Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Democracy in Action!

So the Kansas School Board voted 6 to 4 in favor of including a prepared statement about Intelligent Design in high school biology classes. (A prepared statement? Perhaps to prevent those pesky science teachers from scoffing and jeering?)

Reporter John Hanna points out, in the linked AP article, "In addition, the board rewrote the definition of science, so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena."

In Kansas, "Science teachers will now be required to instruct their students that evolutionary theory is not proven, and will have to add that life is in fact so complex, it could not have arisen without the involvement of some external agent, or higher power."

At the same time, the Dover, PA trial winds up with closing statements: "lawyers for the defence argued that intelligent design is a 'legitimate educational objective', and described it as 'the next great paradigm shift in science'."

So what did the voters do in Pennsylvania, yesterday? They threw the bums out. All eight pro-ID Republicans were replaced by Dems who don't believe ID should be taught in schools.

Look, it boils down to this: I don't care if people believe in ID. They have no friggin' right to teach what they believe, their religion, to my kids--especially not using my tax-dollars to pay for it. They had to REWRITE THE DEFINITION OF SCIENCE to make it fly.

Guess we won't look for any great scientific minds to come out of Kansas.


Carrie Shanafelt said...

Woah, there, Mac! Let's not throw the Kansans out with the bathwater! Here's the problem with Kansas, from my first-hand observations of the issue:

1. The Kansas educational system does "honors" education frighteningly well and "non-honors" education frighteningly badly. That is, if you are in the top half of your class, you learn more than most people get out of college, but if you're not smart, you can take 7 hours of auto repair a day if you like.

2. The brighter Kansans move away for college or for jobs. (Several of my high school classmates live within 10 blocks of me in Brooklyn.)

3. The less-bright Kansans stay at home to do things like watch reality TV and vote for Board of Education members.

4. Meanwhile, science teachers in Kansas, as you know, are unbelievably dynamite and are trying to buck this with all their force. But even if they don't succeed,

5. They'll read the stupid statement in whatever tone of voice they have to, and then they'll go on to teach whatever they were planning to teach.

The funny thing about your last statement is that, even with a horrible Board who hates anything their minds can't comprehend, we dissected cats (for a semester) and even cadavers (for a day) as part of my junior bio class. Two classmates and I were running our own experiments in a biochemical lab at the medical school by the age of 16. You can't keep a good teacher from teaching. Yes, I fear the Board will force many of these teachers to leave, but others care so much about getting Kansas students to be competitive in the sciences against all odds that they will fight this where it really matters -- in the classroom.

Unfortunately, the only ones who will stay in Kansas and vote will still be those who skipped out on junior bio...

Mac said...

Carrie, you're articulate, interesting, insightful, and...right.

As usual. *grin*

Also, what you didn't say, but your comment made me consider, is that these debates only serve to reinforce that weird perception of an intellectual-academic-elite boogeyman, the insulated, ivory-tower academic who wants to tax middle America into starvation, and steal their children to convert them into queers and commies, and thus ensure their own immortality.

The us-against-them mentality isn't helping any of us regular peeps.

Dawno said...

Good post - glad to see you back :-)

At the next school board elections in my area I plan to use ID as my personal "litmus test" before voting. I don't think it will get a foothold in my town, it's well educated and very liberal, but you never know.

DD said...

What are you reading to find all your different topics? (Besides the toothpaste tube)

Lori A. Basiewicz said...

The thing is, the most scientifically-oriented people I know are a product of the Kansas public education system. It's my understanding they are not happy, not happy at all, with this decision.

Dawno said...

NPR did a piece on All Things Considered tonight abut ID. I was grateful for the fair and impartial treatment of the subject matter, too. Well done, NPR.

They told the story of science professionals (mostly college professors. One, (I don't think he was a professor) claimed harassment because he published a peer reviewed piece in an "obscure little journal" affiliated with the Smithstonian. Others say they are mute about their belief in ID because of fears they will not get tenure, others who do speak out only do so from the safety of tenured positions.

Boy did that piece leave me conflicted. It's one thing to say that ID will not be a formal part of any level science curriculum, but it's another to say that a professor who believes in ID and engages students in a real debate about the idea should be stifled or denied tenure. One professor claimed she lost work because she stated her belief and said to her students "it's for you to decide what you believe". It may or may not be factual - I didn't hear a rebuttal.

My gut reaction is that a college science class isn't a college student's only exposure to the scientific method and basic science education, like it would be in a High School - so how is a professor stating their case for ID, so long as the rest of the coursework is taught appropriately, harmful?

I think the teaching of ID would have to be relegated to it's own course (under full disclosure with appropriate disclaimers) or taught as part of a religious studies curriculum, perhaps, but fearing to even mention you believe in ID in a science class? Gives me pause.

I remember that having stimulating debates (ok, full fledged shouting matches) in college was all part of the learning experience. I learned from them how to listen and respond to other viewpoints. How to point out logical fallacies - how do you get to do that if opposing thought isn't allowed a voice?

Ray Wong said...

