Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Intelligently Designed Trojan Horse

As Jill noted, the Ohio State Board of Education considered last night to revise the State science standards in light of the court decision striking down an Intelligent Design curriculum in Dover, PA. After a rough-and-tumble meeting, the Board voted 9-8 to keep the standard. About half the major papers covered the meeting -- nothing on the ABJ website. The Toledo Blade story has the best backgrounder; the Columbus Dispatch ($$) has the best detail about the meeting itself. DDN also and PD also cover.

Akron's representative on the Board is Deborah Owens Fink, a friend of David Brennan and reliable honk for charter schools. She also spearheaded the original movement to inject intelligent design into the curriculum and, as such, was the center of the storm last night (from the Dispatch):

Martha W. Wise, a board member from Avon, sought the resolution, arguing that Ohio’s 10 th-grade science standards are flawed and could subject the state to costly litigation. She said it had been the intent of at least two board members to get intelligent design into Ohio’s standards.

"You’re obviously calling me a liar," Michael Cochran, of Blacklick, told Wise, denying he ever pushed intelligent design. Deborah Owens Fink, a board member from Richfield, said she was livid that Wise would question her intent in such "unprofessional attacks."

"You don’t want to go there," Fink said.

The exchange prompted Robin C. Hovis, of Millersburg, to remind members that Fink several years ago had introduced a proposal calling for students to be taught both intelligent design and evolution in science class.
The standard itself appears innocuous. It merely says that student must be able to "describe how scientists today continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." Sounds, well, scientific. Lawrence Krauss, a Case Western physicist and leader of the pro-science lobby explains the problem:
We won because we had kept intelligent design out of science classes. We
lost because in the spirit of “fairness,” the board added a sentence to the
standards saying, “Students shouldlearn how scientists are continuing to critically examineevolutionary theory.” I strongly opposed this. I wanted them to say that scientists are continuing to critically examine everything.
The idea, from the ID perspective, is to use the language as a wedge, opening a gap and shove ID and eventually creationism in. Krauss continues:

As I feared, this sentence opened the door for the creationists’ claiming that there is controversy about the accuracy of evolutionary theory. And it’s come back to haunt us. Just the other week, I had to put everything I was doing aside because the creationists were back at their old games again in Ohio. One of the model lessons that came out was an intelligent-design diatribe. Basically, they snuck the whole thing in again, through the back door.p>

In retrospect, the effort to change the standards was probably doomed from the start. First and foremost, the Board is stacked with Republicans, enough of whom want to sop the religious right that they will won't vote for something that would so thoroughly piss them off. But also, the proponents of the change were making a frontal assault that the sneakily innocuous language resists. In fact, the language itself probably can survive a court challenge unless the Sixth Circuit really falls in love with an "improper motive" theory.

The better argument is that changing the standard would save local school boards from wasting money with court challenges. The State standard doesn't require ID teaching, it merely creates an environment where local school boards might be tempted to try it. Hopefully the Dover decision will prevent that from happening, assuming it holds up on appeal. The Dover decision didn't prompt the State Board to remove the Trojan Horse, but it may keep the trap door locked.

Speaking locally, could ID happen here? As of now, it doesn't appear so, but ID lovers are closer than they were before the election. At the Candidates Night (which I attended) Sheila Smith -- who won one of the open seats -- openly proclaimed her support for ID. Kirt Conrad -- who was appointed to Loretta Haugh's seat -- was softly opposed. After publicly fretting about "the role of a Christian in public life," he came down against it basically because it would subject the School District to litigation. It sounded to me that he might be open to the idea if the prevailing case law allows it.

As the Alito hearings drag on, Kirt Conrad takes up residence in my anxiety closet.


Jill said...

Ph0 - What we also must keep a watch on is whether the OGT morphs its section on life sciences to the extent that it asks students to demonstrate how one might criticize evolution. That kind of question would be fair game under the current curriculum standards even though the standards indicate that there is not MANDATE that that kind of question be asked, or prepared for.

However, it's not EXCLUDED material (from the OGT) either.

So - I would say, how do we monitor what is being asked on the OGT and what kinds of answers are acceptable? For how could you answer a question about alternative theories or critiques of evolution if you don't talk about ID or creationism?

I believe that this is the concern of those who want the standards restored to pure science (me being one of them).

k-pho said...

Hopefully the Dover decision will prevent that from happening, assuming it holds up on appeal.

I don't think it is being appealed, what with much of the Dover school board getting the boot in November. CNN says they're dumping ID and, I believe, not appealing.

delilah said...

People like you and Jill amaze me. I am sure you are for comprehensive education in other areas but when it comes to this subject you aren't. It really doesn't make sense. I read your blog and I do enjoy the current events but you make me laugh.

Jill said...

Hi Judeandelise -

I clicked over to your blogs and see that you're in education. If you want to help folks like me better understand why someone like me makes you laugh, perhaps you could be more specific about why what we say affects you in that manner.

If it helps you at all, I don't believe that a comprehensive public school education includes the teaching of religion in any way, shape or form. A public high school's science curriculum is comprehensive without creationism, ID or any other faith-based rationale that assigns the unexplainable to an unknowable entity and that cannot be run through the scientific methodologies our public school kids need to understand and practice.

I'm not being tongue-in-cheek here. Please, don't expose the tip of your iceberg and nothing more. That's kind of snarky, I think. Especially for someone who describes herself on her blog as "...a once wild and crazy free spirited girl turned fun loving wife and mom."

I for one would like to know - how exactly do you see this Ohio science standards issue?


Scott Piepho said...

Jill and judeandelise:

I am working up a responsive post. I have an article due tomorrow, so blogging is a little behind.


I'm aware that Dover SD dropped the ID curriculum. The decision itself will be tested at the appellate level one way or another. Either someone will successfully intervene in the instant suit (some standing problems there, but surely someone will try) or another school board will do ID and take it up. Right now the decision controls nothing outside of that case. Once we start getting some circuit court rulings, we will have a better idea where things stand -- and exactly what Conrad meant.

Anonymous said...

Conrad definitely belongs in the anxiety closet! You very correctly characterized his statements, by my memory of the evening. He gave every indication that he'd support ID if given any chance at all (and also that he thought this was a religious rather than science/education issue).
However, Smith is a different situation. She did come out in support of ID, but the way she did that seemed to indicate that she'd never really heard about it before. My fear is that she is just a garden variety creationist, but it may be that she is simply an uninformed religious person who tranlated the question into 'is religion important?'. Probably I'm whistling in the dark, but at least it's a chance.