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Kansas Votes to Delete Evolution From State's Science Curriculum
By PAM BELLUCK
CHICAGO -- The Kansas Board of Education voted on Wednesday to delete virtually any mention of evolution from the state's science curriculum, in one of the most far-reaching efforts by creationists in recent years to challenge the teaching of evolution in schools.
While the move does not prevent the teaching of evolution, it will not be included in the state assessment tests that evaluate students' performance in various grades, which may discourage school districts from spending time on the subject.
And the decision is likely to embolden local school boards seeking either to remove evolution from their curriculums, to force teachers to raise questions about its validity or to introduce creationist ideas. Some local boards have already said they will consider adopting creationist textbooks, while others have said they will continue teaching evolution.
Creationists say a divine being created humans and other species. They say that since evolution cannot be observed or replicated in a laboratory, there is no evidence that it actually occurred.
Kansas is the latest state to face a battle over evolution and creationism in recent years. Alabama, New Mexico and Nebraska have made changes that to varying degrees challenge the pre-eminence of evolution in the scientific curriculum, generally labeling it as a theory that is merely one possible explanation. Others, like Texas, Ohio, Washington, New Hampshire and Tennessee, have considered, but ultimately defeated, similar bills, including some that would have required those who teach evolution also to present evidence contradicting it. At the local level, dozens of school boards are trying to make similar changes.
More than a decade after the Supreme Court said states could not compel the teaching of creationism, creationists appear to be increasingly active, adopting a new strategy to get around the constitutional issues. Instead of trying to push creationism onto the curriculum, many creationists are trying to keep Darwin out of the classroom or insure that if evolution is taught, it is presented as merely one unproved theory.
In Alabama, for example, biology textbooks carry a sticker calling evolution "a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things." The disclaimer adds: "No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered as theory, not fact."
Randy Moore, a biology professor at the University of Louisville and editor of the magazine of the National Association of Biology Teachers, said, "It's going on everywhere, and the creationists are winning." He said the issue was so charged in some districts that some teachers simply chose not to teach evolution.
Phillip E. Johnson, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, who has written books attacking "propaganda" in the teaching of evolution, said defending evolution was becoming "the science educators' Vietnam."
The Kansas decision is significant because the new curriculum, which is a guideline, deletes not only most references to biological evolution, but also references to the big bang theory, which holds that the universe was born from a vast explosion, contradicting creationists' biblical interpretation. The new curriculum also includes at least one case study that creationists use to debunk evolution.
"The number of changes made, the thoroughness with which references to evolution are deleted or definitions changed, it's more extensive than what we've seen before," said Molleen Matsumura of the National Center for Science Education.
Mark Looy of Answers in Genesis, a creationist group, said: "Students in public schools are being taught that evolution is a fact, that they're just products of survival of the fittest. There's not meaning in life if we're just animals in a struggle for survival. It creates a sense of purposelessness and hopelessness, which I think leads to things like pain, murder and suicide."
Scientists say that evolution is the cornerstone of biology and that based on fossils, anatomy and genetic evidence, life began on earth about 3.9 billion years ago and humans and other species evolved from a common ancestor. They point out that much science cannot be repeated in a laboratory and yet no one doubts the existence of, say, atoms.
Many creationists believe the Bible shows life on earth cannot be more than 10,000 years old. Some have adopted a less religious interpretation, saying the earth was created by an "intelligent designer" because it is simply too complex to be explained any other way.
Recently, creationists have been searching for events they say raise doubts about evolution or suggest the world is much younger than scientists claim. One common example is the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helen's, which creationists say proves geologic changes can happen very rapidly. The new Kansas science standards include Mount St. Helen's and Mount Etna as examples that "suggest alternative explanations to scientific hypotheses or theories."
The Kansas debate began more than a year ago when the state appointed a committee of 27 scientists and professors to write a state version of new national science guidelines.
The Internet vs. the First Amendment By LAURENCE H. TRIBE
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- As we try to make sense of the school massacre in Littleton, Colo., we suddenly find ourselves swept up in a national debate about whether the Internet, with its dazzling array of interactive mayhem and violence, is partly to blame.
Should the Internet be available to anyone, of any age, with a computer and a telephone connection? Many who have long wanted to muzzle the Internet are making symbols of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who used the Internet to play violent computer games and promote their racist views.