Last time I talked about Kansas (I think to the order of "I don't ever want to step foot there"... XD ) I got slammed for spewing prejudice about the state. I just don't know. I'm sure there are many fine people, open-minded people, in the great state of Kansas, but something like this just make them look really bad.

It's good to see that the people in my home state of Pennsylvania have the right mind to reject certain ridiculous notion. I mean, what's that about "separation of church and state" do people not understand. Our public schools are part of the state (I don't care if a private school wants to teach ID if the parents are willing to send their kids there). And well said about tax dollars. Somehow they forget that I, along with many others, do pay taxes as well and we DO NOT want our kids to be subjected to that kind of nonsense.

Ray Wong said...

Did you see this: ?

Good gracious. Has that man no shame? And to think millions of people listen to him for spiritual guidance. How can a man spew such god-awful (pardon the pun) hateful nonsense in his God's name and get away with it? I don't know.

Lori A. Basiewicz said...

Just like happened in Dover, the good voters of Kansas voted the creationists off the school board six years ago. Now that this issue has come up again, I have no doubt the voters in Kansas will make their opinion known again during the next election.

To the next logical question, how do the IDers end up on the school board in the first place, I just don't know, but these things will happen if enough voters drop their guard during an election year. To me, that's the real message from Kansas: Voters must be ever vigilant and ever-ready to go the polls.

Carrie Shanafelt said...

I'm kind of sensitive about the perceptions of Kansans right now because of all the anti-Kansas hatred that, yes, spews out of the mouths of people who walked past (but clearly did not read) Thomas Frank's insightful book. I work at a Brooklyn food cooperative where my coworkers will sometimes fill an entire shift of packing bulk goods by expressing their gratitude that at least they were not born in such a hellhole.

It's a symptom of a greater problem, which is that most Americans are frighteningly provincial. They imagine that every state is exactly like their own, and that people in conservative areas "choose" to hate gays and brown people and science out of some reasoned knowledge. Here in New York, for example, racism is particularly nasty because everyone is surrounded by people of different races all the time. There's not just irrational fear of the unknown -- it's hardened, conscious, virulent bigotry. I'm not excusing them. I think merely ignorant racists and gay-bashers and people who refuse their children an education are tragically to blame for the direction of the past six years. But name-calling and hand-washing doesn't fix the problem.

When we read that Mississippians have an "average IQ" of 85, do we just say, "What a bunch of retards! Glad I don't live there!" and go on with our lives? Of course not. We realize that Mississippi suffers from horrible segregation, poverty, and governmental incompetence. Even when the voters betray their own needs, we don't blame them individually.

In Kansas, poverty is spreading among the rural population, whose farms are being choked out by corporate aggregates. And in the cities and suburbs, a repulsive bourgeois aspiration (that was certainly imported from somewhere else) and a lingering ex-KC-gangster and ex-pioneer mentality that all say, "What's mine is mine," reinforce a popular solipsism of ideas.

When I think of Kansas, I always think about the early confrontations between the white settlers and the Plains Indians. The Indians, who were hunting nomads, laughed at the agrarian whites who moved in. They laughed because Kansas was unfarmable -- most of the soil was filled with huge flint stones. There were no trees to build permanent housing. But the whites, many of whom believed God had led them there, stayed and suffered and suffered. They dug out the stones and built houses out of cow shit. They planted crops that had no business there. Most died of starvation and sickness. But they stayed.

To me, this is a story about stupid white people and their stubbornness. To most Kansans, it's a story of holy triumph.

Ms M said...

I'm going to wade into this debate a little off centre, huh - but that's me anyway in more ways than one. No, jokes aside, what I find fascinating in these posts is the strength of state based loyalties. And I think these state based decision making processes highlight and reinforce this cultural response. It's quite intriguing because although we have states in Australia, I can't imagine a similar kind of debate. To me, one of the key questions here is how is it possible for individual states to be making decisions about education at this level, when clearly education is a national issue?

Dawno said...

Ms M, it's not even always determined as high as the state level - individual towns can have school boards that can choose to do whatever they want for their schools. Maybe not in Kansas, but elsewhere in the US. Welcome to the States' Rights vs. Federal Government argument.

Mac said...

DD, I find ideas just laying around unused, so I put 'em in my pocket and bring 'em home to make into blog posts, later.

Seriously, I do read a bunch of different newspapers, other blogs, and surf a number of international news sites, as well.

Carrie, I completely understand coming to the defense of Kansas. I can only beg your pardon for my original tone. Pax?

Dawno, just when I was basking in the glow of I'm-so-smart-and-evolved, you gotta go and throw a thoughtful wrench into the gearbox of my self-righteousness. Damn, woman.

Dawno said...


Hey, if it makes you feel any better, It left me with squishy guilty feelings when I heard the NPR piece...

Anonymous said...

Attempting to lump all Kansans into one group, simply based on the State school board, would be similar to claiming that all Kansans are giant homophobes because of those who choose to support Fred Phelps.

Glad to hear that brighter Kansans move away for college or jobs...

Oddly, nothing I learned in college (or have used since) depended on knowing anything about ID or I've never really understood what the whole debate is all about in the first place.

Interesting little blog you have, Mac...