FOR THE WEEK OF OCT. 03, 2005
The latest classroom battleground: Darwin vs. Intelligent Design
Ask the students to check their newspapers for stories about the school district. Then have them do a fact check on the stories. Did the newspaper accurately report the facts? Was the story complete, or did it leave questions unanswered? Did it explain the facts clearly?
Ask the students to search their newspapers for stories about education issues. For example, are their newspapers covering the Dover case? Are their papers covering the Government Accountability Office's ruling Friday finding that the Bush administration violated federal law by buying favorable news coverage of the president's education policies? The Education Department paid a conservative commentator to praise those policies. Are their newspapers covering education trends and student test performances? If they are not satisfied with education news coverage, ask them to invite a local editor to talk to the class about how school news is covered.
Have the students attend a school board meeting and write a report about it. Have them compare their stories with the newspaper coverage of the meeting. Have a class discussion about their impressions of the meeting, the decisions made by the board members and how the board reached its decisions.
Are we the random result of a primordial chemical soup, mutation and natural selection?
Or could only a higher being's intelligent design explain human existence?
Those questions and whether both theories should be taught in public schools have ripped apart a small community in Pennsylvania and landed the Dover school board in federal court because it decided that intelligent design must be presented to science students along with evolution. The board has required teachers to view a videotape which asserts that there are gaps in evolutionary science. Ninth grade biology teachers are required to read a four-paragraph statement to their students. It declares in part: "Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence." It also says, "Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view." The statement also informs students that a textbook teaching intelligent design is available in the school library.
Eleven parents in the district, outraged by what they regarded as the school board's violation of the separation of church and state, took the board and the district to court. The trial, expected to last six weeks, is under way in the federal court in Harrisburg and drew people on both sides of the question from across the country for opening arguments Sept. 26.TALKING POINTS:
Back door? A spokeswoman for the National Center for Science Education said the week before the trial began that the Dover school board is trying to sneak religion through the back door of taxpayer-funded schools.
Front door? A proponent of the teaching of intelligent design replied that teaching evolution is bringing atheism through the front door of schools.
Freedom of speech? One Dover parent who supports the teaching of intelligent design views it as a freedom of speech issue. She told the New York Times, "I think we, as Americans, regardless of our beliefs, should be able to freely access information because people fought and died for our freedoms."
Freedom from religion? "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." That part of the First Amendment was cited by the Supreme Court when it ruled in 1962 that prayer in public schools was an unconstitutional attempt to establish religion. It also was the basis of the Supreme Court's 6-3 decision in June 2000 that student-led prayers at public school football games were unconstitutional. Neither court was charting new legal territory. President James Madison, regarded by many as the main brain behind the Constitution, scolded the House of Representatives 151 years before the 1962 no-school prayers decision, when it passed a bill chartering a church that intended to teach poor students. He reminded them n sternly n that "the bill exceeds the rightful authority to which governments are limited by the essential distinction between civil and religious functions, and violates in particular the article of the Constitution of the United States which declares that 'Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment.'" He vetoed the bill.
The voters' decision? In November, seven Dover district residents who oppose the teaching of intelligent design will challenge seven incumbents in a runoff election. The incumbent board voted 6-3 in October 2004 to adopt the intelligent design instruction. One of the challengers, a former Dover science teacher and a plaintiff in the case, has said that opponents did a "monkey dance" when he campaigned recently at a firemen's festival. "There's no way to have a winner here," he told the Times. "The community already has lost, period, by being so divided."
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