How much protection should Internet "speech" receive under the First Amendment? And, under the Fourth Amendment's search and seizure provisions, may the Government browse Web sites without a warrant in order to nip mass murder plots in the bud? While nearly every possible view has its champions, most of the opinions expressed reflect more confusion than clarity.
The point to remember is that basic constitutional principles do not arise and disappear as each new technology comes on the scene. We have come to this conclusion rather slowly. Early in the 20th century, the Supreme Court expressed doubt that free-speech principles had any application at all to motion pictures, and in 1981, Justice Byron White introduced his analysis of a law regulating outdoor billboard advertising by saying, "We deal here with the law of billboards."
Only in recent years has the Court recognized that new technology doesn't affect basic constitutional principles. The Court has found that technological //details//, however, can be relevant to certain applications of the law, especially because, in principle, speech may not be restricted any more than necessary.
For instance, the Supreme Court struck down provisions in 1997 of the Communications Decency Act because they blocked pornographic materials from being transmitted over the Internet, when technology already existed that allowed parents to selectively censor such materials.
Even though the Internet allows nearly anyone to obtain or transmit information instantaneously to and from anywhere on the planet, it does not deserve more -- or less -- free-speech protection than older media.
A Web page simulating, or even glorifying, violence and hatred is not outside the First Amendment's protection any more than are disgusting board games, magazines or political tracts. The same First Amendment that safeguards the right of Nazis to march through Skokie protects the right of an adult to put virtual machine guns aimed at lifelike human targets on his or her computer screen.
At the same time, Internet speech doesn't have more constitutional protection than speech disseminated in a more old-fashioned and limited manner. In particular, direct threats or other messages that by their very utterance cause harm receive no more protection on the Internet than anyplace else. Releasing a computer virus through E-mail deserves no greater immunity than crying "Fire" in a crowded theater.
What about someone who posts a Web page with detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to assemble an explosive device from readily available materials? Such instructional materials are not quite like yelling "Fire" in a theater; they do not cause harm in a purely reflexive or automatic manner. Instead, they change the mix of ideas and information in the heads of the speaker's audience.
Speech disseminating such instructions on the Internet, however reprehensible, is thus entitled to a degree of First Amendment protection. But it is not entitled to the same level of protection to which speech advocating ideas is entitled because it is rarely part of any dialogue about what is true or what ought to be done. Distributing such materials doesn't try to persuade anyone to take a course of action, but instead provides the means for committing a crime.
Thus, the United States Courts of Appeals have held that distributing pamphlets on how to evade taxes, make illegal drugs or kill someone can amount to aiding and abetting a crime and may be punished as such, depending, of course, on the particular facts.
The First Amendment, therefore, should shoulder none of the guilt in the Littleton killings. In truth, the First Amendment leaves considerable room for government to exert control, and the advent of the Internet neither broadens nor narrows government's options.
Nor, for that matter, is the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures among the culprits here. Those who launch murderous plots by posting their deranged plans on a Web site are exposing their schemes in a public space, one that government agencies may freely browse without a warrant despite the fanciful argument that all talk on the World Wide Web is as private as E-mail messages might be. A t the same time, it would be a grave mistake to assume that either government surveillance or control can play an important role in preventing violent crimes. Doing more to keep lethal weapons out of youthful hands -- something the Second Amendment, under any reading, does not prevent -- and trying to diagnose all forms of rage before they erupt into violence, are likely to be far more effective than anything government could do either by spying on the Internet's users or by suppressing their speech.
Laurence H. Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard, is the author of the forthcoming third edition of "American Constitutional Law."
NEWSWEEK CULTURE WARS Caught in the Cross-Fire A young star teacher finds herself in a losing racial battle with parents By Lynette Clemetson The kids in Ruth Sherman's third-grade class loved the books she read to them. They liked the story about the Haitian child who made a doll from a broom and the one about the Vietnamese girl who was teased because of her pajamalike clothes. But their favorite story was "Nappy Hair," about a black girl named Brenda with "the kinkiest, the nappiest, the fuzziest, the most screwed up, squeezed up, knotted up, tangled up, twisted up" hair. They liked the musical rhythm of the story, which was written to promote ethnic pride, and the funny Southern accent that Miss Sherman used when she read it. But most of all, the children in the all-black and -Hispanic class liked that little Brenda looked like them. They loved the book so much that they begged the teacher for copies. Eager to encourage her students, Sherman obliged--with photocopies.
