligent Design is a valid scientific theory, perhaps on par with the theory of evolution. That is not true. To refer the students to “Of Pandas and People” as if it is a scientific resource breaches my ethical obligation to provide them with scientific knowledge that is supported by recognized scientific proof or theory.

Reading the statement places us in violation of the following ethical obligations. Section 235.3 of the Code requires Professional educators to develop “sound educational policy” and obligates us “to implement that policy.” Section 235.3 (b) makes it explicit that “Professional educators recognize their primary responsibility to the student and the development of the student’s potential. Central to that development is the professional educator’s valuing the pursuit of truth; devotion to excellence; acquisition of knowledge; and democratic principles.” The same section goes on to provide: “Educators encourage and support the use of resources that best serve the interests and needs of students. Within the context of professional experience, the educator and the student together explore the challenge and the dignity of the human experience.” Section 235.4 (b) (2) provides: “Professional educators shall be prepared, and legally certified, in their areas of assignment. Educators may not be assigned or willingly accept assignments they are not certified to fulfill.” Section 235.5(b) (8) provides: “Professional educators shall be open-minded, knowledgeable and use appropriate judgement and communication skills when responding to an issue within the educational environment.” Section 235.4 (b) (10) provides: “Professional educators shall exert reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions which interfere with learning or are harmful to the student’s health and safety.”

3 TrackBacks

As we stated in an update to our last Dover Rant, all but one of the science teachers in the Dover school district signed a letter to the superintendant refusing to read the Intelligent Design disclaimer. The teachers were successful,... Read More

Dover teachers refuse to read antievolution disclaimer Read More

Teacher(s) of the Year? from Deinonychus antirrhopus on January 10, 2005 1:02 PM

Bertha Spahr, Jennifer Miller, Robert Linker, Robert Eshbach, Leslie Prall, Brian Bahn, David Taylor, Vickie Davis Dover science teachers take a stand.... Read More

19 Comments

(The bit about switching from “we” to “I” is a bit odd, but it is in the original letter. My understanding is that the letter was put together very quickly on Thursday.)

Put together quickly or not, it is a nice sharp stick poked in the eye of the Buckinghams who blather about stuff they’re totally ignorant of.

By the way, speaking of Buckingham, he was among the missing for a while. Did he show up to be deposed? Was he one of those who conveniently lost their memories?

RBH

Yes, he returned from parts unknown: Dover board member back

And yes, his memory seems poor: Memory woes halt ‘design’ lesson curb and also the York Daily Record story.

Congratulations to these science teachers in Dover.

All teachers in all districts should take the lesson from this. Character counts! Perhaps contrary to what the board thinks or to what many parents think, our primary responsibility is to the students in the classroom, not to the board that hired us, not to the parents that foot the bill. Teaching is not just another job wherein you do whatever the money source wants you to.

If teachers do anything, we deliver honest, open, accurate content supported by available evidence. Often that is difficult under the pressures of parents and other groups to deliver content that supports a particular ideology (sp?).

My vote for ‘teacher of the year’: Bertha Spahr, Jennifer Miller, Robert Linker, Robert Eshbach, Leslie Prall, Brian Bahn, David Taylor, Vickie Davis

Another interesting tidbit: Agape Press has a Discovery Institute quote not reported elsewhere regarding the DI’s opinion of the Dover situation:

The Center for Science and Culture spokesman feels classroom discussion of intelligent design should be permitted but never mandated. Meanwhile, he asserts, school districts must be very careful in how they frame their science policies in order to ensure that they do not violate the law. “There are constitutional ways of doing this,” West says, “and we’re happy to advise districts. One of our biggest frustrations is when school districts go and do policies without consulting with the experts and others who are actually working on theories like the theory of intelligent design. They can end up doing more harm than good by having a poorly framed policy.

Can someone explain to me how they could possibly reframe the Dover policy to make it constitutional (the DI appears to admit it is not)?

