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Signs of Intelligence, Bible Studies, and Allegedly Unsafe Sex

Teacher Magazine’s take on education news from around the Web, April 29-May 5.

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The fight over teaching (or not teaching) evolution continues to evolve, this time in Kansas, where the state board of ed is just beginning hearings on intelligent design, a theory that challenges Darwinism by purporting that a “creator” is in charge of shaping the world. Although science organizations—taking to heart one paleontologist’s comment that ID is “nothing more than creationism in a cheap tuxedo”—are boycotting the hearings, many are worried about the inroads ID’s proponents have made nationwide. “It’s a political battle,” says Jack Krebs, vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science. “Education and evolution are hot-button items. Some scientists are starting to understand that this is a serious threat.”

A serious source of anxiety is more like it. Science teachers are now up against students armed with anti-Darwin material—DVDs, books, and lists of questions “to ask your biology teacher”—supplied by ID proponents like the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. According to the National Science Teachers Association, 31 percent of the educators they recently surveyed feel compelled to include “creationism, intelligent design, or other nonscientific alternatives to evolution” in class lessons. The ID folks argue that what they’re offering is science and should therefore be taught alongside evolution. But scientists say that evolution, unlike intelligent design, is supported by solid evidence. The political savvy of ID proponents reminded one Illinois teacher of the Salem witch trials, when a lack of evidence did nothing to curb charges of witchcraft. “When there’s no empirical evidence,” she says, “some very serious things can happen.”

Evidence is not an issue when it comes to reading the Old Testament and New Testament, and maybe that’s why at least some English teachers believe the Bible should be included in literature courses. In tandem with a Gallup survey showing a lack of biblical knowledge among students, the Virginia-based Bible Literacy Project questioned 41 teachers in private and public schools in 10 states, finding that almost all feel that studying the Bible gives kids an educational advantage. It’s “one of the basic pieces of literature that in Western civilization has influenced laws, morals, politics, and other literature,” one teacher explains. But fears of being mistaken for teaching religion are still prevalent: Gallup found that while 63 percent of U.S. private schools offer Bible study, just 26 percent of public schools do.

Religion isn’t the only subject that makes educators nervous; sex does, too—and rightly so. Two groups filed a federal lawsuit this week in an effort to block a sex ed program in Maryland that would have 8th graders discussing homosexuality and 10th graders learning how to use a condom. One detail that has Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays riled is a video in which a woman uses a cucumber to show how to apply a condom. But the video also includes a discussion on abstinence, and district officials argue that the entire curriculum (slated for wide release next year) is not mandatory; parents must sign permission slips for the lessons in question. The groups argue that students whose parents don’t sign are effectively discriminated against and that the program itself discriminates against former gays, who should be allowed to share their views on homosexuality. CRC Vice President John Garza claims the school board refused to hear “valid concerns”; hence the suit.

Speaking of cucumbers, there’s at least one high school student keeping a close eye on what’s being dished out at lunch time in Pennsylvania. Senior Rick Seltzer is his school newspaper’s cafeteria critic, and his column, “Rick’s Café Critique,” in the monthly Periscope, rates everything from chicken patties to egg sandwiches with up to five “sporks” (a combination spoon and fork). The 18-year-old, who’s been critiquing since his junior year at Carlisle High School, doesn’t take himself seriously; he says his humorous column is “really something to lighten your day.” But it’s also uncommon, according to Marc Wood, a spokesman for the National Scholastic Press Association, adding, “As far as I know, food reviews are pretty rare in the high school press.”

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