Creation, Too

People don’t have anything against evolution.  But they all want us to teach creationism, too.

I don’t get out much.  But this past weekend I was able to attend a summer cook-out with some interesting people.  One of the guests was a school principal.[*]

Now, in the best of times, my social skills aren’t much.  But this past weekend, I was worse than usual.  This poor guy wanted to have a few beers by the pool, eat a burger, watch the kids swim, and wonder if the guacamole had been sitting out in the sun too long.

Once I found out he was a school principal, however, I couldn’t help myself.

I awkwardly steered the conversation toward the issues of conservatism and schooling.  This guy runs a high school in a semi-rural area of New England.  I was itching to know if he fielded lots of complaints or disagreements about the content of the curriculum, the style of teaching, etc.  Did they argue about sex ed?  Prayer?  Evolution?

When I asked him if he ever heard complaints from parents about the teaching of evolution, he offered an intriguing comment.  “No,” he said, desperately looking over my shoulder to see if someone could rescue him from this conversation.  “People don’t have anything against evolution.”

Rats, I thought.  I felt sure a rural school high school, even in the liberal heartland of New England, would field some anti-evolution pressure.  I was hoping to hear about it from the ground level.

“But,” the principal continued, “they all want us to teach creationism, too.”

Zoiks.

For this well-educated, experienced educator, the desire to teach creationism in science classes did not, on first blush, count as opposition to evolution.  Rather, he considered the desire to include creationism as an obvious and eternal part of public opinion.

How did he handle it?  He did not seem too concerned.

“We try to keep everyone happy,” he said, before he mumbled something about his kid drowning and scurried away.

This principal’s experience fits with the national-level perspective.  According to poll data, large majorities of Americans would like to have both evolution and creationism taught in public-school science classes.

As the experience of my new friend demonstrates, the idea of teaching both is often seen as uncontroversial.

Of course, this is in stark contrast with Official Policy, as seen in court decisions such as Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) and Kitzmiller v. Dover (2005).  In 1987, the US Supreme Court decided that teaching creationism alongside evolution counted as unconstitutional government support for religion.  They also ruled, however, that scientific alternatives to evolution could be part of public-school lessons if it were done for purely secular reasons.  In Kitzmiller, Judge Jones decided that intelligent-design advocates had not made the case that intelligent design was taught for secular reasons.

Such decisions, however, in practice amount to a hill of beans.  As political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer have argued, teachers teach what they want.  If they work in an area that supports creationism, they will tend to include creationism in their classes, or creation-friendly ideas.

My conversation this weekend gave me one small example of the ways this reaches beyond teachers’ decisions.  My principal friend did not consider it controversial to include creationism alongside evolution, despite the fact that such things have been ruled unconstitutional.  He knew what would work in his district.  He knew what would work in his school.  And in his corner of the world of public education, that meant including creationism alongside evolution.

 


[*] In the US, a principal is the administrator in charge with running a school.  He or she makes hiring decisions and is supposed to implement state and district policy.

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