Recently in Assault on Education Category

I do not know whether Cope will turn out to be the mouse that roared or the Energizer bunny – or maybe Don Quixote – but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments the other day in Cope’s appeal of a ruling in favor of the Kansas State Board of Education. I am inclined toward the Energizer bunny, but the Appeals Court rejected Cope’s attempt to file a surreply, which I gather is sort of a reply to a rejoinder to a response and is generally prohibited. At any rate, the lawsuit against the Kansas State Board of Education (hereinafter, as your lawyer might say, Kansas) was dismissed in December of last year.

PT first reported on Cope here; you may learn more about them here. According to Charity Navigator, their annual income is less than $50,000 per year, so they do not have to file Form 990 with the IRS. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State quoted Steven Case, director of the science center at the University of Kansas, to the effect that their lawsuit was “about as frivolous as lawsuits get.” Evidently, the Judge, Daniel D. Crabtree, agreed; he dismissed the case in large part because the plaintiffs (Cope and a number of others including parents of children in Kansas schools) lacked standing. You may find the documents in the case here.

Standing seems like a concept that only a lawyer could love, but all it says is that you have to be harmed or imminently harmed in order to sue someone (“injury in fact”). Additionally, if you are harmed, you must sue the entity who harmed you, not a third party. And finally (a new one to me), the harm that was done to you must be redressable by a favorable decision by the Court. Taxpayers, not incidentally, do not have standing to sue a government agency merely because they are taxpayers.

Cope, chugging along tirelessly, appealed Judge Crabtree’s ruling in March of this year, and Kansas replied in June. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments last Wednesday morning, so I hopped on a bus and went down to Denver. To no one’s surprise, John Calvert represented Cope. Kansas was represented by Dwight Carswell, an assistant solicitor general for Kansas. I frankly thought that Calvert was somewhat more effective in his presentation than Carswell.

The discussion centered largely on the harm that may have been done to the plaintiffs. Much of the Judges’ questioning concerned the fact that the standards (Next Generation Science Standards) adopted by Kansas are only advisory, and local school districts are not required to adopt them. Indeed, school districts are required to teach science, but not instructed how to do so. The Judges questioned Carswell closely on the content of Kansas law and the discretion of local school boards on implementing standards adopted by the State Board of Education. Additionally, no evidence has been presented to suggest that any school district has adopted the standards, nor that any plaintiff has been harmed by the standards. I think one of the Judges remarked that the school teaches children, and the children are not the plaintiffs. On another occasion, a Judge rhetorically asked Calvert whether he had jumped the gun, filing his lawsuit before any district had actually adopted the standards. Calvert was also asked why he sued Kansas and not a school district. What precisely does he want the Court to enjoin?

Calvert argued that the NGSS adopted by Kansas establish a religious preference - a nontheistic religious worldview - because they support methodological naturalism, which he described as an orthodoxy. He further opined that “origins science” should not be taught at all to children in K-8, because they are too young to engage in such discussions, which Cope considers to be inherently religious. Asked whether he would be satisfied with a clause requiring creationism to be taught in addition, Calvert replied, “No,” and argued that an objective view of science that included “critical thinking” and provided alternatives to methodological naturalism would suffice.

Other questions posed to Calvert: What is the injury in fact? Is a nontheistic religious worldview really being taught? Where do we find methodological naturalism in the standards? Do not local school districts have discretion whether to adopt the standards? What areas of Kansas law are pertinent? Precisely what do you want us to enjoin? Would you be satisfied with a declaratory judgment?

Carswell, who was somewhat hard to understand, was asked what normative standard the NGSS might establish. Asked whether the law precluded alternate theories, he responded that the law recognized that the curriculum may be extended and school districts may teach alternative scientific theories. Asked whether any districts had actually implemented the NGSS, Carswell responded that he did not know of any. There was also some discussion about whether (presuming that harm had in fact been done) a declaratory judgment would redress that harm.

Other questions posed to Carswell: Why do we have standards if districts have discretion about them? Is not this whole case speculative because NGSS has not been implemented? Does not injury depend on actual implementation of the standards, as opposed to their adoption?

After the hearing, I met Clare Leonard, an education activist and fellow Colorado Citizens for Science member, in the hall. Calvert was holding, um, court surrounded by a half-dozen or more of his minions. If the decision is based on acting ability, Calvert wins. But I had the impression that the Court was much more skeptical of his position than of Carswell’s, particularly of his claim that there was an injury in fact.

