from the Cobb Co., GA board of education (with reply by the AJC editorial board)

From: Peter Smagorinsky (smago@coe.uga.edu)
Date: Thu Feb 03 2005 - 05:57:02 PST


Teaching evolution OK, but not as dogma
Published on: 02/03/05
The Cobb County school board submitted the following column through its law
firm.
Elected officials are constantly dealing with difficult issues that spark
controversy and argument. As a local school board, we have the challenge to
provide guidance for the best education of our children while attempting to
represent a diverse constituency. That is exactly what we did in our
decision to strengthen the teaching of evolution. However, that process is
being challenged by a lawsuit, and many parents and residents feel as if
their voices have been muted.
We voted to improve our science curriculum, and we responded to residents'
concerns on the issue by asking, in clearly secular language, with no
religious agenda or intent, that individuals studying the topic keep an
open mind. The textbook we chose contains hundreds of pages explaining
evolutionary theory and the studies of Darwin. It is the pre-eminent theory
in scientific thought on the origin of life, and our curriculum reflects that.
However, evolution is a very sensitive topic because it conflicts with the
faith of some residents whether anyone thinks that is reasonable or not.
We decided it was proper to acknowledge that fact as we moved forward to
improve our science instruction.
We teach science in science class a fact that has been forgotten,
overlooked or distorted by most of the critics in this case. We have not
and do not intend to teach religion nor to discuss alternative theories as
a means of promoting religion. Nonetheless, we believe it would be both
mean-spirited and counterproductive to learning if we were to ignore some
students' backgrounds when we teach this subject.
This is not a battle between science and religion. It is about teaching
science, and who decides how we do it.
Evolutionary theory is an important part of science, which can and should
be taught in a respectful manner without forcing it on students as dogma.
Every scientific discovery has occurred because someone had the curiosity
and creativity to question and re-evaluate current theories. The very
nature of science is to question and explore.
In a larger sense, criticism, dissent and tolerance for (although not
necessarily agreement with) the views of others are one of the fundamental
pillars of our democracy. We believe that our society is in real trouble if
we have reached the point where any segment of our citizenry can exercise a
heckler's veto or ridicule and quash all dissenting views about a subject,
whether in the name of science or religion.
Instead, we should respect our democratic process, which allows for civil
discourse by responsive form of government, to prevail. That is our basis
for appeal.
Our hope is that the higher court will recognize the board's attempt to
thoughtfully address a difficult situation in a legal and forthright
manner, rather than further disenfranchise parents, many of whom will see
this as a denigration of accountability and local control.
Let us further dispel rumors and accusations by stating that this decision
was made independent of any mysterious and anonymous benefactor. No one has
written a check and no one has signed any obligation to pay for this appeal.
The board is not involved in any fund-raising, nor are we seeking any
commitments for financial support. We do not wish to risk further cost to
taxpayers. Except for our previously stated attorneys' offer to handle the
appeal at no additional cost, no unknown or potential donors had any
relevance in our decision to appeal.

OUR OPINION
Stop silent treatment in Cobb
Published on: 02/03/05
The Cobb County Board of Education made an ill-advised decision that has
been bolstered by an anonymous private donor. Some undisclosed person or
persons may be trying to finance the board's appeal of a federal court
ruling against its evolution disclaimers in high school science books.
And board members don't think it is anyone's business, except theirs, to
know who it is. The board justified its position to appeal the court's
ruling last month by trying to assure taxpayers that the legal cost of
extending the case is being handled pro-bono by the board's law firm.
What they didn't disclose is that an anonymous donor had offered to pay the
legal fees if the school board loses the appeal. Those fees could be
$200,000 or more. Last week, The Marietta Daily Journal asked the board to
reveal the donor's identity, but it refused to do so.
That kind of arrogance in the face of public scrutiny has become a
trademark of the Cobb board. In November, it extended the contract of
Superintendent Joseph Redden during a private meeting on a Friday night.
Last month, it held another private meeting to renew the contract with its
law firm the same firm that wrote the text for the stickers.
Cobb parents and taxpayers may have wanted to share some thoughts on the
wisdom of both decisions. They didn't have a chance.
Similarly, they need to know who will be writing the check and influencing
future decisions the board makes when it comes to science education and
school board policies.



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