Dover Dithers Over Donations


Lenny Flank is a long-time activist for science education. While Lenny has been a participant in many online fora and owns the Yahoo “DebunkCreation” group, Lenny is not “just talk”. His group’s most recent action was to send a box of books as a donation to the Dover, Pennsylvania High School Library. This has opened a new chapter in the ongoing struggle in Dover over the inclusion of “intelligent design” in the high school science curriculum.

The Dover Area School District is reviewing science books donated by an anti-creationism group to determine whether to add the books to its library.

A group called DebunkCreation in St. Petersburg, Fla., donated 23 books of various scientific interests to the high school’s library. Supt. Richard Nilsen said the books will have to be reviewed either by the board’s curriculum committee, the administration, library personnel or a combination of those groups to ensure the books are educationally appropriate.

Some of the books are written by noted scientists, including Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins. All support scientific methods and theories that include Darwin’s theories of evolution.

Lenny Flank, who founded DebunkCreation in 1989, said the donations were made in an effort to “increase knowledge and decrease ignorance.”

York Daily Record, 2005/03/20, “Dover to review donated books”

While Joseph Maldonado’s YDR article is informative, it doesn’t list the books, so I asked Lenny which books the “DebunkCreation” group had sent. He graciously sent me the list, his correspondence with Dover officials, and permission to post it all.

Here’s the list of donated books:

That’s a tidy package of material, but I’d have added two other books to the collection: Why Intelligent Design Fails and Creationism’s Trojan Horse. The first details for the lay audience why the various claims of the “intelligent design” advocates don’t measure up to the standards of science, and the second documents the socio-political basis of the “intelligent design” movement. Pennock’s books in the above list are a start, but these two provide the finish.

Dear Mr Nilsen:

Our UPS records indicate that our recent donation of 23 science books for the High School Library was recieved and signed for by a member of the staff at 10:26 am on Monday, March 7. We are happy that our donation has arrived safe and sound.

Recent press information suggests that the decision as to accepting the donation will be made by either the School Board or by the School Superintendant. We would like to inquire as to the time frame within which we can expect this decision to be made, and also what opportunity will be presented for any public input from the community about this decision.

Since the school district has made clear that its sole interest is in teaching ALL sides of the controversy, and not in advancing or favoring any particular viewpoint, I am quite sure that you will agree with us that students should be given access to information on the ENTIRE controversy, including information conerning not only evolutionary biology and other areas of science, but information on the large number of scientific, legal, political, and other criticisms of intelligent design theory and its aims and motives. We are therefore very happy to have the opportunity to help you provide this sort of information to your students, and, in light of recent financial difficulties faced by the library, we are especially glad that we are able to do this without incurring any cost whatsoever to the district.

The books we have donated were written by some of the best scientists and science writers of modern times, and many of these books have spent time on the best-seller lists. All have been the subject of praise and recommendation from literary reviewers as well as scientists and educators.

We hope your students will find them useful and informative.

Lenny Flank, List Owner

Dear Ms Harkins:


I am the founder of the DebunkCreation email list at yahoogroups which recently donated 23 science books to the Dover Senior High School Library.

In a recent York Dispatch article about the donation, I found this statement:

“Board president Sheila Harkins said the board’s curriculum committee will review this donation the same as it did the “Pandas” donation.”

This doesn’t sound quite right to me . . . . “Pandas” was donated specifically to be used as a “supplemental text” in the CLASSROOM, and they specifically did not WANT it to be in the library. Our books, by contrast, were donated to the LIBRARY, and are NOT intended for classroom use or as any sort of “supplemental text” for the curriculum. My understanding is that the school board does not have to approve materials donated to the LIBRARY, particularly if they do not involve any district funds, and former board members have confirmed to me that they cannot find any board policies or procedures that would require approval from the board or the curriculum committee for a donation made to the school library.

Can you please point out which specific board policy is being followed by the board, in referring our donation to the curriculum committee?

I am also a little bit mystified by a statement attributed to you in the Dispatch article, to the effect that the books we donated may be “too academically advanced” for students. I would like to point out that these are not textbooks; they are popular works written specifically for a general public audience of non-scientists, and most of these books spent several months on the NY Times best-seller list. I am of course quite sure that you are NOT suggesting that students at Dover Senior High School do not have the education level for reading skills necessary to read and understand some of the best-selling books written in the past ten years, by some of the best science writers in the world, including Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould.

I look forward to clarification from you regarding these questions.

Thanks. :>

Lenny Flank, List Owner

And here is the letter I just sent today, in response to statements in the latest news article:

Dear Ms Harkins:

I am the founder of the DebunkCreation email list which recently donated 23 science books to the Dover Senior High Library.

Statements attributed to you in a recent York Daily Record article have not answered any of the questions I have asked you previously regarding our donation, and have indeed raised some new questions I would like to ask.

In the Daily Record article, you are quoted as saying:

“But Harkins said Friday she would never challenge a donated book based on whether she thought it was too difficult for students. “What I said was that I want to ensure that the books are academically appropriate,” Harkins said.”

However, In an earlier York Dispatch article regarding the donation, you are quoted as saying, “She said the committee doesn’t have set criteria that it looks for acceptable books, but it will make sure they are not “advanced academically beyond anyone’s comprehension.”

It certainly sounds to ME as if “beyond anyone’s comprehension” refers directly to “too difficult for students”. The Daily Record article then goes on to quote Mr Nilsen as saying:

” Nilsen and Harkins said Dover students are among the smartest anywhere and that “educational appropriateness” has nothing to do with student comprehension.”

I am a little confused; first you say you want to review the books to make sure they are not “academically advanced beyond anyone’s comprehension”; NOW you are saying that your review “has nothing to do with student comprehension”. . . . . .

You would seem to be directly contradicting yourself. Would you mind clarifying this for me, please? What exactly ARE the criteria under which the books will be “reviewed”? They seem to be changing from week to week.

I also note with curiosity this statement:

“Nilsen said Friday that the books had to be reviewed to determine their “educational appropriateness” and to make sure they’re scientifically accurate.”

“Scientifically accurate”? These books were written by some of the best scientists in the world. Is the board seriously suggesting that science works by such people as Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould are NOT “scientifically accurate? Who do you plan to ask to review the books for “scientific accuracy”? The Thomas More Law Center?

I am also concerned because I have STILL not received any explanation from you about who exactly will be “reviewing” the donation. Despite requests, I have STILL not received any explanation from you as to why the curriculum committee needs to be involved in a library donation, and I STILL have not received any reference to which board policies or procedures you are following regarding this donation.

Quite frankly, the impression I have gotten from you so far is that you simply don’t like the books we have donated because they directly challenge your pet ID “theory”, that you want your pet ID “theory” to be protected from criticism, that you are not at all interested in teaching ALL SIDES of the “controversy”, and that you are simply fishing around for a half-convincing reason to reject the donated books.

I hope that impression is wrong.

I am cc’ing this letter to the press, and give them full permission to quote any or all of it in any articles they do.

Lenny Flank, List Owner,

Lenny also provided information for people to contact the York papers for submitting letters to the editor. The York Daily Record has a form for this purpose, and the York Dispatch accepts submissions emailed to B. Parkinson.

Lenny made some excellent points in his letters. It will be interesting to see whether the school district goes for hypocrisy or admits Lenny’s donation.