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School board members in a West Virginia county are divided over whether to purchase textbooks that present the concept of “intelligent design” as an alternative view to evolution. The books would only be used as reference tools for science teachers, and will not be required reading for them or even their students. So why all the fuss?
As we reported last month, a committee of Kanawha County science teachers—as well as the head of the school system’s science curriculum—unanimously recommended the book Of Pandas and People for purchase by the school board. The book argues—among other things—that the incredible design of living things suggests “intelligent design” behind them. Even though the text brings up no specific Christian doctrine, it is under attack as a so-called “stealth” attempt to introduce creationism into public schools.
“It’s very unlikely it will get approved,” school board president John Luoni said last month to the Charleston Gazette. Reportedly, he has not even looked at the book. But at least two school board members said they will vote to purchase 47 copies of the book for teachers on April 20. “If teachers want it, I’m in favor of getting it to them,” said one board member to the newspaper. “If they say it will be helpful to them, I believe them.” “It’s a very good supplemental text,” said another school board member. “The teachers who chose it and [science curriculum director] Bob Seymour did an excellent job.” Mr. Seymour has been an educator for 30 years.
Hilary Chiz of a local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is urging school board members to vote against purchasing the textbook because it would, she claims, “reintroduce religion to schools.” She also said, “This is a wakeup call. This is an alarm sounding.” In a news release last week, the ACLU urged an outright ban of the book, and this from a so-called “civil rights” organization that has traditionally taken a stand against book banning!
One school board member said he planned to examine the book and consult scientists before deciding how he will cast his vote. Another school board member was out of town and unavailable to the Charleston Gazette for comment.
In the meantime, two high officials from the state department of education met last month with Mr. Seymour to get him to drop his endorsement to purchase Of Pandas and People for science teachers. (By the way, AiG supporters in West Virginia do not know Mr. Seymour’s position on the creation issue, but believe he simply wants to equip teachers with both the evidence for and against macro-evolution.)
Karl Priest, a math teacher in a middle school and a member of a citizens advisory committee, originally presented the book to the teachers’ committee. It is that teachers’ committee that recommends science textbooks to the county board for purchase. Mr. Seymour thanked Mr. Priest for bringing the book to the attention of the county’s science teachers, a text which Mr. Seymour says “follows science to the letter.”
Eugenie Scott, executive director of the anti-creationist The National Center for Science Education blasted the science teachers for its recommendation of the book to the school board, declaring, “Believe me, Of Pandas and People is a religious view.” She also declared, “Clearly this is a group of teachers that needs to be second-guessed.” (It should be noted that the committee is made up of some of the top science teachers in the county.) In previous interviews, however, Ms. Scott has failed to show one instance in which a specific Bible doctrine is being taught in the book.
Mr. Priest, a creationist and AiG supporter, countered that evolutionists like Ms. Scott “have an agenda to indoctrinate children to evolutionism,” which he describes as a religious worldview itself.
The Charleston Gazette, West Virginia’s largest newspaper, also weighed in on the controversy. In a bizarrely written editorial on March 20, it made fun of creationist beliefs and labeled the episode “silly.” It urged the teachers’ textbook committee to reconsider, and if not, hoped that the school board will reject its recommendation of the book. (See below for other comments found in the newspaper editorial—the editor of the paper, by the way, is a self-described “atheist and evolutionist.” He attends the Unitarian church that led the fight against last year’s evolution resolution—see next paragraph—and now is leading a media battle against the Pandas book.)
The issue heated up last December when school board members of Kanawha County voted 4-1 against a resolution that would have supported teachers who wished to criticize aspects of evolution theory in their classrooms. Their main excuse was fear of litigation, which was threatened by the ACLU and by the ironically named group “People for the American Way.” That vote against academic freedom only spurred citizens to try other avenues to help teachers present all the views regarding evolution in their classes, such as introducing the Pandas book for teacher consideration. In the meantime, a teacher appeared before a grievance hearing on March 30, where he declared that the school board “jeopardized my academic freedom” by not allowing him to point out the problems with evolution theory to his students.
In the March 20 editorial mockingly entitled “Good grief,” the Charleston Gazette misrepresented and made fun of the beliefs of creationists. On the contrary,