Not all the parents found the story so charming. When one mother stumbled onto a few photocopied pages of the book among her child's school papers last month, she organized a protest in the neighborhood. Suddenly Ruth Sherman, who is white, was caught in the cross hairs of political correctness. Some parents thought a white teacher had no business raising such a culturally sensitive subject. "Nappy," a colloquialism for curly African hair, is sometimes used as a put-down. Others say they would have objected to any teacher--white or black--talking to children about the topic, which they consider offensive. Ironically, only one of the 50 who protested had a child in Sherman's class. Most hadn't even read the book. But tempers ran so hot that a few parents physically threatened Sherman to her face. Fearing for her safety, the 27-year-old first-year teacher resigned last week without so much as a goodbye to her students. "It makes me sick to my stomach to leave like this," she told NEWSWEEK. "But I'm afraid to go back there." Everyone--Sherman, administrators and parents--now admits the situation was handled badly. But the damage has been done. PS 75 is searching for a new teacher. And all sides are trying to figure out how a book about hair could tear a school apart.
The real losers are the kids. Sherman first came to the school, in the rough Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood of Bushwick, as a volunteer reading assistant two years ago. The school was under review by the State Education Department for poor performance, and the newly appointed principal, Felicita Santiago, was desperate for enthusiastic teachers with the talent to boost scores. Sherman, a Queens native and graduate student at St. John's University, was eager to put her new skills to work in the classroom. She was an instant hit. The students she tutored showed such improvement that Santiago aggressively recruited her to join the teaching staff this year. Sherman accepted without hesitation. "I knew I could make a difference," she says. Working with the principal, Sherman helped double the number of third graders reading at or above state proficiency levels.
But nothing prepared her for the storm that erupted around the book. She started using "Nappy Hair" in September. It was one in a series of multicultural books intended to get kids interested in reading. The principal had encouraged teachers to be creative--so Sherman didn't think twice about bringing in books from her own collection. But on the Monday before Thanksgiving the rookie teacher--in the middle of a math lesson-- got an urgent call from the principal, ordering her to come to the auditorium. Some parents, she was told, were upset about "Nappy Hair." Sherman told her kids she'd be back in 10 minutes. That was the last time they saw her. Hearing the commotion from the hall as she approached the auditorium, Sherman ducked into the principal's office and called her fiancé. "I think something bad is happening," she whispered. "Please come get me." The minute she walked into the auditorium, all hell broke loose. "It was an ambush," says Santiago. "They turned into a lynch mob."
People yelled out racial epithets like "cracker" and shouted threats. "You'd better watch out," one warned. Anxious, Sherman smiled, a nervous habit. Her grin fueled the crowd's anger. When she rolled her eyes at the gathering, a woman in the front row lunged toward the stage. The principal and the school security guard intervened, and Sherman was rushed out of the hall. By the time it was all over, television crews were outside (parents had alerted the local media before the meeting started) and Sherman was in hysterics, waiting for someone to escort her out of the neighborhood.
How did things get so out of hand so fast? In trying to embrace cultural diversity, Ruth Sherman unwittingly wandered onto an intraracial minefield. There is a dated, but still accepted, code among some blacks that certain subjects should not be discussed by or around white folks. Author Carolivia Herron's loving characterization of little Brenda touches on an insecurity that some blacks would rather not acknowledge. The photocopies just made matters worse. Reduced to flat black-and-white images, the book's illustrations of a girl with a wiry shock of hair became caricatures easy to misconstrue. "Children understand right away that this book is about acceptance and celebration," says Herron, who wrote the book about her childhood experience. "It pains me that some adults have not gotten there."
But there was more at play in Bushwick than racial tension. "Nappy Hair," which has sold more than 30,000 copies, has been widely acclaimed by educators and critics (including NEWSWEEK). Recommended by institutions like the Teachers College of Columbia University, it is on reading lists in schools and libraries around the country. When a white teacher used the book last year at PS 198 in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, it received raves. But many of the parents at Sherman's PS 75 weren't active in their kids' education. Only four had turned out in October for a meeting on test scores. The photocopies that set off the protest had been in the child's homework folder for more than two months. Even after all the commotion, some parents admitted they still hadn't read the book.