Or are they just “experts” at using code language like “evidence against evolution” in order to avoid court challenge.

Kudos to the teathers of the Dover, PA SD. Those of us who are active in this issue too often forget that there are other people of good sense and good faith (I hope the majority) that oppose pseudoscience and government intrusion into religion.

Kudo’s for the science teachers for putting the smack down on the policy.

From one of the article’s Nick linked to in his comments:

If students ask about creationism or intelligent design, they will be told to do that research on their own or ask their parents, Nilsen said.

To me, this screams that the board knows that “intelligent design” is religious and not scientific. There is no other reason why the students should be told to “ask their parents.” That is the standard way public school handles religious questions from students.

More YDR stuff:

Before [Bill Buckingham] left in early December, he said, representatives from the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., advised him not to say where he was going or what the personal matters pertained to.

I wonder if he took a trip to Seattle.

Thomas More sneers back

Open letter at http://www.earnedmedia.org/tmlc_letter.htm

As reported in this thread (cross-posted on the thread about the UPenn letter protesting ID), Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center wrote an open letter in reply to the UPenn professors (PDF of the letter at the Christian Communication Network.

Since it is a pain to download pdfs, here is the extracted plain text:

Thomas More Law Center

Richard Thompson Chief Counsel Admitted in Michigan

January 7,2005

Paul Sniegowski University of Pennsylvania Department of Biology 415 S. University Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19104-6018

Michael Weisberg University of Pennsylvania Department of Philosophy 415 S. University Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19104-6018

Response to open letter dated January 6,2005:

If the level of inquiry supporting your letter is an example of the type of inquiry you make before arriving at scientific conclusions, I suggest that at the very least, your students should get their tuition money back, and more appropriately, the University should fire you as a scientist. It is clear that you do not have the slightest idea of the actual Dover school policy that you so vehemently condemn, and so let me educate you.

You write that the Dover school Board made a decision to “mandate the teaching of ‘intelligent design’ along with evolution.” That statement is untrue; in fact the opposite is the case. The school board policy specifically states: “No teacher will teach Intelligent Design, Creationism, or present his or her, or the Board’s, religious beliefs.”

Moreover, the school board adopted and purchased the biology textbooks for its students that were recommended by the school science teachers and the administration.

Regarding your dispute with the definition of theory, you fail to include the actual definition used in the policy, “A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.” That definition was recommended by the science teachers and adopted by the school board.

Finally, you are under the impression that Dover students will not be taught evolution, Let me disabuse you of that concern. The policy specifically acknowledges that the students must learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and take a standardized test in which evolution is a part. Accordingly, the only theory taught in class is Darwin’s theory of evolution, and the only textbook used in class is the standard text positing this theory.

I notice that your open letter was signed by a member of the Department of Philosophy. What does philosophy have to do with this issue? This issue is not about science versus philosophy; it is about two different interpretations of the same scientific data by scientists. I assume you would agree that the metaphysical implication of Darwin’s theory of evolution has no place in the science classroom. Or perhaps it is for this very reason that you so staunchly and dogmatically defend Darwin and place his theory above all criticism.

In conclusion, the Dover policy merely makes students aware of a growing controversy in the scientific community over the extent to which the theory of evolution can explain complex biological systems. This policy promotes critical thinking, which is important not only for the science profession, but for education in general. Moreover, this policy is in keeping with the Congressional intent behind the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and complements an honest science education.

