Cobb County Clarifies:
An Open Letter To The NCSE
Parents for Truth in Education
March 20, 2003
Mr. Glenn Branch
National Center For Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, California 94609
Click for the Cobb County Policy On Objective Origins Science
Click for the Teacher Guidelines For Implementing
Board Policy On Origins Science
Dear Mr. Branch:
As a parent with three children in Cobb County high and middle schools, and someone who has a vested interest in the education and well being of my children, I read with interest your letter to the “Friends of NCSE”. Unfortunately, I must say that I believe you have misinterpreted not only the statements of school board members, but also the intent of parents like myself who are promoting objective science instruction and are concerned about the level of hostility displayed by some science educators towards people who hold opposing points of view.
Last August I spoke at a school board meeting where the new science policy was being publicly debated. In my remarks I made it clear that I was not for a “Biblical” account of origins being taught in the science class. I also made it clear that I was not for removing or de-emphasizing the subject of Darwinian evolution from the science classroom. However, in my remarks I did object to the dogmatic approach to science instruction which is propagated by organizations such as NCSE, an approach characterized by an intolerance of varying viewpoints, where any alternative viewpoints are censored, and where conformity to a blind acceptance of Darwinian evolution is demanded. I also stated my belief that all of the evidence concerning evolution should be examined in the classroom, including the evidence that supports the theory as well as the evidence that challenges the theory, so that students can come to logical, informed, scientific conclusions. In my closing remarks, I stated to the school board my expectation that on the subject of origins science my children were to be educated, not indoctrinated.
For these comments I, and others with similar opinions, were lambasted by the local science educators in attendance as “simple minded”, “illogical”, “right wing”, fundamentalist” , “fanatics”. Not once did these science educators address or provide counter arguments to the substance of what we were saying. They simply resorted to personal attacks and name calling. In addition, the science instructors who spoke at the board meeting stated repeatedly the dogmatic assertion that evolution is a “fact”, not a “theory”, and labeled anyone who dared disagree as “religious extremists”. Therein lies the danger from which I and others are trying to protect our children; the religious bigotry that was displayed by the science educators at the Cobb County school board meeting last August.
I have no problem with the school teaching my children about the theory of evolution. I don’t even object to the school informing my children that Darwinian evolution is the prevailing view among scientists. What I do object to are science instructors interjecting ideology into the science classroom with statements like “evolution is a fact” and “anyone who disagrees is a religious fanatic”. I object to these statements on two grounds: One, they are inaccurate and unscientific; and two, it puts my children into a conflict between two sets of authorities who may hold opposing views - their science teachers or their parents. Not only does this cause conflict for my children and cast them as “outsiders”, it also creates an educational environment that is neither healthy or productive.
In your letter you make similar dogmatic assertions, saying that evolution is “not a matter of dispute within the scientific community”. It is surprising that someone of your stature would make such an authoritative, though unsubstantiated statement, since it is so easily refuted. In the metro Atlanta area alone 32 scientists from our major universities, including Emory University, The Georgia Institute of Technology, The University of Georgia, Georgia State University and Kennesaw State University have signed a statement demonstrating skepticism about the claims of Darwinian evolution. Across the United Sates and Canada, more than 160 dissenting scientist from some of the most prestigious universities in the world have signed a similar statement. Included on the list are scientists from Yale, Harvard, U.C. Berkeley, M.I.T., Duke and Princeton, as well as Nobel Prize nominees and distinguished members of the National Academy of Science, N.A.S.A, The Smithsonian Institute, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the U.S. Army Research and Development Center. While these scientists may hold minority views, to say that there is no dispute in the science community is simply not true and calls into question your credibility and motives. In addition, the claim that evolution is “an absolute fact” as made by the Cobb teachers, and as you imply in your letter, further weakens your credibility and illustrates an ideological devotion which rivals even the most fervent religious adherents.
In your letter, Eugenie Scott and yourself allude to statements from certain board members to support your claim that the approved policy and accompanying teacher guidelines mandate the teaching of “science only”. While this may be an accurate analysis, it is interesting that you do not claim that the approved policy or teacher guidelines mandate “evolution only”, as they certainly do not. With regards to the comments of some board members whose remarks you have taken out of context to fit your particular agenda, those remarks are altogether irrelevant. What is relevant to the concerns of parents in Cobb is what was actually approved with a unanimous vote by the Cobb County Board of Education on September 26, 2002.
