Gasp! A concern has been raised as to what gets taught in Mr. Hatfield's classes concerning evolution, and I've decided it would be prudent for me to publicly state what I've privately affirmed to colleagues within district channels. If you've no interest in the question of what should be taught, skip this post. If you want to see how folks like me handle such questions, read on.....

As it happens, at the beginning of 4th period yesterday (May 14th) , a concerned student asked me why she had been called into the office to discuss 'religion.' If this student is to be believed, she was asked to verify claims that I was pushing religion in the classroom. The student was more than a bit shocked by this, and was frankly a little worried. I played it off, but in the back of my mind, little wheels clicked as I quickly reviewed my own memories of what, exactly, I've been covering: 'Where is this coming from?' This comes a few days after a V.P. visited me and asked me similar questions, such as 'Did I say God did not exist?' or some such.

Which, of course, never happened. But apparently some parent has got a bee in their bonnet because their student repeated (accurately) the (correct) claim that evolution is a fact. There is an understandable confusion here: evolution is of course a fact, but the public hears us saying 'evolutionary theory' or 'theory of evolution', which leads to the mistaken impression that evolution itself is 'just a theory'.

Anyway, for the record, Mr. Hatfield teaches the same evolution that the other teachers at Bullard High School teach, the evolution described in the state standards and in our approved text (Miller and Levine). The latter defines it as a fact, as follows: 'Evolution, or change over time, is the process by which modern organisms have descended from ancient organism." Later on, the book gives a more technical definition: "In genetic terms, evolution is any change in the relative frequency of alleles in a population."

Neither one of these are theoretical objects! They are brute facts about the natural world: populations do change over time, and this change is known to have a genetic basis. I would prefer to meet privately with any parents to address these concerns, but since that course was apparently not being pursued it seemed prudent to make public disclaimers.

But, of course, the real issue is that there are parents out there who want their children to be protected from pesky little facts that, in their minds, contradict what they hold near and dear. They believe that evolution is a belief system of sorts whose purpose is to knock their (religious) beliefs, and since they think it's all about belief, many of them are convinced that they are entitled to have evolution and natural selection presented as purely theoretical objects. They expect us to essentially cater to this point of view as a matter of religious freedom, and they think anyone who has the candor to tell them otherwise is somehow stepping on their civil rights.

I don't know how to be nice when I hear this argument, because being nice tends to legitimize the underlying assumptions, which are rotten to the core. There is no civil right guaranteeing any of us the facts of our choice where science is concerned. Evolution itself is not a theoretical object, no matter how much some creationists might wish it to be true---and the Establishment Clause does not give them the right to privilege their unscientific views within a science classroom.

Now, I would never make an issue of any of the above stuff in a classroom setting, for a lot of reasons, but the most important being is that it's the wrong forum for that discussion. Students and parents have an absolute right to believe what they want and their beliefs should be treated with respect by teachers and administrators. I think the best way to do that is to be very clear about what is factual, and what isn't, and make it clear that deciding the implications of evolutionary theory is a topic best left to individual students and parents. But, if I'm going to do that, then parents and students owe it to themselves to discuss these things with the instructor first before starting a fight they are unlikely to win.


R. Moore said...

What we really want to know Mr. Hatfield, is when you were first informed about the waterboarding, and why you now claim no knowledge!

Witch hunts are all the same, aren't they? Questions from superiors that seem loaded with traps, anonymous testimony, no clear indication of what was done wrong.

It is the cover up that will finally do you in.

Or, this will all quickly blow over, because it is total nonsense.

"Since evolution is a fact this proves there is no God." appears to be the conclusion arrived at.

Not even most atheists think there is any logic in that. Perhaps a sermon on critical thinking is in order.

Besides, how can you be teaching atheism when you don't even know our secret handshake? :)

CarlaCarlaCarlaCarla said...

I already like R. Moore.

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Carla, you have good taste. Richard's a good friend, and we're practically soulmates on this topic. Except the part about us having souls, of course....:)

Anonymous said...

Richard Moore, you gave me a chuckle :)

Scott, nicely handled.