I really admire Wendee Holtcamp. She's a straight shooter, passionate about teaching evolution and a sincere Christian. She says a lot of the things I wish I could say, but often lack either the grace or patience to say well. For example, here's a podcast in which she discusses evolution and Christianity.

Yesterday, she took her beliefs directly into the public square and in her testimony before the Texas State Board of Education left no doubt as to what she, a Christian, thinks is the motivation of board members (led by their chair, Don McElroy) in pushing the latest Discovery Institute-inspired strategy to undermine education:

Wendee said something that needs to be said, over and over again, which is that the motivation of the parties involved is fundamentally (irony intended) religious:

Despite what the creationist members of the Board say - Ms Lowe, Ms Leo, Ms Cargill, Ms Dunbar, Mr Mercer, Dr McLeroy and others - everybody in the nation knows that this is absolutely a religious battle, that your dislike of evolution and naturalism and any changes to the TEKs that are supported by the Discovery Institute are religiously motivated. Kitzmiller vs Dover clearly showed that ID and these issues are religious in nature. For you to sit there and tell everyone it is not smacks of arrogance and deliberate willful deception. In other words, lying.

At which point the chair (Dr. McLeroy) interrupted her, explaining that these were words that she couldn't use, which derailed her intended presentation a tad. But no matter. Wendee's little thrust provoked a public response, in the public record, and I predict McLeroy's attempt to muzzle her will come back and haunt him and the other members of the board should they make a decision that flies in the best interests of science education. You can get a feeling of the atmosphere of the Board hearings by listening to this mp3 file.

Why do I think this is so noteworthy? By speaking to the heart of the matter, Wendee has helped lay the groundwork for legal discovery in the event of a future court case as to the religious motivation of the board members. By publicly raising the question, it puts significant pressure on the board to justify their decision in purely secular terms, and my guess is that they will stumble, just as the defendants in the Dover case did, because of course their motivation is primarily religious. They are dancing around the Establishment Clause, and any significant missteps will make them more vulnerable to legal challenge.

They know this, and so they are quick to deny their motivations. For example, in an article quoting Wendee from the Star-Telegram, Dr. McElroy remarks, ""This is all being ginned up by the evolution side. I’m a creationist, but I’m not going to put creationism in the schools."

Ah, but if the language proposed by the creationists makes it easier for their fellow travelers in public school classrooms to debunk, minimize or skip evolution, and if evolution ends up the main item in the curriculum affected by the new language, then what are we to conclude other than it was inserted as a means of doing exactly that, in order to privilege the board member's sectarian beliefs? There is no scientific controversy about evolution or natural selection as they appear in Texas's state standards. The so-called 'evolution side' is actually the SCIENCE side, people. It is the creationists (hiding behind the intellectual skirts of the Discovery Institute) that is pushing a 'teach the controversy' strategy. It is creationists that are 'ginning up' resistance among school teachers and the scientific community, and it will be creationists like Don McElroy that will provoke the next legal challenge in what Wendee has aptly termed 'The Fish Wars.'

Anyway, if you care about science in the public schools, take the time to read Wendee's post, either at Daily Kos or on her blog "Bohemian Adventures", where there are follow-up posts of interests.



Earlier this week, I blogged about FUSD Superintendent Michael Hanson's press conference addressing a controversy at Edison High School, in which a teacher allegedly played 'whistle blower' when a star athlete's 'F' was mysteriously changed to an 'A'. According to the teacher, someone 'higher up' changed it. According to Hanson, there is no evidence anyone but the teacher changed the grade and his press conference pointed the finger of blame squarely at the teacher. That's a bad thing, but it's an isolated thing, and in the best of all possible worlds, this controversy will fade away with the district's reputation intact. In this version of history, Michael Hanson (the district's leading educator) is putting the most optimistic spin possible on this scandal, in the manner of Voltaire's Dr. Pangloss.

Well, let us suppose that Dr. Hanson (er, Pangloss) has the better argument in this case. Just for the sake of discussion, let's presume that the teacher (currently on administrative leave) was the one who actually changed an 'F' to an 'A', and that one can not presume anything one way or the other about the star athlete, and so all the district can do is allow the grade change to stand, and thus allow the athlete to maintain his eligibility.

