Archive for March, 2006

Textbooks changed under pressure

Tuesday, March 14th, 2006

Florida Citizens for Science was under a time crunch to get a letter out to the Brevard County school board about science textbook selections. The letter could have benefitted from another round or two of rewrites, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do to get the letter out in time.

There are five letters to the editor here. As can be expected, some are good and some are wide of the mark. Here are a couple of excerpts from the bad ones:

To teach the theory of evolution as fact, and not even address the possibility of intelligent design or other theories, is another attempt by the liberals in the media to impose their agenda on the American people and our children.

The short two-paragraph reference to life forming under a guiding intelligence only acknowledged the fact that many cultures and world religions hold this belief to be true.

Having these few paragraphs included in the text is not pushing religion on any student studying science.

It is an introduction to a widely held theory that can then be further discussed in social-study classrooms teaching world religions, cultures and philosophies.

Each of those excerpts can be slapped down by pointing out one glaring problem. From a previous post here:

But the issue has crossed into the district, because publishers like Holt have changed textbooks over the years while under pressure from such groups as the Discovery Institute.

Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit agency that has monitored the Texas textbook adoption process for a decade, said Holt kowtowed to conservatives with its Florida biology book.

And here’s a post I compiled a while ago that has a lot of real good information about the whole textbook deal.

A South Florida Sun-Sentinel review of both textbook finalists — Glencoe’s book and Holt’s Holt Biology — found that the publishers had edited explanations of Darwin’s evolution theory under pressure from Christian conservatives.

The publisher caved in to pressure! This is not some “innocuous” cultural reference. This is not a nod of acknowledgement for some new scientific theory bursting onto the scene. Those two paragraphs were “wedged” in there by a group with an agenda. It’s not the liberals trying to impose anything; it’s just the opposite!

I’m wishing that mentioning this fact about the textbook’s history had made it into our letter to the school board. Maybe next time …

Letter to Brevard County school board

Monday, March 13th, 2006

Joe Wolf, president of Florida Citizens for Science, sent the following letter to Brevard County school board members today in reference to yesterday’s post:

Dear (name of School Board Member),

It has recently come to my attention that one of your Board members, Amy Kneessy, has suggested the biology text, “Biology: The Dynamics of Life,” published by Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, for adoption. The book contains an out-of-context reference to divine origins and intelligent design in two paragraphs at the end of a chapter on the history of life. Our group, Florida Citizens for Science (http://www.flascience.org) strongly opposes the adoption of this textbook with those two paragraphs included. “Intelligent Design” is another label for creationist arguments that have been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S Supreme Court (Edwards v. Aguillard, 1987). The notion that these paragraphs put the study in a ’social or historical context’ is absurd and does not shield the school district from previous court rulings.

If you wish to learn more on this subject, I suggest that you read the decision in the US District Court for the Middle District Pennsylvania by Judge John E. Jones III on the Dover PA. School Board case. In his rebuke against the Dover school board, this conservative Republican appointed by President Bush wrote a very complete description of “Intelligent Design” and its legal implications. The text of the decision is available at
http://www2.ncseweb.org/kvd/all_legal/2005-12-20_kitzmiller_decision.pdf. If downloading that text is inconvenient, I am sure the District administration can get you a copy.

Judge Jones ruled that “intelligent design’ is creationism and thus it is unconstitutional to have it included in the classroom. In the aftermath of the trial, all eight school board members up for election were defeated. This also reflects the experience of the community in Darby, MT, whose school board proposed introducing “intelligent design” into the science curriculum. The primary difference between Dover and Darby was that in Darby, the election occurred before the policy could be implemented; the school board members in favor of the “intelligent design” policy were defeated.

In the Dover case, the school board ignored the advice of its counsel and proceeded with their “intelligent design” policy. By choosing outside counsel to represent the school district, the Dover school board lost any insurance coverage they might have had, exposing the school district to a significant liability. In fact, the plaintiffs’ legal team submitted a bill for $2.5 million dollars, which was reduced in negotiation with the new school board to an even $1 million dollars. Proceeding with policies to advocate creationist argument in school classrooms is both irresponsible and ill-advised.

“Intelligent design” and other labels for creationist arguments, such as “teach the controversy”, are an establishment of religion. The arguments themselves are anti-science, and foster misapprehensions of what the scientific method is and a mistrust of scientists and the results of scientific investigation. They have no positive effect on pedagogy, so there can be no successful claim that their instruction meets a secular purpose.

Science and faith are not incompatible. This is perhaps best shown by the over-10,000 U.S. clergy who have signed the internet Clergy Letter Project. These clergy of many faiths and denominations have signed a letter stating that science and faith are compatible, and teaching science effectively is in our best interests. The letter itself is too long to include here but can be found at http://www.uwosh.edu/colleges/cols/religion_science_collaboration.htm.

Sincerely

Joseph Wolf
President
Florida Citizens for Science

Textbook debate still evolving

Sunday, March 12th, 2006

Folks in Brevard County need keep an eye on this textbook issue. It’s not a done deal yet as school board member Amy Kneessy makes clear.

Textbook debate still evolving

Brevard County School Board member Amy Kneessy wants the school district to adopt a biology textbook that includes passages on divine creation and intelligent design, going against a district committee’s unanimous recommendation.

“It’s so innocuous,” she said of the text. “To me, those two paragraphs belong there.”

The school board is scheduled to vote Tuesday to adopt new elementary and secondary science textbooks, which were recommended by a committee of teachers, administrators and parents who spent months reviewing dozens of state-approved books.

But Kneessy said choosing curriculum and textbooks are among board members’ top responsibilities.

She thinks the passages in question simply provide cultural context, integrating social studies and science without promoting alternatives to evolution. Her position doesn’t go as far as recommending that Biblical creation or intelligent design be taught, she said.

“We need to stop being so hypersensitive about this subject,” she said. “We’re making the subject taboo, and I think that’s wrong.”

Here is Kneessy’s information should you wish to express your concern about her comments.

DISTRICT 3 — Amy Kneessy — (2004-2008)
285 Satellite Avenue, Satellite Beach, FL 32937
779-8198/631-1911 ext. 412
kneessya@brevard.k12.fl.us