Last week school administrators begged Sherman to return. She refused and has since been reassigned to another school. Family and friends, she said, urged her to put her safety first. But the book will stay. The school's principal has vowed to make "Nappy Hair" required reading for grades three through five. She has invited the author to the school to discuss the book with students and parents early next year. Sherman is sticking with the book, too. She's teaming up with the author to write a study guide for "Nappy Hair" and other multicultural children's books. In the meantime, reminders of the third-grade teacher still dot the walls of room 3-210, like the poster in the back of the room that lists the steps to stay cool: 'Stop! Stay Calm, Let's Work It Out,' the pinup reads. The grown-ups might take a minute to think about it, too. With Evan Halper in New York
New York Times editorial
Fallout From the 'Nappy Hair' Furor
The controversy over using the book "Nappy Hair" at a Brooklyn elementary
school has had predictably distressing effects. Now a principal at an
intermediate school in the same district has decided against using two
excellent books in the sixth grade, apparently for fear of parental protests.
The initial protests occurred at Public School 75 in Bushwick, where a new teacher, Ruth Sherman, was attacked by parents because she had read to her third-grade class a book about a young African-American girl's appreciation of her kinky hair. The book has been praised and recommended for classroom use by reading experts at Columbia University's Teachers College.
It was written by Carolivia Herron, an African-American professor, to celebrate racial diversity and pride.
But some parents, based on photocopies of pages from the book, instantly judged the material to be racially insensitive. At a school meeting they screamed at Ms. Sherman, who is white, and some even threatened her safety.
Ms. Sherman, understandably frightened, requested and received a transfer out of the district. The school administrators, though they supported her, should have mounted a more vigorous defense against the ridiculous racism charge. Instead the offensive behavior of the parents went unchecked, sending a message to other teachers that they too could be attacked for using good books that might contain anything deemed objectionable by a handful of hotheads.
At Intermediate School 296, sixth graders will not be assigned two good books because they might be controversial. "The War Comes to Willy Freeman," a critically acclaimed novel about blacks in the Revolutionary War, and "Days of Courage: The Little Rock Story" both contain a racial epithet in a historical context.
Elsewhere around the nation, Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" are two books routinely challenged on language and subject matter. Efforts to keep those and other books out of students' hands only deprive them of opportunities to learn how to deal with racial and other sensitive matters in honest and respectful ways.
© 1996 The Associated Press
NEW IPSWICH, N.H. (AP) - A compromise has been reached over the classroom use of three books with homosexual themes that led to a teacher's firing at Mascenic Regional High School.
The school board has decided to allow the books to be used in a proposed upper level elective course, but not in required English courses. They also will be available in the school library.
The decision by the board followed a second round of sometimes emotional debate Monday night. The 4-3 vote followed a lengthy debate two weeks ago on where the books could fit into the curriculum. No consensus was reached, prompting the second meeting.
The books became an issue when English teacher Penny Culliton distributed two of them to her classes against the wishes of the school board. She was fired.
Culliton has appealed to an arbitrator, who is expected to decide within two weeks.
The books are "Maurice" by E.M. Forster, "The Education of Harriet Hatfield" by May Sarton, and "The Drowning of Stephan Jones" by Bette Greene.
During the debate Monday, board Chairman Steven Lizotte explained there are four groupings of books in the curriculum: mandated texts, optional books for classroom instruction, a book report list, and books simply available in the library. He said one or all of the books could be placed in any of the categories.
Member Charles Saari first moved to eliminate "Stephan Jones" from the school and place the other two books in the library.
Member Linda Kivela read a letter from the parent of a lesbian pupil, asking the board to understand homosexual issues.
"I've never dealt with anything as hard as this," Kivela said. "We've been called just about everything over the past two years. We love our community and we love our children."
Board member Paul Gavin said sexuality is "only one form of diversity. It is an important issue and should be discussed at some level. There aren't any easy answers. Intolerance is not acceptable, but is burying our heads in the sand another form of intolerance?"
Board member Maureen Lizotte spoke for inclusion of the books, asking rhetorically if discussion of race had ever made anyone a racist.
"They belong in the diversity class," she said.
After the vote to include the books in the diversity class, Saari moved that the none of the books be used as required reading in any required course.
The vote passed 5-1 with one abstention.
List of Banned/Challenged Books
The First Amendment
Banned Book of the month
Education for a Sustainable Future
Contribute to Page 451
Threats to Free Speech
The Children's Book Controversy
Freedom FROM Religion?
Ray Bradbury on Censorship