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January 30, 2004

Evolution! Evolution! Evo--(Sound of Being Tackled)

You know this proposal to delete the word "Evolution" from Georgia's schools is neuron-jammingly idiotic when even creationists think it's stupid:

"If you're teaching the concept without the word, what's the point?" said Rep. Bobby Franklin, a Republican. "It's stupid. It's like teaching gravity without using the word gravity."

"Gravity," which Georgia students will soon know as "Falling toward the center of mass."

Over at the Georgia Department of Education Web site, the department lays out its reasons for wanting to ban the word:

Why, then, is the word itself not used in the draft of the curriculum, when the concepts are there? The unfortunate truth is that "evolution" has become a controversial buzzword that could prevent some from reading the proposed biology curriculum comprehensive document with multiple scientific models woven throughout. We don't want the public or our students to get stuck on a word when the curriculum actually includes the most widely accepted theories for biology.

If we take Georgia's Department of Education at its word, this is what it's saying: If we don't call it evolution, we can sneak it past the Creationists.

Well, you know. I tend to think Creationists are willfully ignorant (which is fine, except they want my child to be ignorant too, which is not), but "willfully ignorant" is absolutely not the same thing as "stupid." If Creationists were stupid, we wouldn't have such a damned difficult time keeping their Bible-jammy hands off the science curriculum. These are smart, motivated people, and suggesting they're going to be led off the evolutionary scent by changing what you call evolution when you teach it is both arrogant and insulting. By this same concept, if we just called abortion "removal of extraneous non-native uterine tissue," the anti-abortion people would wander off, satisfied that their work here is done. Rest assured, they would not.

So it's insulting to the Creationists. That is, if we take the Georgia Department of Education at its word. But why would we do that? Aside from there being ample reason never to automatically trust politicians, if we know anything about the Creationists, we know that they're smart and patient and know how to use the political system to try to get their way. To use football metaphors here, creationists play a ground game; sure, they'll throw a "Hail Mary" long bomb every once in a while just to throw off the liberals, but 98% of their game is marching up the field a few yards at a time. They're willing to take a few hits and yard losses if it gets them into a better overall position, which is why, for example, they're pushing "intelligent design" these days instead of trying to get evolution tossed out of schools outright.

And so, while in the short term "biological change over time" is insulting to Creationists, in the long term, it's insulting everyone else, since "Biological Change Over Time" is not an equivalent phrase for "evolution." "Evolution" is tied to a well-understood general process of biology, in which the genetics of living things change through mutation, which is random when it occurs naturally. It is biological change over time, but not all biological changes over time are necessarily evolution. For example, "intelligent design" is also "biological change over time," but it is most emphatically not evolution.

Given the continual pressure to jam in less scientifically-rigorous explanations of biological change because certain religious people just can't hang with Darwin -- by way of an example, there is currently a bill in the Missouri state lege to teach "intelligent design" alongside evolution -- people who don't want their children to get substandard public educations at the whim of evangelicals are quite right to be suspicious of the change as well.

In everyone else's paranoid fantasies, for now, the state of Georgia will teach evolution. But there's absolutely no assurance that somewhere down the line, and sooner than later, some fatbacked conservative God monkey will hoot up and down in the Georgia lege and try to stuff whatever version of intelligent design is creeping around that the time into the school system on the rationale that the phrase being used in the schools is "biological change over time," not "evolution."

So the question is: Which do you want to believe? That the Georgia Department of Education is insulting a fair percentage of Georgia's taxpayers by asserting that they're stupid? Or that it is eventually planning to undermine the education of the children of all of Georgia tax payers by allowing a small change in verbiage that equates to a large change in meaning? If you believe the former, you'd keep the word "evolution" because you know most people aren't stupid. If you believe the latter, you'd keep the word "evolution" to assure that the children of Georgia don't end up ignorant. Either way, evolution should be here to stay.

There is a third possible explanation: That those running the Georgia Department of Education simply aren't very smart. Wouldn't that be terrifying irony.

Update: Looks more and more like explanation number two:

In the past, [Georgia Superintendent of Schools Kathy] Cox, has not masked her feelings on the matter of creationism versus evolution. During her run for office, Ms. Cox congratulated parents who wanted Christian notions of Earth and human creation to be taught in schools.

"I'd leave the state out of it and would make sure teachers were well prepared to deal with competing theories," she said at a public debate.

Gee, I wonder what will be the "competing theory" there. I just think it's a shame for Georgia that the woman who runs its schools is apparently keen on making the state's children ignorant as chickens.

To reinforce that idea: A Georgia high school teacher's take on the new proposed educational standards, which among other things will kind of gloss over American history prior to 1876, which rather handily takes care of that whole inconvenient Civil War thing. It's good to know that in about 13 years, Athena won't have to worry about some kid from Georgia taking her spot at the college of her choice.

Oh, and look at this: Georgia's not particularly interested in teachers who could be truly exceptional:

Recently, I interviewed with a school in one of the metro Atlanta counties, only to receive an e-mail from the principal stating, "Though your qualifications are quite impressive, I regret to inform you that we have selected another candidate. It was felt that your demeanor and therefore presence in the classroom would serve as an unrealistic expectation as to what high school students could strive to achieve or become. However, it is highly recommended that you seek employment at the collegiate level; there your intellectual comportment would be greatly appreciated. Good luck."

Not a good time to be getting educated down South, clearly.

Update: Hey, creationists! Wanna know how to really challenge science? I've got some tips for you right here.

Posted by john at January 30, 2004 01:06 PM

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Georgia wants to ban the word "evolution" from science classes, replacing it instead with "biological changes over time". The superintendant of schools, Kathy Cox, claims that she wants to do this because the word "evolution" has become such a controve... [Read More]

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