Saturday, May 27, 2006


Cobb County: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

There is a good deal of worry in the country just now about the growing influence of the religious right. It's important to recognize the disastrous effects that the alliance between big business Republicans and the religious right have had on the country. It is also crucial to understand the potential dangers if the religious right were to gain more influence and power. Some people who've recognized the dangers have done more than worry. They've taken action.

At the same time, its important to keep it all in perspective.

We were reminded of this while reading the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the Cobb County textbook sticker case yesterday.

As the ruling notes, it had been the school's policy since 1995 to tear the chapter on evolution out of science textbooks there in order to show "respect for the family teachings of a significant number of Cobb County citizens." Under the policy, the subject of the origin of humans would not be taught in the elementary and middle schools. It was not mandatory in high school either. Elective courses on alternative theories of origin, including creation theory, were offered, as well.

The board chose to adopt Ken Miller and Joseph Levine's Biology, which contains a whole unit on evolution, for use in the classroom -- a giant step forward.

Subsequently, the board also bent to pressure from some fundamentalist parents by attaching a sticker to the textbooks that said,
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.

The ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says the federal district court record does not support the finding that the board's decision to place the sticker on textbooks was influenced by a petition and letters from parents challenging the teaching of evolution.
"We simply choose not to attempt to decide this case based on a less-than-complete record on appeal or fewer than all facts," they wrote.

In sending the decision back, the appeals court left it to the lower court to decide whether to start with a clean state and hold a new trial, or merely "supplement, clarify, and flesh out the evidence."

It is clear, from reporting in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, that the letters and petitions did have an impact on the school board's decision. It will now be a matter of carefully reconstructing that history through documentary evidence and witnesses to the events in question.

Whatever the outcome, in Cobb County they are no longer tearing the pages from the textbooks. They are teaching real science -- not myth. That's a big step forward.


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