Cope takes the position that science is a religion. They may be tilting at windmills; but they can still do real damage.

Acknowledgments. Thanks to Glenn Branch for inciting this whole expedition; to Deanna Young and Clare Leonard for pertinent discussion following the hearing; to Clare Leonard for the coffee; and to all three for numerous emendations, including many of the questions posed by the Court..

… because it (gasp!) uses the word, “abortion.” But wait – there is a glimmer of hope: The new superintendent, who was ordered to offer a plan for redacting the textbooks, says that the books comply with the law already and instead plans to hold a public discussion.

Meanwhile, as a service to the affected high-school students, Rachel Maddow has posted the offending page on a blog,, which her show apparently owns. If you are curious or have a prurient interest, you may also see the verso of The Page, as well as several other pages on human reproduction.

For the record, the book is Reece, et al., Biology: Concepts and Connections.

NCSE webinar, “Talking to the media about science education,” tomorrow, February 27, at 11:00 PST. You may register here or view the webinar, along with earlier webinars, here.

According to NCSE’s announcement,

The panel will include: Robert Luhn, Director of Communications for NCSE; Liz Craig, a freelance writer and board member with Kansas Citizens for Science, and David Wescott, director of digital strategy at APCO Worldwide. Luhn leads NCSE’s media outreach efforts, and has been a journalist for 40 years for technology, environmental, and medical publications. Craig led KCFS’s media strategy through the 1999 and 2005 battles over creationism before the state board of education and is a freelance writer covering a range of topics. Wescott, formerly a staffer for Sen. Kennedy, develops and implements online outreach strategies on topics including education, science, and the environment for an international clientele. Moderator Josh Rosenau is a programs and policy director at NCSE.

By Josh Rosenau.

Reposted from NCSE’s Science League of America blog.

Crystal Disco. ballA Crystal disco ball to celebrate the crystal anniversary of the Disco. ‘tute’s entry into the creationism business.

Fifteen years ago yesterday, a mail clerk in Seattle was handed a document to copy. As the Seattle Weekly reported, the packet was labeled “TOP SECRET” and “NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION,” and the cover sported an Illuminati-esque triangular design and a copy of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam.” The title: “The Wedge”; the author: a newly-created division of the conservative Discovery Institute, the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (CRSC). Later, the Center would drop “renewal” from its title to escape the religious reference, and also switched its logo from the Creation of Adam to a picture of God creating DNA, then to a more secular galactic nebula, and now a mashup of Leonardo’s Vitruvian man and a DNA strand.

The Wedge Document, as the packet came to be known, laid out a bold plan by which the Center would “re-open the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature,” and “reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” From its first sentence, the document proclaimed its sectarian goals, stating: “The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.”

That is the title of a Slate article by Zack Kopplin. But actually it is much worse (see also NCSE’s take here). Here are the first 3 paragraphs of Kopplin’s article.

NCSE has just announced the second webinar in its ongoing series, to be held on December 18, 2013, at 1:00 p.m. PST. The webinar will focus on “[s]topping bad legislation and encouraging policymakers to support strong science education…,” according to NCSE.

The webinar will be led by Josh Rosenau, Programs and Policy Director for NCSE; Vic Hutchison, professor emeritus at the University of Oklahoma, and founder and past president of Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education; and Dena Sher, legislative counsel at the ACLU’s national office. You may register for the webinar here.

We reported on NCSE’s earlier webinar here.

The National Center for Science Education has just announced a webinar on what to do when science comes under attack. Details below the fold.

Creationists sue Kansas over Next Generation Science Standards


Most PT readers doubtless already know that an organization called “Citizens for Objective Public Education” (COPE) has sued a range of Kansas defendants (PDF of complaint), including the Kansas State Board of Education, alleging that the Next Generation Science Standards are unconstitutional, in that they “…will have the effect of causing Kansas public schools to establish and endorse a non-theistic religious worldview … in violation of the Establishment, Free Exercise, and Speech Clauses of the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment” (pp. 1-2)” (quoted in the NCSE article linked below).

NCSE has the full story here. I note with parochial interest that Robert Lattimer, a chemist, is involved in COPE. Lattimer was a leading light in SEAO, the American Family Association project to shove intelligent design creationism into the Ohio science standards in the early 2000’s.

Discovery Institute still spinning Bryan Leonard


Long-time readers of PT will recall the Bryan Leonard affair in Ohio. Now Casey Luskin harks back to that to criticize one of the Ohio State professors who called attention to anomalies in Leonard’s quest for a Ph.D. in science education from the Ohio State University.

