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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the public school system...

Those who are attentive to the news are aware that the controversial Tammy Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District et al. case over intelligent design was recently decided in favor of responsible science. So, in other words, Intelligent Design lost. Given that the presiding judge was appointed by a president who is friendly with intelligent design, this ruling was quite momentous. Given that the ruling indicates that the teaching of intelligent design in a public school science classroom is unconstitutional, this is a major victory.

But, as you might guess, the fun isn't over. It has come to my attention that intelligent design has already returned to the classroom in the guise of a philosophy course. I refer to this article in the New York Times that outlines a new course being taught in the California public school system called, "Philosophy of Design." This course is intended to discuss the idea of intelligent design as well as evolution (and the hypothetical flaws in the evidence for evolution) and introduce students to the controversy. Moreover, as it isn't a science course, the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision doesn't necessarily apply to it. Regardless, a group of parents are suing the school system to prevent this course from being taught.

Now, I have said before that I think ID can be taught in public school so long as it isn't taught in a science classroom. So am I okay with this? Well, mostly. First off, the course is an elective, meaning not all students will have to take it. Given that evolution will likely still be taught in required biology classes, I don't see this as an unreasonable compromise. An examination of the science curriculum at the high school in question, Frazier Mountain High, gives me reason to believe that students will not be unduly harmed by this action. So, we're largely okay here.

On the downside is something else. Taking a look at the actual description of the course:

"This class will take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological and biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin's philosophy is not rock solid."

In other words the class presupposes that evolution is a shaky theory, and elevates biblical criticism of science into the public schools. I'm a little nervous about that, frankly, as it implies that this course is less a philosophical discussion about design, and more a theological attack on science in the guise of philosophy.

It may sound like I'm overreacting, as I tend to do, but I think you should consider a few more things. The instructor for this course is married to the local Assemblies of God minister, which certainly suggests that the content of this course may be influenced by a religious group that supports such notions as Glossolalia and faith healing. That's a little concerning but not, itself, a problem per se. However, let's combine it with another little detail:

The course at Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec, which serves a rural area north of Los Angeles, was proposed by a special education teacher last month and approved by the board of trustees in an emergency meeting on New Year's Day.

Now, leaving aside the joke about fans of intelligent design needing special education, consider the timing. A new course was proposed in December and then approved, in an emergency meeting, on New Year's Day. That sounds pretty interesting to me given the almost geologic pace at which most education bureaucracies move. This is particularly so given that the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover was given on the 20th of December. Sounds a lot to me like the course was added at the last minute once the constitutionality issue was partially settled. Or, put another way, once they knew how far and in what direction they could stretch the constitution, they did so.

Does all that mean the class shouldn't be taught? Again, not so much. It's an elective, science is still being taught in science class, and exposure to rival ideas is almost always a good thing- even if those rival ideas are based on deliberate misrepresentations of the facts. So, I think I'm mostly okay with this class being taught. I just wish the religious right would at least pretend to be interested in making this "philosophy" class an earnest debate, rather than just another attempt at indoctrination.

We have enough religious indoctrination in our society as it is.


Blogger tina said...


I thought of you when I read this article. I, too, would like to believe that there is room for religious studies in public schools. However, I worry that in many cases it would turn out to be indoctrination.

And yet, we lose something when we can't teach kids about, say, the history of religion, or the diversity of religious forms. What to do?

Thursday, January 12, 2006 8:25:00 AM  

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