First, a mea culpa. Richard B. Hoppe of the brilliant Panda’s Thumb blog took me to task for failing to mention (yet) the National Center for Science Education, the premiere organization defending the teaching of evolution in the US. I’ve been a close follower of NCSE’s work for ten years (my funny first meeting with NCSE’s Eugenie Scott is described here) and have a well-thumbed stack of their newsletters and reprinted articles.
My plan was to profile and recommend NCSE at the end of this series. But by leaving it to the end, I give the false impression that my approach comes straight off the top of my head. In fact, it comes from years of absorbing the stories of others and the hard-earned advice of NCSE.
Parents unfamiliar with NCSE should go there FIRST to get tips on responding to challenges to evolution education, suggestions for testifying effectively at a school board meeting, direct advice for a particular situation, and insight into the state of things both nationally and in your own backyard. (Thanks, Richard!)
Previously on MoL: Mr. Taylor, my son’s now-former science teacher, had asked me a common creationist question: wouldn’t you trust the evidence of your eyes more than circumstantial evidence? I answered no, explained why, then asked for a copy of the overhead to which my son had referred.
After three days without a reply, I dropped Mr. Taylor a note:
Dear Mr. Taylor,
I’m guessing my reply to your question about evidence didn’t get through, and I didn’t want you to think I was being rude by not responding. Here it is again (below). Is that the answer you were looking for?
I sure would like to see that overhead when you have a chance so I can show Connor that he misunderstood.
I appended the earlier message.
He answered quickly:
I have been working on a couple of research projects with two chemistry professors at two universities. Like my self they do research but they are both teachers as well. They have not been able to answer my emails to them recently because their school year has started. They are now both extremely busy. As I am.
If you wish to continue this conversation I would like to hear from. Please call me at […] during the evening sometime. Or if you want we could meet some evening in a StarBucks and discuss science and related topics.
I had thought he was unable to effectively respond. I had thought he was unwilling to share his overhead with someone other than a captive high school student — someone who might be able to trace it to the teacher resources available on several creationist websites.
Turns out he’s just busy.
I wasn’t interested in discussing science generally, and certainly not “related topics.” I had made a simple request about something that happened in my son’s science class. I received similar requests from parents when I was teaching, and a prompt provision of context and content was always well-received. Mr. Taylor chose instead to bob and weave, then to faint with busyness.
I am achingly sympathetic to the actual busyness of teachers. Marry one for a while if you doubt that the demands are often impossibly high. But a central part of the job is responding to the reasonable concerns of parents. And despite every opportunity, Mr. Taylor has declined to do that.
I signed off:
That’s very kind of you, Harold. I wouldn’t think of bothering you any further.
If you ever do find the thirty seconds it would take to attach that overhead, I’d be happy for the (pardon the pun) transparency it would provide. Have a good year!
So — my son came home with a troubling story of non-science in the science classroom. I responded just as I would if he told me his math teacher called pi controversial or his history teacher insisted that the Holocaust never happened — I asked the teacher to confirm or deny the red flag. By bobbing and weaving, then cutting me off before I could raise the follow-up (about “evolutionists”) that he surely knew was coming, Mr. Taylor essentially confirmed Connor’s account and my suspicions.
Having shown him the courtesy of hearing from me first, I can move on to the next step — getting the principal in the loop. And again, I pause for a minute to wince.
I’ve watched and admired school principals for years. They are busy on a level that would wake Mr. Taylor from his dreams of research in a cold sweat. And a big part of that busyness is a constant stream of outrage from parents on every imaginable issue. I hate to add to that barrage.
But I also know that by speaking up, I am doing the administration an immense favor. Feedback from parents and students is often the only way the administration can learn about malpractice in the classroom. And this particular brand has cost school districts millions in litigation. No sane administrator wants or needs that expensive distraction from the task of educating our kids, so they tend to be extremely responsive to this kind of heads-up — especially since the Kitzmiller decision.
If you haven’t read the Kitzmiller decision, I’ll have to insist. It’s an incredible document. In clear, gripping, and often frankly pissed-off language, Judge Jones’s decision recounts the legal history of the debate, lays out the stark imbalance between the two sides, and deals an unprecedented blow to future attempts to insert “intelligent design” into the public school science classroom as an alternative to evolution.
Judge Jones — a Lutheran and a Republican, btw — went far beyond the narrow confines of the case. He wanted to give the rest of us somewhere to stand and to rob ID of its time-wasting toehold in the courts. And he did.
No time for 139 pages? Start on page 136, letter H. You’ll suddenly find time for the rest.
(Next time: Up the ladder.)