By: David Bloomberg Re: Pandas in Plano, II The following appears in the current issue of

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By: David Bloomberg Re: Pandas in Plano, II The following appears in the current issue of The Skeptic, the newsletter of the North Texas Skeptics. Permission is granted to reprint this text for non commercial purposes, provide attribution is given to the authors and The Skeptic. John Blanton Vice President/Secretary, The North Texas Skeptics 3220 Silent Oak Farmers Branch, Texas 75234-2273 ============= Creationist text urged for Plano schools By Mike Sullivan and Joe Voelkering PLANO, Texas: A Creationist textbook is being promoted by three school trustees to supplement biology texts in the Plano, Texas, public high school science classes. The book, Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins (Second Edition), is being promoted by three members of the Board who want to spend district funds to make the book available to all Plano high school biology teachers. An organized group of about 75 Plano parents opposed to the book's use in science classes has asked the North Texas Skeptics and others for help in mounting their opposition to using the book in the large suburban Dallas district. Plano Independent School District trustees Tom Wilds, Don Mills and Gary Clark want the district to authorize the purchase of a copy of the clearly Creationist Pandas text for every biology teacher in the district. Teachers may then request the book for use in their classrooms, and district funds would be used for their purchase. At least one other trustee, Judy Coppolo, has been quoted as being in favor of Pandas. With Mills, Clark, Wilds and Coppolo all supporting Pandas, the seven-member board could vote to approve the purchase at their meeting on February 7. There are approximately 3,000 biology students currently in the Plano ISD, so the district may eventually fund the purchase of many copies of Pandas if the board votes to adopt the text. By having the board authorize samples of Pandas to be acquired with district funds, and then to use district funds to purchase quantities of the books for students if requested by a teacher as a supplemental text, the usual textbook review process that would be carried out if a teacher had requested the book from the outset can be averted, Wilds revealed in a telephone interview. Texas state funds could not be used to purchase Pandas since the book is not on the state-approved list. Pandas, published by the Richardson-based Foundation for Thought and Ethics, has been widely criticized by science education groups, biologists and several religious groups as being a thinly-veiled promotion of special creation over evolution theory, substituting the euphemism "intelligent designer" for God. The nature of the claimed "intelligent designer" is not described in Pandas, but readers are led to think that it is a supernatural being unknown to science. It also claims that complex "designs" in Nature cannot be explained by evolution theory, and that therefore, such organisms must have been created ex nihilo by the hand of the "intelligent designer." In a front-page story in the January 13 edition of the Dallas Morning News, Wilds is quoted as saying "Darwinism is full of holes, and we shouldn't be teaching it as gospel truth. This [Pandas] brings out other possibilities for how our universe got started without pushing any philosophy or theology." As best as can be determined independently, Pandas is not in actual classroom use in any public school biology curriculum in America. The publisher refuses to give the names of any of the districts they claim are using the text in science classes. Pandas has been rejected in widely- reported cases in California, Idaho, and Alabama. Pandas rejected in another metroplex district The Pandas pandemonium has already been met and dealt with in another large Dallas-area school district. Officials in this large Dallas suburban district, contacted by NTS and who spoke on the condition that their district not be identified, received a request to use Pandas as a supplemental text by one of their biology teachers, and the administrators handled the investigation into the book's appropriateness aggressively. First, school officials conducted an extensive academic review of the book and received materials from informed science education advocacy groups like the National Center for Science Education; they read a review of the science posited in Pandas by Dr. Frank Sonleitner, associate professor of zoology, University of Oklahoma; and they solicited information from every other public school district they could find which had considered adoption of the Pandas text. They told NTS that this study resulted in two findings: not a single public school district could be located which had approved the book for use in science classes; and that the book failed the publisher's claim that it is a science textbook. Next, the district's legal counsel reviewed all the legal cases applicable to the adoption of Pandas. They found that case law supported the idea that Panda's "intelligent designer" was a euphemism for a Creator, thereby making Panda's content comparable to proselytizing, and so barring it from use in public school science classes based on the First Amendment's establishment clause. Most notably, the officials defended their rejection of the Pandas text based on their fiduciary responsibility to district taxpayers. They reasoned that if Pandas were adopted, a legal challenge to the book would be a near- certainty. They would then be faced with the prospect of