Georgia Education on My Mind

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.