Devolving Florida schools
"Intelligent Design"—ID, the latest mutation of creationism—was recently handed a spectacular defeat in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case in Pennsylvania.
Not only did District Judge John E. Jones III rule that ID was a religious concept with no legitimate place in science classes, he nailed the "activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board" for "breathtaking inanity" in promoting "an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy, " finding it "ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy."
This humiliation is unlikely to end this part of the political warfare being conducted by hyperChristian fundamentalists against American culture. As usual, right-wing pundits are trying to turn failure into martyrdom by assailing Jones - a Bush II appointee - as a "liberal activist judge" who is "attacking Christians" and similar smears. The next attempted invasion of public school science curricula by creationism is expected this year in Kansas - but the one following that may be here in Florida.
We owe this new opportunity for national ridicule to Gov. Jeb! Bush, who in August appointed as his K-12 Education Chancellor one Cheri Pierson Yecke, who in 2003-04 held a similar position in Minnesota. While there, she promoted a hard-right politicization of state education standards, including versions of ID creationism and a crusade against what she called a "hate America" agenda in social studies (such as criticizing slavery or genocide against Native Americans).
Minnesota observers speculate that Bush may have brought Yecke - whose husband Dennis Yecke also landed a $107,000/yr job in the Fla Dept. of Business & Professional Regulation - down south as a favor to northern Republicans who wanted to remove a loose cannon from the Congressional primary she had entered. Due to term limits, this will be Bush's last year as governor of Florida, so he has little to fear from Yecke's potential trouble-making.
Standards for public school science curricula are scheduled for review in 2007, depending on the pace of other reviews. Anticipating an assault on evolution and other facets of well-established science by Yecke and allies such as Ocala's state Rep. Dennis Baxley, a new group called Florida Citizens for Science is organizing itself to protect and improve state educational principles (see www.flcfs.org for information on participating, as well as continuing news coverage).
The controversy is expected to be heated (Baxley in particular is a reliable source of hot air), and probably confusing to those who don't follow it carefully. Many - not all - modern creationists have abandoned bible-thumping as their primary strategy (though most seem ready to resort to atheist-baiting at any opportunity), pretending that ID is serious science and appealing to Americans' sense of fairness through slogans such as "teach the controversy" (even though there is no such controversy about evolution among scientists, only in the spin of rightist-funded public relations projects such as Seattle's Discovery Institute).
We can only hope the debate won't descend to the level found in Kansas, where in December Paul Mirecki, an outspoken anti-creationist university professor, was roughed up on a dark highway by two strangers.
The true controversy continues to be whether a narrow-minded and power-hungry sect of wannabe theocrats, in concert with ruthlessly greedy corporate CEOs, can overturn US schools and science for their own advantage, leaving Florida students with much to unlearn before they can compete for biotech jobs or grasp biological issues as citizens. Similar struggles are underway over issues including global warming, women's health, endangered species, chemical pollution, worker safety, and more: for a good overview, read Chris C. Mooney's The Republican War On Science (Basic Books, 2005).
For more information on the evolution/creation battle, see -
* National Center for Science Education (www.ncseweb.org) for the big picture
* TalkOrigins (www.talkorigins.org) for scientific answers
* Panda's Thumb (www.pandasthumb.org) for up-to-date news both political and scientific.
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