To recap, in 2005 I wrote

Bryan Leonard is a recently visible figure in the intelligent design creationism movement. Leonard is a high school biology teacher at Hilliard Davidson High School in a suburb of Columbus. As an appointee to the Ohio State BOE’s model curriculum-writing committee, he was the author of the IDC-oriented “Critical Analysis” model lesson plan adopted by the Ohio State Board of Education last year, and he recently testified at the Kansas Creationist Kangaroo Court hearings. The credential that endears him to the IDC movement is that he is a doctoral candidate in science education at the Ohio State University, and his dissertation research is on the academic merits of an ID-based “critical analysis” approach to teaching evolution in public schools.

Leonard was scheduled to defend his dissertation yesterday, June 6, but we learned late last week that his defense has been postponed.

Briefly, the composition of Leonard’s committee did not meet the requirements of the program from which he sought the degree, and further, there was no indication that he had sought or received Institutional Review Board or parental permission to conduct his research, using misleading material about evolution, on public school students. As I wrote in 2005,

Leonard’s final dissertation committee did not meet those requirements. It was composed of his advisor, Paul Post from the technology education program area of the section for Math, Science and Technology; Glen R. Needham of the Department of Entomology in the College of Biological Sciences; and Robert DiSilvestro of the Department of Human Nutrition in the College of Human Ecology. For the final defense an Assistant Professor from the department of French & Italian in the College of Humanities was also assigned to the committee to monitor the procedure. Thus, there were no members from the science education program area on Leonard’s final dissertation committee.

That lack was pointed out to the University by three senior members of the University’s graduate faculty, evolutionary biologist Steve Rissing, paleoanthropologist Jeff McKee, and mathematician Brian McEnnis, in a letter to the appropriate administrators of OSU. (Full disclosure: all three are friends of mine.) All three were (and still are) full professors on the OSU graduate faculty. Excerpts from that letter are quoted in an excellent summary in the OSU newspaper.

It’s all about the science, right?


John (catshark) Pieret analyzes profiles of attendees at the Disco ‘Tute’s summer “institute” on intelligent design. While the program is explicitly aimed at students so as to “…prepare students to make research contributions advancing the growing science of intelligent design (ID)”), at least some of the attendees are already active teachers in public schools. I remember Bill Dembski arguing for the recruitment of high school students 12 years ago on ARN somewhere; see here for a quotation from a now-dead link. The full profiles are here, in a religious publication. The comments there are fascinating. It’s all about the science, right?

That is the headline of a press release printed unedited in the Sacramento Bee. The movie, by Ray Comfort of banana fame, is an excruciating 35 minutes of quote-mined sound bites, mostly from undergraduate science majors, but also from PZ Myers and a handful of other scientists (Gail Kennedy, Craig Stanford, and Peter Nonacs).

It’s bad enough that Kentucky has the Ark Park, but also subsidizes it - now its residents are complaining about the Next Generation Science Standards. The headline of the Courier-Journal article is “Critics: Kentucky science academic standards are ‘fascist,’ ‘atheistic,’” but that does not do justice to the sheer lunacy of some of the comments quoted in the article.

Here are two excerpts:

Freshwater: Still waiting for the Ohio Supreme Court


John Freshwater’s appeal of his termination as a middle school science teacher in the Mt. Vernon, Ohio, public schools is still hanging fire in the Ohio Supreme Court. Decisions normally are promulgated between three and six months following oral arguments, and it’s been four months since the February 27, 2013, arguments in this case. The Mount Vernon News had a story on it last week.

More below the fold.

Under the heading Creationism Follies, Heather L. Weaver, an ACLU staffer, recalls the infamous fourth-grade science quiz that we described here on May 1. Being an ACLU staffer, Weaver notes that “religious schools are well within their First Amendment rights to indoctrinate students in this manner.” Not being an ACLU staffer, I note that they may have a legal right to teach students any kind of garbage that they like, but they have no intellectual right to do so, and schools that teach creationism as if it were truly science should lose their accreditation. Indeed, recent court decisions have upheld the University of California’s right to require remedial courses for students who have been miseducated at religious high schools.

