Teachers Be Warned

And Public School Administrators, too.

There is a message being sent out, by the Discovery Institute (a non profit creationist ‘think’ tank) encouraging creationist students and teachers to “Suit Up, Sign Up, Show UP, Act Up and Start Up” (whatever that all means) on February 12, which of course, is Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday.

As my friend and colleague Mike Haubrich says, “Fight for your right to be ignorant!”

The Discovery Institute is, obnoxiously, calling Darwin’s Birthday “Academic Freedom Day,” and encouraging a general uprising in life science classes throughout the country.

Here is what the academic freedom day web site says:

On Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday (February 12th, 2009), students everywhere can speak out against censorship and stand up for free speech by defending the right to debate the evidence for and against evolution. In 2009, let’s make “Darwin Day” Academic Freedom Day!

But here it what it does:

It encourages students to engage in behavior that could be viewed as requiring disciplinary action.

It encourages teachers who happen to be creationists to slap their colleagues in the face. In fact, creationist teachers who engage in this outrage are literally telling their colleagues that they are engaged in wanton censorship. How nice. If I was a biology teacher and a fellow teacher who happened to be a creationist in my department engaged in these activities, or encouraged students to do so in any way, I would be in the Principal’s office before an ice cube would melt in hell.

It encourages teachers, parents, students, and administrators to engage in activities that are clearly subversive to the goal of excellent science education.

It could tip the scales in a few places to cause things to happen that will require expensive law suits to be handled by school district.

Check out Mike’s post, and if you must, check out the original site. It is the policy of this blog to not link to Discovery Institute sites, so you’ll have to pick up the link over at Mike’s place.

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0 thoughts on “Teachers Be Warned

  1. Sorry, I’m not up to channeling Arlo Guthrie this morning.

    However, what would happen if the irreverent majority of high-school students had a few smartasses who were prepared to key off of this nonsense to “question other theories” such as gravity, or maybe the whole “sex causes babies” thing that adults have been using to control teens? (To name just two.)

    A teacher who encourages one and not the other has precious little “free speech” cover, and mockery has always been a great tool to expose the fatuous.

  2. Is this entirely too obvious, or should we be encouraging serious science students to enter the essay contest? The prompt for the essay says that the student is supposed to explain why Darwin was right — when he said it was important to study the evidence on “both sides”. It would be possible to write a Part I essay (and submit it) on the importance of even-handed consideration of evidence and Part II (held back) showing that evolution has all the evidence and ID creationism merely has talking points. Part II could be released in the event that the student gets a prize for Part I.

  3. Well, Greg, I’m not as worried about this as you are. It’s one thing for the polished prevaricators of the DI to appear in the school and start nattering on; they are impervious to logic and have agendas that have nothing to do with education or teaching. The parents aren’t much better; if they show up and start arguing, they’ve already decided that it’s ok to use their own children as pawns in a culture-war smackdown. But few of the students are committed hacks. Generally students are rooted and respectful in their classrooms (anything else would be unchristian, yes?). They also don’t tend to be the ilk that disrupt for disruption’s sake. The body of students I teach (quite familiar to the teachers you know, by the way) run high to the militant creationist strain but are also ambitious, thoughtful, and perceptive.
    Think of this farcical PR move as an opportunity. Sending such kids to the office or getting them in trouble is exactly what the DI folks want–they want more John Freshwaters to get high-profile, low-fact cases in play, which will generate more donations and more sputtering, hyperbolic talking points for the pulpit. This amounts to abuse of the students, in fact–hepping them up and sending them out to do battle with ridiculous arguments and the Magic Shield of Jesus. I advise smiling, friendly engagement, perhaps a few minutes’ dedicated to the arguments, an accommodation but no conclusion. If the parents or the DI idiots show up, give them both barrels; but the kids are just kids, whose indoctrination should be considered a national crime, but a crime which can’t be solved by putting a sixteen-year-old in a position where they can’t escape.
    Science teachers I (and you) know are well respected for their professionalism and their ability to serve a wide variety of kids in a safe environment. We can’t save them in a day, even from the toxic anti-scientific hallucinations of the anti-evolution people, any more than we can solve their addiction issues or their behavior issues or their long-simmering skills deficits or all of the other personal and social problems that public schools have inherited responsibility for.
    I taught a student a few years ago who was a hard-working, intelligent, pleasant junior in high school, accomplished in art and athletics, faultless grades, etc. She wrote a detailed essay attacking the teaching of evolution in our school. All of my students revise their papers extensively; I resisted the temptation to refute or confront her conclusions, and stuck with working her clarity, organization, and reasoning and argument process. Eventually I pointed out that her sources were exclusively partisan arguments on canned creationism talking points from narrow, non-scientific souces. I gently suggested that she broaden her research and question her preconceptions, including the one about God controlling everything, just for the sake of argument. Because I had the luxury of a solid, respectful relationship with her, she was not defensive or antagonistic, and the paper took a moderate turn over a couple of revisions. Meanwhile it became much more solidly reasoned, and rhetorically more persuasive (though of course I rejected the essential premise–that there was anything scientifically useful in Genesis–while tolerating it as an exercise in proposal and persuasion). The paper earned an A. Of course, I was not evaluating her on scientific curriculum, but in writing, which makes it easier.
    Later I got a very gratifying complaint from the student’s mother. She said that I had undermined her daughter’s faith by forcing her to question creationism and consider evolution. I suggested the mother discuss the facts with her daughter and then, if she still had an issue, to talk to the principal; I heard nothing more. I can say with a clean conscience that I did not force the student to do anything; I created a comfortable academic environment and the student grew in it, when she was ready. My only regret is that I never asked the student whether she had made the changes as a sop to me, for the grade, or whether it was a real shift in her opinion. But of course it doesn’t matter.


  4. There aren’t enough teachers like you, ice9. I was fortunate to have a couple in high school, and am increasingly grateful to them as time passes. I wish that more students has the advantage of good guidance as well as instruction.

    Your student’s paper shows how learning takes place; it is at least as much the product of suggestion as of instruction. And her mother’s one-time contact shows that you’ve started something larger than you+student=passing grade.

    Now, if only you could cause other teachers to adopt your methods by simply coming in contact with them. Like your namesake. That would really make a difference!

    Thank you for the thought process you started in that student. No doubt she will pass it on even as she grants kind indulgence to her mother.

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