Friday, April 08, 2005

The Battle of Grantsburg

From FYI:
Challenges to the teaching of evolution in public schools across the country have prompted National Academy of Sciences President Bruce Alberts to write to all members of the Academy. Warning of "a growing threat to the teaching of science," Alberts calls on Academy members, if such a controversy arises in their state or school district, to take actions against "attempts to limit the teaching of evolution or to introduce non-scientific `alternatives' into science courses and curricula."
Let me take you to the trenches in such a school district, Grantsburg, a small town in northwestern Wisconsin.

A good college friend of mine who grew up in suburban Connecticut, after finishing medical school and residency took a family practice position in Grantsburg. He got married, had kids and grew to like the rural life. But recently he got involved in a nasty battle with the school board.

The board last fall, after viewing an anti-evolution movie, had authorized teachers to teach "alternate theories of evolution" in the science curriculum. Last December, the board under some pressure changed the policy

Students are expected to analyze, review and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses, using scientific evidence and information. Students shall be able to explain the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory.
Not much of an improvement. So the opposers brought in local professors to discuss the importance of evolution but this failed to sway the board.

So finally they tried to replace the board with a slate of science-friendly candidates but just this week they lost that fight as well.

And so my friend, who simply wanted to be a good country doctor, has made some enemies and worries about about the education his kids will receive.


  1. This would be one of the many reasons I send my kids to private school.

  2. There is the conspiracy theory that this attack is politically supported at the higher levels, not only to drum up the religious ideologues but also to maneuver the "left" into supporting voucher programs.

    Though it's an appealing idea to the cynical, in reality it's probably an horrible mish-mash of well-intentioned folks on the smaller scale supported with a little bit of astroturf.

    Specifically, the wording above sounds like it could be a misguided effort toward compromise. I mean, scientific results are ideally resistant to the kind of attack above; however, in practice this will only sustain vagueness and evolution-dodging. It's like an insidious form of the "new math" - new math was quickly attacked when basic competency fell, but this competency may be harder to gauge here if anti-evolutionists are designing the criteria. I can just see the new standardized tests: "Evolution is a) proven, b) not proven."

  3. I think the worst part of the "teach the holes in evolution" movement (they do it to give it "balance") is that most of the holes they talk about have been patched up in the past decade.

    It's a science that is growing and improving all the time, and the people who are eager to teach the "holes" are clearly not scientists because they are unable to keep up. I may not like some of the things, say, Ayn Rand has to say, but if I'm to successfully refute her I'd have to at least understand what she was claiming in the first place.

  4. It seems as though religion is winning ground in the battle against science in American society these days. Hopefully, it's no more than a blip and will fade as a generation of religious die-hards slowly dwindles.

  5. The irony is that even the Pope who is hardly a bastion of left wing radicalism (viz contraception, abortion, condoms, in-vitro fertilization, women priests) has accepted evolution as a fact. He said [paraphrasing] that the abundance of the fossil record could only be interpreted as a message from God telling us that evolution is indeed a fact, and that the Genesis is but a metaphor.

  6. I think the most frustrating part of this particular battle is that it feels like we're fighting a battle against a bunch of late-to-the-party flat-earthers who didn't get the memo. Other that religious dogma itself, I can't wrap my head around what it is these people think they are defending.

  7. As science becomes more and more
    sophisticated and specialized, most
    people view it simply as means to
    producing technology. Science and
    its products are simply viewed as
    coming out of a factory. Same thing
    with food products. People, after
    a while, see live chicken only on
    TV even though they consume a huge
    quantity of it each year. There is
    a disconnect and then people don't
    think it is a contradiction to
    believe in creationism while enjoying the benefits of the
    scientific method. Same thing with
    food. People can rail against
    cruelty to animals while still
    demanding that chicken be priced
    at ultra low prices at their
    neighbourhood grocery store.

  8. According to the US government, Noah's biblical flood is what created the Grand Canyon .

  9. Oops. Broken link from previous comment.