January 22, 2008

Florida Creationism: Jackson County School Board

Yet another county school board in Florida, this time from Jackson County, has passed a resolution exhibiting ignorance and disdain for both modern science and the law. This time it's in Jackson County, another small (pop. about 49,000) rural jurisdiction in northwestern Florida where about 1 in 7 residents lives below the federal poverty line and about 12% of the residents have gone on to a university education (per US Census). It's a very heavily religious area that leans strongly toward evangelical fundamentalism, so it's not a big surprise that the decision was made to sign on with the David Gibbs Christian Law circus and pass a revelatory, if not meaningful, resolution demanding that room be made for teaching Creationism in science classes (if a class that presents religious mythology as scientific theory can be termed a science class at all any longer).

Jackson County School Board opposes the teaching of evolution as fact

Perhaps for the first time, the subject of evolution has come before the Jackson County School Board, but it wasn't publicly acknowledged.

Evolution didn't come up, per se; the word itself was never spoken.

It came by way of the newly proposed Sunshine State Standards for Science. A draft of the new standards is to be considered at a State Board of Education meeting and the draft uses the word evolution several times, whereas the previous standards did not.

The school board opposed the new wording and unanimously passed a resolution in its January meeting last Tuesday, though no one specifically said why.

The new standards were not on the original agenda so weren't considered in the workshop; the standards were added for "just cause" to the meeting because the BOE date was imminent...

In recent days, [Superintendent Danny] Sims was asked to explain how the resolution came about, and board members were asked why they voted for it.

"Dr. Nichols and I talked about it and felt it was something we wanted to look at and make a statement on," Sims said. "The board members have access to the Sunshine State Standards online, so they could look at them.

"We have had standards for science for several years, but the old standards didn't use the word evolution. It alluded to evolution but did not use the word," Sims said. The new standards, however, "looked like it limited what you could discuss, and I think that was the sticking point..."

He said no one "led a charge," but "we had a few people that did call. Some were parents, some were educators, some were ministers."

Duffee and Gardner both said "the resolution speaks for itself."

Chris Johnson said other school board districts had taken a stand "and I felt we needed to take a stand for ourselves. What we were saying is that evolution is a theory, and a theory is an educated guess. Personally I don't believe I came from a lower life form; I was created by God.

"Everybody is entitled to their opinion, but if we are going to teach evolution we need to teach all similar theories and creation should be one of those. Evolution is not the only way," Johnson said.

Kenny Griffin said he had no problem with teaching evolution, "but our concern is we're teaching it as fact. And this will be taught to younger students, too."

He said if it were just older students in question it might be different, as they might understand there are other options.

"They're able to make more decisions of their own," but the standards also apply to kindergarten and second grade, he said.

"We would like (evolution) to be taught as theory and not as fact," Griffin said. "And I think there's been a lot of that said throughout the state..."
The passages bolded above are, I think, particularly telling about the motivations behind this. Note that there was no public discussion about the resolution at all; it was essentially slipped into the agenda while nobody was looking. A search of the Jackson County School Board website fails to turn up a copy of this resolution that "speaks for itself." It may speak for itself, but it apparently only does so in places where nobody else can hear what it's saying. In fact, the last minutes of a school board meeting available on the website date back to December 18, so there's no record to be seen there of the discussions that led to this resolution.

That a school board member argues against the state standards because they "limit what can be talked about" is ridiculous. Of course they do; that's why they're called "standards." They're a set of criteria that must be met in public education. They're limiting by definition. It's not just statewide standards that limit what can be talked about in school, however. There's also federal case law by the truckload that does the same thing. Along with needing an education about basic science, these board members should have a look into cases like Edwards v. Aguillard sometime. Surely that would quiet their braying about religious instruction being precluded from the lesson plan.

