Georgia Education on My Mind

| 18 Comments

I am in the process of leaving Georgia, but Georgia will never leave me. I feel that my time working on science activism with Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education (GCISE) has benefited my state. It was through our efforts that the press learned what was being done to our science standards by the Georgia Department of Education (GADOE), and that the GADOE was lying about it. (My op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was the first to bring it to light.) Because of GCISE’s vigilance, public outcry forced the GADOE to pass standards with descent support for evolution.

Over a year or so ago, a teacher came to us at GCISE, asking for help. Her administrators were trying to force her to compromise her teaching, and she was standing up to them. We provided what support we could, but in the end her best support came from the state standards. Now that she has retired, the NY Times is telling her story: Evolution’s Lonely Battle in a Georgia Classroom.

Ms. New was summoned to a meeting with the superintendent, Dewey Moye, as well as the principal and two parents upset about her teaching evolution. “We have to let parents ask questions,” Mr. Moye told her. “It’s a public school. In a democracy people can ask questions.”

Ms. New said the parents, “badgered, got loud and sarcastic and there was no support from administrators.”

Babs Greene, another administrator, “asked if I was almost finished teaching evolution,” Ms. New recalled. “I explained to her again that it is a unifying concept in life science. It is in every unit I teach. There was a big sigh.”

“I thought I was going crazy,” said Ms. New, who has won several outstanding teacher awards and is one of only two teachers at her school with national board certification. The other is her husband, Ward.

“It takes a lot to stand up and be willing to have people angry at you,” she said. But Ms. New did. She repeatedly urged her supervisors to read Georgia’s science standards, particularly S7L5, which calls for teaching evolution. …

Suddenly the superintendent was focused on standards. Mr. Moye called the state department’s middle school science supervisor and asked about evolution. “Obviously the State Department of Education supports evolution,” Mr. Moye said in an interview. …

Ms. New said that from then on, including the entire 2005-06 school year, she had no problem teaching evolution. “What saved me, was I didn’t have to argue evolution with these people. All I had to say was, ‘I’m following state standards.’ “

This is why strong science standards are so important for overwhelmed teachers. They give teachers an easy way to resolve curriculum issues in their favor. Of course, in an ideal world all teachers would have the time and patience to teach their parents and administrators about evolution. However, teachers will be the first to tell you that the world is not ideal.

I am glad that I was a part of the campaign to improve Georgia’s standards. And I hope that you will get involved in your state.

18 Comments

Thanks for this post. It really drives home the importance of good published standards. If teachers are challenged, they MUST have these to support them.

From the article Wrote:

Mr. Moye called the state department’s middle school science supervisor and asked about evolution. “Obviously the State Department of Education supports evolution,” Mr. Moye said in an interview.

Obviously? So why call? “I wanted to be sure,” he said. “Let’s make sure what these standards are.”

It sounds like the superintendent didn’t trust the teacher on what the standards were. I’m glad it all got settled.

I had to crack up at the “In a democracy people can ask questions” plea. I’ve seen that ruse myself, and it’s very frustrating because they’re so sincere. It doesnn’t matter that the same questions have been asked and answered dozens of times–they’re just as sincere and earnest the 110th time as they are the first time they ask it. The oppressed skeptic routine is strangely effective, considering everyone knows that their “skepticism” is only a stepwise process towards banning the teaching of evolution and supplanting it with the literal reading of Genesis. But we have a culturally ingrained sense of fairness, so it tugs at our heartstrings when they appeal to the pluralistic, open-minded values that they don’t actually share. If you’re a student of propaganda, the movement is really quite interesting, because they’re effectively using the values of pluralism in an attempt to undermine a pluralistic society.

I really like the analogy I’ve seen between the creationist/ID movement and DDOS attacks. They’ll overwhelm a person with the same arguments again and again and again, and eventually people get tired of explaining the same thing over and over. When people throw up their hands and say “you can’t be reached!” the ID/creationist crowd has effectively scored a point, at least within their own camp. They fall back on the “well, I just have some questions, but if you can’t answer them, I guess you want me to believe you on faith…” etc. They can swamp everyone’s attention with BS arguments, just like the DDOS attack swamps a server with meaningless requests.

Some thoughts from a home grown Georgia boy.

The truly frightening thing is it was just two years ago that the state school superintendant wanted to remove evolution as a standard. If it hadn’t been for the howls of outrage by reasonable people, it might have happened. A good example of why people must never rest in the local and state battles. That’s where the war is won.

I am glad that I was a part of the campaign to improve Georgia’s standards. And I hope that you will get involved in your state.

Now you carry on in another state as a post doc in a comfy condo.

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

Reed wrote

This is why strong science standards are so important for overwhelmed teachers. They give teachers an easy way to resolve curriculum issues in their favor. Of course, in an ideal world all teachers would have the time and patience to teach their parents and administrators about evolution. However, teachers will be the first to tell you that the world is not ideal.

This is also why ID creationists, led by the Disco Institute, mount such desperate attacks on state standards, and why the “critical analysis of evolution” language is a Trojan Horse for evolution denial. If they can corrupt the state standards they give license to local boards and administrations to teach creationist crap and weaken the efforts to stop that at local levels.

