October 3, 2002

Burned


By Mark Hartwig

We know what theyre really up to.

That has been the Darwinist message from the very beginning of the Cobb County controversy, which I wrote about in the last update. Unfortunately, some journalists got royally burned last week by reporting that message as if it were an established fact.

Last Thursday, the Cobb County (Ga.) school board voted unanimouslyin the teeth of an ACLU lawsuitto let district science teachers teach the controversy about origins. The 7-0 vote, the approved the following policy:

It is the educational philosophy of the Cobb County School District to provide a broad-based curriculum; therefore, the Cobb County School District believes that discussion of disputed views of academic subjects is a necessary element of providing a balanced education, including the study of the origin of the species. This subject remains an area of intense interest, research, and discussion among scholars. As a result, the study of this subject shall be handled in accordance with this policy and with objectivity and good judgment on the part of teachers, taking into account the age and maturity level of their students.

The purpose of this policy is to foster critical thinking among students, to allow academic freedom consistent with legal requirements, to promote tolerance and acceptance of diversity of opinion, and to ensure a posture of neutrality toward religion. It is the intent of the Cobb County Board of Education that this policy not be interpreted to restrict the teaching of evolution; to promote or require the teaching of creationism; or to discriminate for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, religion in general, or non-religion.

This is a pretty unobjectionable statement. Indeed, consider the reaction of attorney Michael Maneley, who helped file the ACLU lawsuit against the districts textbook disclaimers. When the board issued its initial proposal, Maneley threatened to add the proposal to the suit. But after some last-minute changes, which resulted in the version printed above, he indicated that he was pleased by the result.

I think its a 100 percent improvement, he told the Marietta Daily Journal.

Maneley said that the new language might go far enough to dispel fears about religion being taught in the classroom, and wanted to see how the new policy plays out.

We are going from the policy now to the regulations, he said. It all depends on how they are going to implement (the policy) in the classroom.

Unfortunately, some reporters (or their editors) botched the story. The next day, CNN charged out of the gate with an article headlined, Ga. school board OKs teaching creationism. Its opening header stated, in bold print, A suburban Atlanta school board Thursday night voted unanimously to allow teachers to introduce students to different views about the origins of life.

Similarly, the Associated Press headlined its story, Cobb County schools can teach creationism. The lead sentence said, The board of Georgia's second-largest school district voted Thursday night to give teachers permission to introduce students to varying views about the origin of life, including creationism.

To its credit, CNN fixed its story after the Discovery Institute called and pointed out the error. The Associated Press, on the other hand, has essentially taken the position immortalized by country singer Collin Raye: Well, that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

Commentators have already pointed out the media bias evident in such stories. Political scientist John West, a senior fellow at Discovery, wrote a particularly cogent piece for the Fox News Channel.

But an additional point needs to be stressed as well: the reporters got burned. Although their own biases and sloppy reporting provided ample kindling for the fire, the flame was fanned and fed by high-profile Darwinists. Wrapping themselves in the mantle of objective science, these folks have systematically portrayed teaching the controversy as a fundamentalist plot to bring religion into the classroom.

Speaking to the Chicago Tribune before the Cobb County vote, Eugenie Scott of the Oakland-based National Center for Science Education (NCSE), an organization dedicated to defending the teaching of evolution in the public schools, declared: The trend over the last 10 years has been to recast religious views as alternate scientific theories so they can slide in under the 1st Amendment. Anti-evolutionists don't want their children to be taught evolution because they fear it will turn them away from God.

Similarly, in his letter to National Academy of Science members in Georgia, Academy president Bruce Alberts accused the Cobb board members of participating in the conspiracy.

These kinds of actions by members of the school board are classic approaches to introduce Intelligent Design theory into the biology curriculum, Alberts said. Intelligent Design is a recent permutation of "creation science" that is being touted as an alternative to the modern theory of evolution.

Accusations like this have been repeated so often by high-profile folks that the reporters probably felt safe following their lead. That trust was misplaced, and the reporters got burned because of it. No matter what their bias, I suspect they will be a bit more sparing with their trust the next time.

At least, I hope so.

Copyright 2002 Mark Hartwig. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
File Date: 10.03.02