On January 18th, 2005 the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas sent a letter to the school board of Beebe, a small town of less than 10,000 located in the Northeast Central part of the state.
The ACLU of Arkansas wishes to make clear our intentions in this matter. While we would prefer to avoid litigation, we seek the immediate removal of the sticker regarding evolution that now appears in textbooks in the Beebe School District. We expect to hear from you concerning this matter within two weeks from the date of this letter.
The sticker in question had been in the front of Beebe textbooks for nearly a decade.
What had changed? A few days earlier in Selman et al. v Cobb County School Board a federal judge ruled that stickers included in textbooks in this Georgia school district need to be removed because it “improperly entangled itself with religion”.
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.
Approved by Cobb County Board of Education Thursday, March 28, 2002
Of course, Beebe’s sticker went far beyond the Cobb County three-line sticker. By a July, the Beebe School Board in fear of lawsuit ordered the removal of the stickers. A month later Beebe teachers were ripping the pages with the stickers out of the textbooks.
The teaching of evolution in Arkansas has always had a contentious history. The landmark 1968 Epperson v. Arkansas trial invalidated an Arkansas statute that prohibited the teaching of human evolution in the public schools. Nearly four decade later the issue of teaching evolution was still controversial. In 2003, Bob Dunning, a pastor of Rocky Comfort Assembly God Church, asked for a religious exemption for Rogers school district students to opt out of evolution studies. Dunning brought several pastors and nearly three dozen congregational members with him to the April school board meeting. Dunning proclaimed in these proceedings that “Evolution is the worst thing ever foisted on human beings.” The school board voted against this 5-2 largely because local school boards cannot pass resolutions exemption students from any state required class work.
In 2007, also in the Roger’s School District, a dentist, Don Eckard, and a patron, Mark Moore, approached Rogers school board to augment textbooks with “supplemental materials” including a DVD “How to Teach the Controversy Over Darwin Legally”and other materials from the pro-intelligent design and conservative think tank Discovery Institute . Eckard stated
Teachers may have trouble fully meeting state science standards without supplemental materials for textbooks when some textbooks present a one-sided commitment to a portion of the material covered…all four [biology textbooks] present the neo-Darwinism theory of evolution…with very little critical analysis…no objective observer can look at these textbooks and with intellectual integrity say they fulfill state standards.
Roger’s High School science teacher, Steve Long, stated the materials were
superfluous and may detract from the overall biology curriculum by creating confusion where no mainstream controversy exist or adding additional days of instruction to an already crowded curriculum.
The school board ultimately didn’t adopt these extra materials
But all of this may be a moot point. Fifty miles south of Rogers in the Ozarks is Cedarville, Arkansas. I graduate from the small high school here. There were a mere 42 people in my graduating class. I never once heard about evolution during any of my science classes. Not once. Evolution was simply not a controversy because my teachers never mentioned the topic despite being a requirement of Arkansas state science standards.
This absence is by far more dangerous than the visible cases about whether evolution should be taught. In these silent school districts the choice has already been made. Censorship rules the day.
Back in Rogers, apparently unknown to Eckard and Dunning before, the theory of evolution was apparently rarely covered. Dr. Angela Potochnik, an associate professor of Philosophy at the University of Cincinnati with a Ph.D. from Stanford University, happens to be a 1998 graduate of Rogers High School. In 2002, while at Stanford she found she had deficiency in her understanding of evolution compared to her classmates. We had both faced a similiar issues only realized by both of us later in our academic careers when the gaps in our education became noticeablew . In Potochnik’s letter to the Roger’s School Board later that year, she noted that she could not recall evolution ever being brought up in the curriculum. She recounts in her letter an interaction with a teacher who told her that evolution was not mentioned in class because “other students weren’t mature enough for such a subject.”
I leave with Dr. Potochnik’s words
…we live in a state forward thinking enough–at least in our laws–to say that we will teach the methods and theories of science, including those regarding evolution. We are as a population, I believe, forward thinking enough to realize that covering our ears when such subjects are mentioned is not a way to deal effectively with the situation. Dissenters can, by all means, dissent. But dissenters, either school children or their parents, should not be feared to the extent that teachers fails to teach information than can turn out to be central to someone’s academic or professional success.