defending a court challenge to the use of the book, resulting in significant expenditure of taxpayer funds in the legal defense. Apart from the fairly minor cost of the books themselves, these officials were mindful of the financial exposure adoption of Pandas would mean to their district from the legal issues sure to follow. "I feel that the actions of this administration are an example of how the review process should work, and that they should be commended for their very high academic and ethical standards," North Texas Skeptics President Joe Voelkering said. Plano officials may face the legal challenge averted by that district, should Pandas be adopted for use in the Plano schools. Other local school officials told NTS that they are sure that Pandas will be tested in court somewhere in Texas, and most likely in the Metroplex. They fear that if the Plano challenge fails, their large suburban district may be the next one faced with the Pandas controversy. Research by NTS has disclosed that there is legal precedent for individual board members being held responsible for liability when advancing their own views through their actions on the board in such cases. Plano parents, NTS respond A group of Plano parents organized last August under the name Keep Quality in Plano Schools (KQUIPS) shortly after the board elections that brought Mills, Clark and Wilds to office. Soon after those elections, the Board ended the demonstration of condom use for birth control and disease control in Plano high school biology classes and passed a resolution advocating the teaching of "traditional morals" in the public schools. Evelyn Peelle, the vice-president and a board member of the KQUIPS group, is no stranger to good science. She has earned a B.S. in Engineering and a B.A. in Chemistry from Swarthmore College, and has completed work towards a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering. Yet she and other KQUIPS members have sought and accepted help on the Pandas issue from groups more familiar with dealing with Creationist issues in public schools. Contacted by NTS President Joe Voelkering, Peele and KQUIPS spokesperson Nancy Machen were eager to receive information on how their group could mount a challenge to the Pandas initiative. Voelkering was able to brief the two on the general background of the Pandas book and steer the group towards another school board that has already met and turned back the pseudoscience of Pandas. NTS has also offered KQUIPS the expertise of NTS Directors Emeritus and co-founders John Thomas and Ronnie Hastings. Thomas is a practicing attorney with an undergraduate degree in physics from UT, and Hastings is the chairman of the Science department and a teacher of advanced mathematics and physics at Waxahachie High School and earned his Ph.D. in physics from Texas A&M. Both men are familiar with Creationist tactics, case law, the pseudoscientific arguments from design, the poor science offered in Pandas, and other issues concerning the Creationist movement. Hastings also served on the committee that approved the science textbooks now in use in Texas public schools. In addition, NTS Technical Advisors Ray Eve and Frank Harrold have been contacted about the Plano issue. The two associate professors at UT-Arlington authored a book on the Creationist phenomenon, titled "The Creationist Movement in Modern America" from Twayne Publishers, Boston. Wilds' ideas on science education Peelle, Machen and the KQUIPS parents will have an uphill battle on their hands to keep quality science education in biology classes in Plano, if the transcript of a telephone interview of trustee Wilds by Peelle and supplied to The Skeptic is any indication. In it, Wilds: admits that he can't remember much of anything from his college biology classes; that he is in favor of each biology teacher in the district being able to decide whether to use Pandas in their classroom on a teacher-by-teacher basis; that he sees no reason why a teacher shouldn't be able to use Pandas in science class if district funds aren't involved; that students are well-served in science education by exposing them to various views about important topics and leaving it to the students to sort out which are valid and which aren't; and that he would consider any significant opposition to the Pandas book by parents or scientists to be secondary to an individual teacher's desire to use the text. KQUIPS has mounted a letter-writing campaign and plans to turn out in force at the February 7th meeting to voice their concern over Pandas. NTS members who pay property taxes in Plano ISD or who have children attending public school in Plano have a valid reason to voice their concern as well, and support the continuation of quality science education in Plano without the pseudoscience promoted in Pandas. As one of the largest and richest school districts in the state, Plano students deserve better than to have Creationist propaganda offered to them in science classes as being equivalent to the accepted views of real science. Imagine what a Plano high school graduate would face on their first day of college-level biology at The University of Texas, for example, when their professor tells them that none of what they were led to believe in Pandas has anything to do with the real world of biology and the life sciences. They will start off their college career at a deficit, for no good reason, simply because some Plano school trustees don't understand the difference between legitimate science and theology that comes wrapped in scientific terms.


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