Various minor facts that Thompson leaves out:

  • The Dover School District ID policy is a hodge-podge of ID-speak and attempts to avoid getting sued over ID by disclaiming religious intent. The courts have been only too happy to declare such cover language as “a sham” in previous creationism cases.
  • Evolution is described as a “Theory…not a fact”, a classic creationist shibboleth. The fact that the teachers attempted to repair the damage (funny that Thompson cites the teachers for support, considering that they just declared an open revolt against the policy) doesn’t change anything. An analogy for how the policy is currently written would be something like this: “Canada is a state, not a real country. A state is a self-governing region with an organized government.”
  • The teachers did recommend, and the school board did purchase, textbooks – Kenneth Miller and Joe Levine’s mainstream biology textbook, Biology. The teachers and many community members opposed Pandas, it was adopted administratively without a board vote after 60 copies were anonymously donated, on the understanding that they would just be reference material, and after the teachers made it clear they wouldn’t use the book except as a doorstop, the school board passed the policy requiring the disclaimer mentioning ID and directing students to Pandas.
  • Thompson tells the philosophers (it wasn’t just one, it was the philosophy department), “I assume you would agree that the metaphysical implication of Darwin’s theory of evolution has no place in the science classroom.” Hmm, I wonder what “the metaphysical implication” of Darwin’s theory is supposed to be? Thompson sure seems certain there is one…perhaps he shares the common creationist/ID misconception that evolution entails atheism?
  • “Growing controversy”…yawn. How many Steves has ID got?
  • And the old Santorum amendment canard – it was removed from the No Child Left Behind Act in the conference committee, and so is not in the bill as passed, conference report language is not definitive, the language is very vague and certainly doesn’t recommend ID like the Dover School District is doing – and the federal government doesn’t legislate curriculum anyway.
  • Speaking of Santorum, it was really subtle of Richard Thompson to say to the UPenn professors, “the University should fire you as a scientist,” considering that Senator Santorum of Pennsylvania is on the board of the Thomas More Law Center. We’ll keep this in mind the next time the Thomas More Law Center raises the banner of censorship, free speech, or academic freedom in defense of ID.

Nick

The Dover policy consists of the following:

Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, Intelligent Design. The Origins of Life is not taught.

That’s hardly a hodge-podge.

The implementation of the policy in its entirety consists of reading aloud the following statement to biology students:

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.

With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments.

The statement took me one minute to read aloud.

.…attempts to avoid getting sued over ID by disclaiming religious intent. The courts have been only too happy to declare such cover language as “a sham” in previous creationism cases.

That is because proto-Nazis/Darwinists like to rule by oligarchy, nothing more.

Notice that the real issue for proto-Nazis is to maintain a sort scholarship denying all spiritual values, not science. It has a “.…weakness.…due not to inferior training but to the mendacity inherent in any scholarship that overlooks or openly repudiated all moral and spiritual values.” (Hitler’s Professors: The Part of Scholarship in Germany’s Crimes Against the Jewish People By Max Weinreich (New York:The Yiddish Scientific Institute, 1946) :7) http://mynym.blogspot.com/2005/01/r[…]visited.html

And if that were really the case then both the Declaration and the Constitution would be “unconstitutional.” It is a contradiction. But that is just the way that the judges of this Republic are these days.

It really is amusing to watch two cranks, DaveScot and mynym, make two distinct but equally “compelling” arguments for teaching creationist horsehockey in public school science classrooms. What a team!

mynym: I might be a little slow, but what are you implying? Are you saying that scientists are elitist Nazi’s? I’m not really following your argument. But I’m just a kid, please articulate your point a little more clearly for me.

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 7, column 178, byte 547 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

mynym: That is because proto-Nazis/Darwinists like to rule by oligarchy, nothing more.

Let me guess: “Just like Jefferson warned us.”

Re mynym: Quote: Notice that the real issue for proto-Nazis is to maintain a sort scholarship denying all spiritual values, not science. It has a “ . …weakness . …due not to inferior training but to the mendacity inherent in any scholarship that overlooks or openly repudiated all moral and spiritual values.” End of quote

The point you are missing is that the issue are not spiritual values. That it is so is the error (and main argument) of the creationists. No one rejects the spiritual values of the bible/qu’ran/etc. along with their respective creation myths. These two things are clearly separated.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on January 8, 2005 11:24 AM.

Albuquerque PBS Station Under Fire by Creationists was the previous entry in this blog.

Wisconsin pastors step up to challenge creationism is the next entry in this blog.

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