The policy and teacher guidelines do instruct teachers to use the approved state curriculum in the science classroom, but they also leave room for classroom discussion of alternative viewpoints: “Discussion should be moderated to promote a sense of scientific inquiry and an understanding of science methods and to distinguish between scientific and philosophical or religious issues.” While this statement appropriately limits classroom discussion to scientific, and not theological discussions, it certainly does not limit the discussion to “evolution only”, nor does it specifically exclude the discussion of alternative scientific viewpoints. Instead, the policy calls for “scientific inquiry”, which can be restated in laymen terms as “a search for truth”. Any search for truth cannot be properly conducted if scientific theories are not allowed to be examined critically, and if all opposing viewpoints and contradictory evidence is suppressed and artificially eliminated from consideration. Likewise, an understanding of the scientific method will help students to evaluate for themselves if the theory of evolution holds up as an observable, repeatedly verifiable event. In addition, this statement will allow students the opportunity to examine and scientifically test whether the claim that “evolution is an absolute fact” is a “scientific” or a “philosophic” viewpoint.
But more importantly is the stipulation in the teacher guidelines that “under no circumstances should teachers use instruction in a effort to coerce students to adopt a particular religious belief or set of beliefs. Teachers should not interject their personal faith based beliefs, or lack thereof, into such instruction and should maintain a posture of neutrality toward religion.” Again, while this statement appropriately protects against a Christian teacher indoctrinating a Jewish, Muslim or Atheist student with her own personal religious belief, it also protects against a teacher indoctrinating the Christian, Jewish or Muslim student with a materialistic belief.
This is a stipulation that you cannot get around. To make the claim that life arose spontaneously from non-living matter without the assistance of an intelligent agent is to interject “or lack thereof” into instruction. Far from remaining neutral towards religion, a statement such as this directly contradicts the religious beliefs of many, if not most students. Statements such as these, as well as the infamous “evolution is an absolute fact” statements, will be viewed by parents such as myself as a violation of this policy and a cause for action.
Further, while you and Eugenie Scott may spin the comments of a board member to fit your own agenda, what is really important is what has been approved by the Cobb County Board of Education in written policy. The following excerpts will illustrate:
“The Cobb County Board of Education believes that discussion of disputed views of academic subjects is a necessary element of providing a balanced education, including the study of the origin of the species.”
“The purpose of this policy is to foster critical thinking among students, to allow academic freedom consistent with legal requirements, to promote tolerance and acceptance of diversity of opinion, and to ensure a posture of neutrality toward religion.”
“…it is recognized that scientific instruction may create conflict or questions for some students with regards to belief systems…. It may be appropriate to acknowledge that science itself has limits and is not intended to explain everything, and that scientific theories of origin and religious belief are not necessarily mutually exclusive.”
“Instruction should be respectful of personal religious beliefs and encourage such respect among students.”
“This administration expects, and will support, every teacher’s effort to provide objective and professional instruction.” (emphasis added)
Again, you can spin it all you want, but you cannot get around these stipulations. These are not opinions or quotes taken out of context. This is written policy approved and mandated by the Cobb County Board of Education. Why is this policy so important to concerned parents?
1. Because it acknowledges that evolution is a disputed view.
2. It promotes critical thinking, academic freedom, tolerance and an acceptance of diversity of opinion.
3. It requires neutrality towards religion.
4. It acknowledges that science has limits and doesn’t have all of the answers.
5. It acknowledges that science and religion need not be necessarily mutually exclusive.
6. It compels respect for personal religious beliefs.
7. It puts forth the expectation that science should be taught objectively (without bias).
Fortunately, Cobb County is blessed with some of the finest teachers in America who are sensitive to and respectful of the personal beliefs of students, as well as the rights of parents to have a say in their children’s education. The science teachers who displayed such offensive religious bigotry at the August board meeting are in the minority in Cobb, and most Cobb teachers do not share the intolerant views of the scientific “elite” who wish to suppress all dissent. Cobb is blessed with a Board of Education which has displayed incredible courage and fairness in the face of a vicious, organized, national campaign against their efforts. The board members are to be commended for listening to and responding to the concerns of local parents, and not to those from outside the community who may have an undisclosed agenda. The school board has done an outstanding job of creating a policy which is sensitive to all students, including those with religious beliefs and those without. But most importantly, the school board should be praised for showing how science instruction can be done in such a way as to not be a divisive influence in a community. In the words of Eugenie Scott, “this is good news for the education of the children of Cobb County”.
W. Larry Taylor, Jr.
Parents For Truth In Education
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