Friday, September 30, 2005


Dover, Academic Freedom, and the Alice in Wonderland World of the Discovery Institute

"Once again, academic freedom is under attack and an attempt is being made to censor scientific thought," Robert Crowther, Director of Communications for the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute said today.

Crowther's remarks came in response to a letter from the Campaign To Defend the Constitution to the governors of all 50 states expressing concern about efforts to replace science with creationism and intelligent design. (see post below for the full text of the letter)

(The Discovery Institute news release falsely attributes the letter to the National Center for Science Education, but we'll set that issue aside for now.)

Academic freedom under attack? Censor scientific thought? Only in the up is down world of the Discovery Institute could the facts be so twisted as to be utterly beyond recognition.

In Dover, for example, it is the supporters of intelligent design who have attacked the academic freedom of teachers. There, teachers were put in the position of having to resist the demand -- made by the right-wing fundamentalists who had taken over the school board there -- that they read a statement laced with anti-science, anti-evolution, intelligent design propaganda to their students.

Discovery may have come out against mandating the teaching of intelligent design in Dover -- we believe, because they find the case weak -- but they haven't exactly rushed to the defense of teacher's academic freedom there, either.

Since the fellows at the Discovery Institute did not bother themselves to learn about science before they set out to change the way it is defined, we are not at all surprised to learn that they haven't troubled themselves about academic freedom, either. Perhaps they find the subject irreducibly complex.

Taking a moment out of his busy schedule to Google academic freedom might have led Discovery's Mr. Crowther to the Statement on Academic Freedom adopted by the American Association of University Professors in 1940. It includes these statements:

Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.

College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.

No one would tolerate a teacher who insisted on teaching French in an English class, or calculus in a social studies class. Why should we be surprised, then, that there is opposition to teaching theology or philosophy in a science class?

This opposition comes from two sources.

First, and most familiar, from scientists and educators who want to teach their subject without interference from unqualified outsiders who understand neither the science nor the pedagogy.

Second, opposition is growing from parents who want to be in charge of their own children's religious education. These parents want to choose the church, synagogue, or mosque where their children receive their religious education themselves. They don't want those decisions made for them by people whose religious beliefs they may not share -- such as born-again evangelicals who, increasingly, have insinuated themselves onto school boards across the country.

Other citizens -- and all too often their rights have been ignored entirely in this debate -- simply want to be free to practice their secular beliefs without their children being proselytized in their tax-supported science classes -- as is their constitutional right.

Red State Rabble believes the issue of religious freedom will become increasingly important in the debate over creationism and intelligent design during the coming months. The notion that born-again evangelicals speak for all believers is now being challenged by a demand for the right of teachers, students, and parents to be free of religious indoctrination thinly disguised as intelligent design.

This sense that religious freedom is under attack from intelligent design activists, and their country cousins in the creation "science" camp, is underscored by the presence of the signatures of 100 clergy persons on the Campaign to Defend the Constitution statement, that the Discovery Institute so deplores.

The utter contempt for the truth that has crept into Discovery's public pronouncements is carried to new heights in this latest news release. If you doubt that, read this excerpt from the release:

This issue has been brought to the center of national attention this week as the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District opened in federal court in Harrisburg... The ACLU alleges that the Dover policy violates the separation of church and state.

Discovery Institute strongly disputes the ACLU's effort to make discussions of intelligent design illegal.

Illegal? Here's what the Campaign to Defend the Constitution statement that sparked this news release actually says:

We do not oppose exposing our children to philosophical and spiritual discussion around the origin and meaning of life. There are appropriate venues for such discussion – but not in the context of teaching science in a public school science classroom.

There are, apparently, lies, damn lies, and statments issued by Discovery Institute. And, remember, they are the ones who say they are more qualified on moral and ethical grounds than the rest of us heathens to determine what should, and should not, be taught in public schools.

Discovery's claim that it is a defender of academic freedom reminds us of the days when hard-core segregationists, such as George Wallace, would say some of their best friend were Negroes.

They may oppose the statement in Dover "on policy grounds," but in Kansas, where they are in the driver's seat, the demand for changes in the science curriculum comes not from the teachers, whose academic freedom they claim to protect. It comes, instead, from biblical literalists on the state school board. They overrode the recommendations of teachers and scientists on the curriculum committee to write their own antiscience revisions.

Academic Freedom? They wouldn't know it if it hit them in the head.


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