That would be an unpleasant outcome that would probably end up in court, but at least Dr. Hanson wouldn't be picking a fight with the entire Edison community, its football program and its supporters, who would not only lose their star player, but have all their current season games invalidated and (most likely) lose their former NFL star and community hero coach, Tim McDonald.

Yes, that would be the best of all possible worlds, Dr. Pangloss. The only problem is, the kid in question is clearly ineligible anyway! As this report from KMPH 26 News shows, the athlete has abominable attendance over the last four quarters, non-qualifying athletic GPA in three of those four quarters, and currently has a GPA less than (drumroll, please) 1.00.

In other words, setting aside the teacher's claim, the first move in this matter should not necessarily have been a protracted, expensive investigation of the claim of grade change, but simply a determination of the student's overall status. If he is ineligible anyway, Dr. Pangloss, your administration could've pointed that out and claimed that the student was about to be declared ineligible anyway, and that this incident is no reflection on any particular individual or school community's integrity, and regrettable, etc. That may have been stretching the facts a bit, but it would've kept the faith with all parties publicly while you privately sorted things out. That, Mr. Hanson, would've truly been the best of all possible worlds. Instead, you appear to have gotten yourself into a public relations disaster.

By the way, the well-spoken silver-haired teacher in the video is my colleague, the estimable Jim Horn, doing what he does best: standing up and speaking the truth to power on behalf of his fellow teachers.



My goodness, this is a really UGLY little story. Earlier this year, a teacher comes forward with a sensational claim: that a star athlete with lamentable attendance and a failing grade in his spring 2008 course had his grade changed from an 'F' to an 'A'. claiming a student who cut his class more than 60 times in one semester and failed the course. An administrator at the same school initially confirmed these particulars. Shortly afterwards, the teacher was placed on administrative leave and it was further alleged that his classroom computer was swiped, recovered by administration but not returned to the teacher.

Now, in a substantial (this is not a sound bite) press conference that begins with a bit of rhetorical hand-washing with respect to his goals as a Supe, Dr. Michael Hanson puts the finger of blame squarely on the instructor in question. You can watch the entire performance here.

I sit here and wonder, along with Pilate, 'What is truth?' It's really hard to understand why the instructor would've allegedly blown the whistle on himself. It's equally hard to understand why the administration would find it productive to demonize the teacher. At worst, the teacher is part of the problem, not the sole problem. If there is a school culture in some places in the district where some kids manage to miss class regularly yet end up, in Hanson's words, in Ivy League schools, then I have to say I missed the memo. If a kid has more than 10 absences with me in a semester, they will almost certainly earn a below-average grade. Hanson suggests that this may be a systemic problem, and that's a concern.

Anyway, while I don't agree with everything that comes down the pike from administration, I have to say that I like Hanson's approach personally. He works hard and stays on-message. We are starting to see some gains in performance from incoming freshmen, and our Supe and his team deserve some credit for that, doubtless. After the me-driven, all style-but-no-substance tenure of his predecessor, Hanson's work ethic and willingness to commit new financial resources to areas of need is refreshing.

But...still....was it absolutely the best thing to provide such a detailed breakdown of 'deficiencies in employee performance' ? Absence of evidence (that someone other than the teacher might've cooked the gradebook on June 11th) is not evidence of absence, and there is a little thing called due process. Hanson is doubtless correct that the district will be litigated, but does the stand taken in this press conference makes it more or less likely that things will go well for administration? I have to wonder.


The Fresno Teacher's Association has issued a bulletin to classroom teachers expressing their (to put it mildly) disappointment and concern about how the Edison teacher has been treated, and expressing their doubts as to the teacher's culpability. The story being given to the media by the district is not the same tale that is being circulated by the union. Imagine that! Anyway, while I am inclined to believe it is possible that the classroom teacher may have not been sufficiently diligent with securing the district's computer, I agree with a show of solidarity in support of the teacher, who has not exactly been afforded due process. The union is requesting that we wear black shirts every Wednesday until this matter has been resolved, among other things.

Guess what color T-shirt I have on at the moment?