But what about the public schools? Weaver outlines what she calls “just a few examples of creationism advocates working their influence in the public schools during the 2012-2013 school year”:

Things To Do This Weekend


zacknote.jpg As a public service, here are a few suggestions on how to entertain yourself this weekend, and support science education at the same time! If you are in the New Mexico area, come out the the annual meeting of the Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education (CESE), which is hosting Louisiana’s spunky young Zack Kopplin (now a student at Rice in Houston). Time: 1:00 PM Saturday, June 29th. Place: Room 122, Northrop Hall, on the UNM campus. There is a map and a flyer. Zack’s topic is “Why we need a Second Giant Leap.”

Secondly, you can act on Genie Scott’s suggestion to support the excellent indie film “The Revisionaries” by voting for it at the PBS website. Genie writes “I know which one I’m voting for: The Revisionaries – the film about Don McLeroy and the Texas Board of Education. I give it 5 stars. It’s so well done and deserves to win.” Vote here.

Finally, here’s a petition at the White House to Ban Creationism and Intelligent Design in the science classroom as federal law. As my cousin wrote me offline, there’s a fat chance such a law will ever pass, but if the petition gets 100,000 signatures, Obama will have to publically address the request.It’s about a third of the way there, but the July 15th deadline looms. If you’re so inclined, add your voice to the petition here

Died in committee


According to NCSE’s scorecard, that is what happened to most of 10 anti-science bills introduced in state legislatures. Most of the bills used the now traditional “strengths and weaknesses” or “academic freedom” ploys, but some would have allowed “teachers to ‘intelligently explore’ controversies and help wayward students ‘develop critical thinking skills,’” as NCSE puts it. Four bills attacked climate change in addition to evolution. None of the bills was enacted into law. Unfortunately, a bill to repeal the “notorious” Louisiana Science Education Act also failed.

The Times last week ran an article on the implementation of school vouchers in a number of states. My concern here is that the vouchers may be applied to religious schools and possibly home schools that have little oversight.

My Freshwater analysis is a few days out there.

A brief note to let readers know that my analysis of the oral arguments before the Ohio Supreme Court will be up in a couple of days. I have some background material coming from outsiders that’s yet to arrive, and my tomorrow is almost fully booked already. So: Friday at the earliest, and possibly Saturday.

Updated: Freshwater: Ohio Supreme Court oral arguments next week


UPDATE: Video of the oral arguments is now up.

Oral arguments before the Ohio Supreme Court on the termination of John Freshwater’s contract as a middle school science teacher in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, are scheduled for the morning of Wednesday, February 27. Freshwater’s case is second on the schedule. Fifteen minutes of oral arguments are allotted to each side in each case, and I don’t know how long the break between cases is, so Freshwater’s case will be heard sometime after 0930 EST (1430 UT). Oral arguments will be live streamed on The Ohio Channel, and I was told by an administrator at the Court that video of the arguments should be archived at the same site that evening.

The documents in the Court’s review are here. The core documents are Freshwater’s Merit Brief (PDF here) and the District’s Merit Brief (PDF here). In addition, Steve and Jenifer Dennis, the National Center for Science Education, the Secular Student Alliance, the American Humanist Association, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have filed amicus curiae briefs, all available at the general documents link above.

Recall that two lower courts, the Knox County Court of Common Pleas and the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals, both ruled against Freshwater. I still have no idea why the Ohio Supreme Court accepted the case for review, particularly in view of the bait and switch Freshwater’s attorneys pulled on the Court.

I suggest that interested folks preview a couple of the archived oral argument videos to get a feel for how the Court operates. In general, attorneys for both sides get to start their presentations but are rather quickly interrupted by questions from members of the Court.

Montana Creationism Bill: dead in committee(?)


As Matt noted above, one of the creationist so-called “academic freedom” bills was filed in the Montana state legislature. Now the Sensuous Curmudgeon reports that the bill has been tabled in committee, whatever that means. In that post SC also has a video of some of the testimony at the committee hearing on the bill, noting that the proposer, Representative Clayton Fiscus, was the only speaker in support while a couple of dozen professors, teachers, and citizens testified in opposition. It’s worth watching both for the testimony in opposition and for the almost sad ignorance and confusion of Representative Fiscus. I genuinely wonder how he navigates through life given his evident inability to think coherently. if he’s the best the Disco Tute can come up with to sponsor their bills, they’re in deeper trouble than I thought.

That video is edited from the full hearing, and another set of excerpts consisting mostly of speakers’ identifications is on NCSE’s YouTube channel. It does not include Representative Fiscus’ remarks. I wouldn’t be surprised if video of the full hearing including all testimony is somewhere, but I haven’t looked for it.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Assault on Education category.

Improving science education is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.381

Site Meter