Saturday, February 19, 2005
From an evolutionary point of view, man has stopped moving,
if he ever did move
— Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man
For this week’s musings we return again to Cobb County Georgia.
Cobb County is the county that is constantly trying to rediscover itself. It does that by looking into past centuries in order to determine how its citizens should behave today. Although few, if any, of its citizens were alive when the Puritans held forth, that does not mean that the county can not look to those enlightened folk for guidance.
Back in 1993 the Cobb County Commissioners, emulating their forebears, took it upon themselves to peer into the bedrooms of their citizens in order to observe their nocturnal habits. What they saw disturbed them, as , indeed, it would have disturbed the Puritans. In certain select households they saw homosexual activity undertaken by the bedroom’s occupants. Horrified, as any god-fearing citizen would have been, the commissioners took it upon themselves to address that dreadful situation. On August 11, 1993, the commissioners enacted an extraordinary resolution. It said, in part, that “life styles advocated by the gay community are incompatible with the standards to which this community subscribes.”
That resolution has inherent in it certain problems and offered the potential to have quite unexpected results, not the least of which would be that it could come back to bite the commissioners and the presumably countless heterosexual couples living in Cobb County. If members of the gay community publicly came out in favor of a heterosexual life style for heterosexual couples it would, presumably, render those life styles unacceptable to the county commissioners. That was not, however, a problem that the Commissioners chose to address if, indeed, they were even aware of it and it is impossible to know what, if any, effect the resolution had on life styles in Cobb County.
Not satisfied with the reputation it earned by passing that resolution, the county has once again entered what can only be described as the empty headed world. It is entered in order to protect its children from the evils of science. Responding to parents unencumbered by knowledge but encumbered with an excess of religious zeal, the board of education has addressed the perplexing problem of evolution. Not if, but how to deal with it.
For a number of years the Cobb County school board banned the teaching of evolution in elementary and middle schools. (In high school it was offered as an elective.) In 2004 it was determined that by avoiding the awkwardness of evolution, schools in Cobb County were not measuring up to the state of Georgia curriculum standards. To cure the problem, the school board mandated use of a new biology textbook that included instruction on evolution. When parents in Cobb County learned of this affront to common sense and biblical teachings, they rose up in protest. Their protest was, in fact, affirmation of their beliefs since it strongly suggested that evolution, if real, had not worked its magic on them.
Determined to teach evolution, even to the children of the unevolved, but aware of the sensitivity of the subject, the school board concluded the best thing to do was to put a sticker inside each textbook that said: “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.” Implicit in the statement was the hint that perhaps other subjects needn’t be critically considered.
For now, at least, the stickers have been removed. A federal judge said that the sticker was unconstitutional and ordered it removed. An appeal is pending. The good news for the unevolved, is that they have lots of company.
According to a story in the New York Times many school districts around the country find it easier to avoid evolution than to deal with its consequences, among which are angry parents. According to John Frandsen, a retired zoologist, many teachers ignore the subject. One teacher he met told him she ignored the subject because “she knew she’d get in trouble with the principal if word got about that she was teaching it.”
Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education was quoted as saying that she was frequently told teaching evolution was “too much trouble.” Not that all the news is bad.
According to the National Science Foundation, a survey taken in 2001 showed that 53 percent of Americans agreed with the statements that “human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals.” It did not say what the other 47 percent believe. Many of them have probably not evolved enough to have a well-reasoned opinion.