Still, this objection is a barely-concealed cipher for "we want to teach biblical Creationism and the standards force us to teach science." Any doubt that this is the case is certainly removed by Chris Johnson's assertion that he was created by God. That Johnson is utterly clueless of even the most basic principles of science is revealed by his idiotic babble about a theory being an educated guess. While I suspect that he objects to the "educated" part more than the "guess" part in his heart of hearts, he doesn't appear to be aware that an "educated guess" might qualify as a hypothesis (given other conditions, e.g. falsifiability). A theory is a set of principles built upon evidence that explain all known phenomenon in the realm that they address as well as being able to predict and accommodate future facts without contradiction. That someone who doesn't know this is given and exercises the power to make any decisions about science education is unconscionable. He literally doesn't know the first thing about the topic and so should have the decency to recuse himself from discussions about it — and maybe get some basic education about it himself. Perhaps then it would no longer be fair to label him Johnson the Jackson Jackass as I find myself doing after reading of his total ignorance.

Herein lies the problem with these rural evangelical objections to the teaching of evolutionary theory. They want it taught as a theory, they say. Good news! Evolutionary theory can only be taught as a theory. There are facts that have been used, and continue to be used, as data that support the numerous principles that make up that theory, but the theory itself cannot, by definition, be taught as a fact because it is not a single fact. The problem, however, is that this isn't what's meant by these Jacksonasses when they use the word "theory." What Johnson and his benighted cohort wants is to redefine the word "theory" itself to suit their ends. They want to teach students that a scientific theory is an "educated guess" not only because they themselves are completely lacking in science education but because it obviated the need to discuss evidence and puts any fairy tale they wish on an equal footing with evolutionary biology in terms of meaningful content.

If they don't do this, they can't make the argument that there are "other ways," by which they mean the story their religion puts forth as an explanation for biological diversity — even though there is nothing in it about diversity in the first place beyond separating things into animals that creep and fly. However, if science (which is at its best composed of provisional theories) is only an educated guess, there's no need to justify saying whatever they want to say. As we're told in the article above, when you don't have to validate an idea with facts, everything is just an opinion and "everybody's entitled to their opinion." That their opinion might be wrong, that they might be degrading useful education — whatever passes for that in a county whose schools are overseen by these dullards — isn't the least bit important. Science is about understanding how the universe works; education in Jackson County is, to hear the Creationists tell it, about preserving a religious tradition.

All in all, this resolution is yet another example of how these Floridian Creationism proponents demonstrate their unfitness when it comes to science curricula. Were it not so pernicious toward the value of education it would merely be pathetic. The situation being what it is, however, these Jackson County Jackasses should be removed from office at the earliest opportunity to make way for people who actually know what the words "science education" mean. Perhaps improving education would eventually ameliorate Jackson County's poor economic condition and provide real opportunity for its younger citizens.

I note with some chagrin that the Jackson School Board website doesn't include specific contact information for any of its members. For those wishing to comment directly to those members, I've used freely-accessible records found via simple searches to dig up contact info and put it all in one place; the sources for that information are given as well.

District 1
Terry E. Nichols, DMD
966 7th Ave
Graceville, FL 32440
[Source 1] [Source 2]

District 2
Kenneth Griffin
2690 Gardenview
Alford, Fl 32420
[Source 1] [Source 2]

District 3
Betty B. Duffee
3471 Live Oak Lane
Marianna, FL 32446
850/482-1200, Ext. 208-SBO
[Source 1] [Source 2]

District 4
Chris Johnson
1811 Tobe Way
Grand Ridge, FL 32442

District 5
Charlotte Gardner
5275 Woodgate Way
Marianna, FL 32446
850/482-1200, Ext. 208-SBO
[Source 1] [Source 2]

Daniel G. Sims
1300 Highway 71
Marianna, FL 32448
Phone: 850/482-1200
SunCom: 789-1200
Fax: 850/482-1299
[Source 1] [Source 2]

Deputy Superintendent
H. Larry Moore
5046 Peanut Rd
Graceville, FL 32440
850-482-1200 x 209 SBO
850-263-2507 H
[Source 1] [Source 2]

PLEASE NOTE: The contact information above is for the use of interested and rational parties to contact these individuals about their stands on science education. Threats and harassment are illegal and if you engage in them, you'll get what you deserve!

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