May 11, 2008

Maine Creationists: Teach Neither or Teach Both

Matthew Linkletter and some of his Creationist friends in Maine's School Administrative District 59 spoke out again in their effort to have evolutionary biology removed from the school curriculum in their district at the May 19 meeting of the Board of Directors. This time around, they "chose at random" a couple of parents of students at Madison Area Memorial High School to speak whom, it turned out, voiced support for their position. The parents — one an education technician at another local school, the other the treasurer of the sports boosters — both spoke in favor of teaching Creationism in biology classes.

The following account is from the Kennebec Journal:

SAD 59 debates teaching of evolution

The state Department of Education disagrees with an Athens School Board director who wants School Administrative District 59 to drop evolution from its high school science curricula.

Director Matthew Linkletter claims evolution is an unprovable theory and shouldn't be taught as fact. He's urged the SAD 59 Board of Directors to consider his view during its May 19 meeting in Madison, with a goal of removing evolution from science classrooms.

But David Connerty-Marin of the Department of Education says evolution must be taught because, in the state's view, it's a proven science.

"For our students to be prepared for college work and life in the 21st century, it's necessary," said Connerty-Marin.

Connerty-Marin said the Maine Learning Results program mandates the study of evolution in public science classes.

"Evolution is not just a belief, or based on faith, it's based on scientific evaluation," he said. "The worldwide science community supports it."

Linkletter believes that neither evolution nor creationism belong in a high school science curriculum, because they cannot be proven.

"You can't show, observe or prove (evolution)," he said.

School Administrative District 59 includes the towns of Madison, Athens, Brighton Plantation and Starks.

Chosen at random, two parents of Madison Area Memorial High School students expressed some support for Linkletter's position.

"I think that's a very valid point, to tell you the truth, because evolution is only a theory, not a hard fact," said Nancy Martin, an educational technician at Athens Elementary School.

Martin, who has a son at the high school, said that she believes in creationism, as outlined in the Old Testament Book of Genesis. She said SAD 59 should pull evolution from the science curriculum unless creationism is afforded equal footing.

Laney Kirk of Madison, treasurer of the sports boosters who has a daughter at Madison High, agreed with Martin -- to a point.

"Really and truly, they're both ideas," Kirk said. "We can teach both. But that's where we run into a problem, when you say they're mutually exclusive. You're never going to get everyone to agree about it, so why not teach them both?"

Kirk said she attends most SAD 59 meetings, but missed the one last week when Linkletter broached the topic. The board voted to table the issue and revisit it on May 19. Kirk does not believe that the board should remove evolution from the curriculum.

"There are people who believe that the Holocaust is a theory," Kirk said. "It's like banning a book."

Town Manager Norman Dean, who taught science in Madison from 1962 through 1996, had stronger words for the proposal.

"That's absolutely stupid," said Dean, who once taught Linkletter. "I thought we already had the monkey trial."

There is plenty of evidence, Dean said, that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is correct.

"Adaption over time is proven time and again," he said. "I believe evolution is adaptation to the environment."

Church of the Open Bible in Athens, MERoy Blevins is pastor of Linkletter's church, the Church of the Open Bible in Athens. Blevins spoke in favor of SAD 59 Chairman Norman Luce's suggestion, that a philosophy class might provide a better forum for the study of evolution.

"That's a sane approach," Blevins said. "The evolution concept is a theory, and not provable. If the science department at Madison High is simply teaching theory, then you ought to leave it in the science department."

Blevins agreed with Linkletter that neither is creationism provable, and thus does not belong in the curriculum.
This seems to be flying under the radar of the usual people and organizations who get involved with this game of Creationist whack-a-mole that's going on lately. I've seen nothing about this on the National Center for Science Education website (in fact, their news archive doesn't even have an option to choose Maine as a "place of interest" as of my writing this). There's been no mention of events in SAD59 on Pharyngula or Dispatches from the Culture Wars, and the only mention of it on The Panda's Thumb is a comment I left there a few days ago. Nobody seems to be picking this up for some reason, even though I would think it would be easier to work to nip this in the bud while this latest anti-science effort is in the embryonic stage at the county level in Maine before it reaches the state level like it has in Florida, Alabama, Missouri and Louisiana. I'm going to drop a note to the NCSE and try to alert PZ Myers and Ed Brayton again when I'm done writing this, but I have no illusions about my influence as a D-list blogger, so I would ask readers to help get the word out about this. This shouldn't be taking place in the shadows, reported on by one small blog and one small newspaper.

When the argument in Florida was going on, one of the first rumblings was at the county level, when some members of the Polk County school board led the way in putting forth a resolution objecting to the state's new science education standards. That's not unlike what's happening right now in Maine. In the case of Polk County, the Creationists backed down when people got involved and let them know that they were under the microscope. In Florida, there's a hugely influential, well-funded, centralized fundamentalist church and a whole lot of its adherents in state government. Maine isn't the same situation in that regard, but it should not be taken for granted that what has happened elsewhere couldn't happen in northern New England. Just as was done in Polk County, people need to let Matthew Linkletter and Roy Blevins and whoever else needs to know that the eyes of the rational world are upon them. The best time to treat cancer is when the tumor is just a few cells. Leave it untreated and it will spread. That principle needs to be applied to School Administrative District 59 in Maine, too. Some contact information, and links to more, are provided in this entry.

C'mon, rationalists, skeptics and scientists, don't leave people like Norman Dean and Jessica Ward without our deserved support. Please help spread the word about this!

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