January 10, 2008

Florida Creationism: Taylor County Not an Agent for Evolution

If you haven't already heard about this in any number of other science-related blogs, the Taylor County school board in Florida passed a resolution on November 20 that outrightly objected to that state's proposed new science standards including evolutionary theory. The entire resolution is available on Florida Citizens for Science's blog. It contains statement after statement revealing the adopters' own lack of education on the topic, such as:

...we are requesting that the State Board of Education direct the Florida Department of Education to revise/edit the new Sunshine State Standards for Science so that evolution is presented as one of several theories as to how the universe was formed.
Needless to say, it's clear that Taylor County's school board demonstrates once again that those opposed to teaching evolutionary theory are often the best evidence that science education needs improvement. Because the resolution itself is already under discussion at several different blogs, though, I won't go through the whole thing here.

Rather, Taylor County itself bears examination. This isn't the first time it has popped up on this blog; the last time was on August 17. Why, you may ask, would a small, rural county in Florida show up here twice in the same year?

In August, a study in Florida revealed that Taylor County had one of the highest infant mortality rates among non-Caucasians in the country, with 33.3 deaths for every 1,000 live births — much higher than many developing countries. Oddly, the same study showed that Caucasians in Taylor County had an infant mortality rate of 0.0 per 1,000 births. That's a rather pronounced discrepancy, especially considering that the county's population is 78% Caucasian according to US Census figures.

The school board itself doesn't exactly do a bang-up job with education in Taylor, in any case. Only 70% of the county's population holds a high school diploma and just under 9% of residents attain a bachelor's degree as compared to 80% and 24% for those figures respectively nationally. This is a substantial difference and demonstrates that Taylor County probably isn't a place where a lot of effort is going into education. Clearly, the place lags behind.

That there is a marked racial divide in the county becomes apparent when one looks at figures about, for example, business ownership. Of the county's 1,219 business entities of any kind, fewer than 100 are black-owned. Even with its small population of about 20,000, one would expect something different. Nationally, over 18% of businesses are owned by minorities and better than 5% are black-owned. If anything, Florida has a higher rate of black business ownership than the national figure (6.6%) — but not in Taylor. Combine this with the infant mortality rate and a picture begins to emerge of a place that may have failed to evolve not just in terms of science classes but perhaps in social progress as well.

Of course, the fact that people in Taylor County were only too happy to admit that racial segregation is still "voluntarily" practiced there as recently as 2001 might lend a bit more force to these numbers, too.
...While segregation is no longer legal, people's habits haven't changed. Blacks and whites still live, worship and drink separately. And nobody seems to mind.

Nobody in Perry, that is.

But three weeks ago when Talmadge Branch, a black Maryland lawmaker, was told he had to drink in a back room at the Perry Package Store and Lounge, residents here found themselves staring into television news cameras while state and federal officials swarmed the area investigating the complaint...

Many residents agree that racial separation is alive and well in Perry, which has about 8,000 residents and is the seat of Taylor County. But, they say, that's just the way things are...

"All the bars are segregated," said Monroe, who is black. "They have a part for the blacks and a part for the whites."

But Monroe, 67, said that doesn't bother the blacks in Perry who, like folks anywhere, go where they feel welcome...

"It appears that we coexist peacefully on the surface, but there are long-standing cultural belief systems that anti-discrimination and desegregation laws haven't changed," Scott said. "We coexist peacefully, and sometimes not so peacefully..."

"They have a buzzer on the door. If you're black, they will not unlock the door and let you in. I have gone there for years and I have never seen anybody black there.."
Perhaps it's worth noting at this point that the article above is talking about Perry, Taylor County's seat and the very place where the county board of education meets. Perry, FL has a nasty way of popping up when it comes to incidents of overt racism. Every so often, something like that comes out. Strange how that happens.

I'm not saying that disagreeing with the teaching of evolutionary biology in public schools results in racism, a high drop-out rate and elevated infant mortality among minorities. That would be a patently ridiculous statement. I do think there's a connection between a mentality that allows for these things and one that seeks to diminish science education in this case. It's corroboration, not causation.

Taylor County as it is stands as an impoverished, underdeveloped and — dare I say it — backwards place, and its school board's lack of commitment, and even opposition to, improving education isn't going to solve its problems. If anything, it will work to prevent change that might come in an improved standard of living. Of course, it's entirely likely that residents don't want to see change, that they're happy working in what's left of the Florida timber industry (Taylor County is dubbed the "tree capital of the South"). Maybe they don't put much value on education, hence the existence of such a dubious and manifestly ignorant school board.

After all, the best way to make sure that things don't change for the better is to put incompetents in charge. Is that the mentality at work in Taylor County which explains why people who don't know the difference between cosmogeny and biology are sitting on a school board?

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