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(Being the ongoing story of a parent responding to non-science in the science classroom. See also Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

skinnerHaving given the teacher ample opportunity to put his strange comments in context, and having watched him bob and weave, I moved up the ladder one rung, dropping a note to the principal.

The principal is your ally in this, and s/he will often know that. You both have strong reasons to want non-science kept out of the science classroom. They’re not always the same reasons, and they don’t need to be. I don’t want to transfer my growing irritation at the teacher onto this more receptive set of ears. Instead, I’ll inform the administrator about the situation and be sure he knows why it matters.

Dear Mr. Weatherbee,

I wanted to bring a recent classroom incident to your attention. I was a teacher for 15 years, and my wife still is, so I hesitated before sending this, knowing the aggravation is seldom entirely welcome. But I also know that administrators need to know what’s going on in the classroom, especially when issues of this kind are involved.

Two weeks ago, my son Connor (grade 10) came home puzzled about a portion of the lecture in Harold Taylor’s Physical Science class. Mr. Taylor took the class through a series of overheads, including one that said (in Connor’s words), “Experiments or evidence in the present can’t tell us about the distant past.” Though a paraphrase, this is a common argument of intelligent design advocates.

Connor then quoted Mr. Taylor as saying that this odd claim is “a big problem for the evolutionists,” who have “a lot of little bits of bone but can never really know what they mean.” And so on, at length.

Assuming my son might have misunderstood, I contacted Mr. Taylor for clarification. We had a very polite exchange of emails in which he added another common intelligent design argument: that eyewitness evidence trumps circumstantial evidence, which is quite simply false.

I asked if he might share the overhead in question, and he has not consented to do so.

I am concerned first of all that Mr. Taylor is undercutting Georgia’s excellent science standards, which include clear instructions for the teaching of evolution. I am also unclear why he is addressing a branch of science unrelated to his course and training.

I know that this is a delicate topic. I’m not interested in creating unnecessary difficulties, including for Mr. Taylor — only in helping to ensure that science at Riverdale High is taught in accordance with the carefully crafted state performance standards and the extremely clear mandates of the courts. This includes Kitzmiller v. Dover, which noted that intelligent design serves only a “blatantly religious purpose” and as such does not belong in the science classroom.

Please accept my thanks in advance for your attention to this.

Warm regards,
Dale McGowan

Disinterested in creating unnecessary difficulties, and perfectly willing to create necessary ones. That’s the balance to strike.

My note was sent at 10 pm. Mr. Weatherbee replied at 6:54 the next morning:

Good Morning Mr. McGowan,

Thank you for your email. You are correct that this can be a very sensitive subject but this is something of which I need to be made aware. Please know that my expectation is that RHS maintains its high academic standards and that the state mandated curriculum is being supported in the classroom. Since your email is my first source of this concern, I obviously cannot comment other than to assure you I will investigate this further. If I find that the standards are not being supported, I will implement corrective action to rectify the situation.

Thank you again for sharing this concern.

Sincerely,
Waldo Weatherbee

That’s a very good reply. I thanked him for his prompt response. I plan to give him a reasonable amount of time, then check in to see what he’s found.

We’re not done, but at this point I’ve already achieved most of what I set out to do. Mr. Taylor has surely been shaken out of the complacent belief that he can spin ID-inspired threads in front of a captive audience without consequence. And Mr. Weatherbee now knows who to watch and what to watch for. That’s a win.

While I wait to hear back, I’ll check in with NCSE to bring them up to date and ask a few specific questions. What should I consider an acceptable resolution in this case? What if Taylor flatly denies it to Mr. W? And is it reasonable to insist on seeing the damn overheads that were trotted out in front of my son?

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.