Testing Intelligent Design An Uncompromising School Board

The small central Pennsylvania community of Dover had for several years feuded over the teaching of evolution. From at least 2001 on, some school board members had made public comments derogatory of evolution or in favor of teaching creationism. In 2002, a four-foot by sixteen-foot student-painted mural depicting a line of progressively more human "ape-men" was removed from the wall of the science classroom and burned by a school district custodian, allegedly while a school board member looked on. The custodian considered the naked figures obscene and irreligious (Lebo 2005).

Fueling the fire was that, in 2001, the state of Pennsylvania adopted science education standards that required the teaching of evolution. In 2003, when it was time for Dover to select a new biology textbook, teachers chose a textbook that included a conventional treatment of this subject: a standard commercial textbook published by Prentice Hall, Biology by Kenneth R. Miller and Joseph Levine.

This choice did not sit well with some of the school board members, who delayed the purchase of the book for more than a year. At a school board meeting in June 2004, board members contended that a new book should be chosen that included both creationism and evolution. Teachers argued that this would be bad educational policy and would unconstitutionally promote religion. Board members also urged teachers to use an intelligent design (ID) video, Icons of Evolution. Teachers dutifully reviewed it but judged it unsuitable for the classroom.

one board member, William Buckingham, sought advice from the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), a Michigan-based organization that describes itself as "the sword and shield for people of faith," and was told of a supplemental textbook, Of Pandas and People, that presented ID. The TMLC had, in fact, been searching for a school district willing to mount a test case of the legality of teaching ID (Goodstein 2005). Buckingham proposed to the board that Pandas could be used to counter the evolution presented in the Prentice Hall book. (Pandas was discussed in chapter 6: produced by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE), it is the first book to use the phrase intelligent design in its modern context.) Teachers examined Pandas and rejected it as not matching the curriculum for high school students and as scientifically inaccurate. They also criticized its old-fashioned pedagogical approach. School board members, led by Buckingham, persisted in holding up the textbook adoption and refused to vote to approve the Prentice Hall book unless Pandas also was approved. Finally, at a school board meeting in August 2004, enough board members voted to approve the new textbooks. Teachers resisted using Pandas as a supplementary textbook alongside the regular textbook, but as a compromise, partly in fear of losing their jobs, they agreed to place Pandas in the classroom as a reference book (Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, 400 F.Supp.2d 707 at 755). Because some community members were raising objections to the use of public money to buy a creationist book, Buckingham requested donations from his church, and raised $850 to purchase sixty copies of Pandas for donation to the school district. Church members believed that they were supporting the teaching of creationism.

But the teachers left the books in the packing boxes and showed no inclination to use them. Furthermore, at a meeting in early october 2004, the district superintendent clarified that because Pandas was only a reference book, teachers would not be required to use it. In response, board members decided that an antievolution policy was necessary, and in mid-october 2004, passed a resolution requiring, "Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of Life is not taught."

Although origins of life usually refers to the appearance of the first living things from nonliving chemicals, to the school board members most actively opposing evolution, the phrase instead meant common ancestry (Kitzmiller, at 749). These school board members thought, therefore, that the policy would forbid the teaching of evolution (in the sense of common ancestry) and promote the teaching of ID. The "gaps/problems in Darwin's theory" and intelligent design were to be taught in lecture form, and Pandas was to be used for readings.

The policy was controversial, and two board members resigned over their colleagues' action. At noisy school board meetings, many parents tried to persuade the school board not to bring what they considered creationism into the science classroom; other parents applauded the board's action for doing precisely that. Some members of the community began talking about a lawsuit, and in November 2004, board members appeared to back off slightly from their earlier enthusiasm for ID and composed a disclaimer for teachers to read to students before teaching evolution. The policy would go into effect at the beginning of the January 2005 school term. This statement was more detailed than the October resolution, proclaiming:

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.

With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments.

The science teachers unanimously refused to read the statement to their classes; when the policy was implemented in January 2005, administrators, rather than teachers, went from class to class to read the board-passed statement. Several teachers, in fact, joined in late fall with other Dover parents to request that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) represent them in a lawsuit against the school district. A complaint was filed in federal district court in December, naming parent Tammy Kitzmiller as the lead plaintiff. Kitzmiller v. Dover thus became the first legal test of ID.

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