It’s also the basis for my “Dover trap” phrase. State boards and State Departments of Education are not vulnerable to Establishment clause suits, but local districts like that Ms. New taught in are vulnerable. State Board members, Like Father Michael Cochran of Ohio, can say “So sue us!” with impunity – he has state money behind him, and he can argue that corrupted model curricula are not required of local districts but are merely guidelines. But my local district, where the board was urged to “teach God’s truth!”, is vulnerable on those grounds, as Dover’s district was. By opening that door, the Disco Institute and its thought leaders on State Boards are cynically inviting local districts to put their feet (and finances) into that trap.

RBH

“Descent support for evolution?” Freudian slip? :)

The NY Times piece picks up on a theme that needs to be pounded again and again. State science standards are very important, but the battle does not stop there. We cannot simply declare victory and retire to our labs after having successfully maintained the standards and defeated attempts to legislate the teaching of creation (or undermine the teaching of evolution). The defeat of legislative attempts to ban or undermine evolution does not mean that evolution will be taught. Many teachers who might be inclined to teach evolution are under constant pressure from parents and administrators to avoid it, and the fear of loosing one’s job is enough to force most people to comply. The result is that evolution is too often not taught, and that science education in general suffers. We need more people like this to stand up and use the standards to defend themselves against this type of harassment.

My dad was a biology teacher for a Jr. High in TX. He quit teaching Biology for the sole reason that he would get harrassed by angry parents. He’s very non-confrontational, so his passive agressive revenge was to allow those students to get a subpar education by resigning his position.

I’m in Apex, N.C. now and I think my state is doing OK. My son starts public school next year, so I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out. I’m already worried due to a conversation I had with a local “Dinosaur Man” who told me that he is a regular speaker to the science classes here. He said that the school only has two rules for him. He’s not allowed to mention 65 million years, and he can’t say the “E” word.

griftdrift Wrote:

The truly frightening thing is it was just two years ago that the state school superintendant wanted to remove evolution as a standard. If it hadn’t been for the howls of outrage by reasonable people, it might have happened.

Well if the DI truly wants students to learn evolution plus the (phony) “critical analysis,” as opposed to not learning evolution, as they claim, then they too should have contributed to the “howls of outrage.” Anyone know if they did?

I don’t understand how one could feasibly conduct a biology class without mention of evolution. Every single facet of biology can only be understood contextually in the light of common descent and natural selection. The rest is simply listing the properties of certain organisms without any mind to how and why they have those properties.

I congratulate the patience of the teacher mentioned in this article. My first reaction would simply have been to state “this is demonstrably the truth, to believe otherwise is rank ignorance, and I’m going to teach what’s right. That’s the end of it.” It wouldn’t win any friends but perhaps that’s the problem - we’re encouraging them to think there’s an actual debate to be had.

She isn’t sure how many questioned her teaching of evolution — perhaps a dozen parents, teachers and administrators and several students in her seventh-grade life science class. They sent e-mail messages and letters, stopped her in the hall, called board members, demanded meetings, requested copies of the PBS videos that she showed in class. …

Ms. New said the parents, “badgered, got loud and sarcastic and there was no support from administrators.”

I wonder when the Discovery Institute will decry this overwhelming persecution?

I’m in Apex, N.C. now and I think my state is doing OK.

Greetings from Durham.

Reed, Who-ever-it-was said that “All Politics is local,” and there is no question that your efforts have been of great help to Georgia students.

I only spent a handfull of years teaching in Georgia, and I am still trying to expunge the experience.

Best of luck.

Many teachers who might be inclined to teach evolution are under constant pressure from parents and administrators to avoid it, and the fear of loosing one’s job is enough to force most people to comply. The result is that evolution is too often not taught, and that science education in general suffers. We need more people like this to stand up and use the standards to defend themselves against this type of harassment.

We need to sue the bastards. Standards or no standards, it’s illegal under Supreme Court rulings to drop (or water down) evolution out of deference to parent’s religious objections, or “home teachings”, or “social controversy” or whatever the heck else they want to call it).

quote - “I don’t understand how one could feasibly conduct a biology class without mention of evolution. Every single facet of biology can only be understood contextually in the light of common descent and natural selection. The rest is simply listing the properties of certain organisms without any mind to how and why they have those properties” ———————————–

That’s exactly what they do–just give a bunch of factoids and test on them later. Dissect a frog, do a few other experiments and such, and teach/test on a lot of factoids, and you can get through an entire year without mentioning common descent, the mechanisms that drive genetic diversity, or the vast spans of time in which life has been able to evolve into the diversity we see around us. It’s not as if the students are, in general, overwhelmed with thriving intellectual curiosity. The ones who DO want to know can be given literature on the side, and the creationists won’t be upset because they won’t know about it, and it won’t be on the test. I’m not sure how else you could teach anything in a nation dominated so heavily by religious fundamentalists.

I can’t figure out the KwickXML thing. Sorry. Keeps giving me “mismatched tag” or some such error.

I was that teacher in Mike Winerip’s New York Times article. I can’t thank the Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Edcuation enough for, first of all, their fight to make sure evolution was in the Georgia science standards and, second of all, for their support when I was in the middle of fighting my administrators and parents over my teaching those standards. Having those standards in place was the reason I decided to take the stand in the first place. I knew that, finally, I could teach evolution the way it was supposed to be taught, as the backbone of life science. Thank you, all of you who fought that fight.

Pat New

Thanks Pat for the comment. I’ve posted it on the first page.

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This page contains a single entry by Reed A. Cartwright published on June 28, 2006 2:00 PM.

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