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Science Prevails, Toilet Paper Pranks, and a ‘Hello Kitty’ Holiday

Teacher Magazine’s take on education news from around the Web, Dec. 16-22.

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Score one for science. Following a six-week trial this fall, a federal judge has ruled that intelligent design is, as its critics have long charged, “creationism relabeled.” In a 139-page ruling, judge John E. Jones III singled out the defendants—former school board members in Dover, Pennsylvania, who’d ordered teachers to read a one-minute statement questioning evolution—for misrepresenting their motives and pointed to the preponderance of scientific evidence discrediting the theory. Of particular note is a prominent ID textbook, Of Pandas and People, whose publishers had merely substituted the phrase “intelligent design” for “creationism” following a 1987 Supreme Court ruling barring the teaching of creationism in public schools.

While Jones has already been called an “activist judge” with “delusions of grandeur” by proponents of the ID movement, it’s worth pointing out that, as has been reported elsewhere, he’s a Republican appointed to the federal bench by President Bush. Anticipating the au courant label, Jones wrote, “This is manifestly not an activist court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID.”

If the judge’s words seem harsh, they’re nothing compared to the reaction of the Dover area’s local newspaper, the York Daily Record. “They lied,” the paper’s editorial board wrote following the ruling. The defendants, who’ve since been voted off the town’s school board, “wanted to bring God into high school biology class, and in the process, they lied.” Along with saddling Dover with hefty legal fees and inviting embarrassment—the town has been featured in several mocking pieces on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show—the defendants may well have perjured themselves, the paper charged. “The unintelligent designers of this fiasco should not walk away unscathed. ... They allowed themselves, taxpayers, and students to be made grunts on the front lines of the national culture wars without bothering to learn what they were fighting for.”

Calvine High School junior Munir Mario Rashed didn’t think he was picking a fight two years ago when he doodled “PLO” on a notebook in a freshman math class. But this fall, FBI agents, acting on a tip, interrogated the student without notifying his parents, an apparent violation of district policy. “I was scared,” Munir said. “I didn’t know what was going on or what I had done wrong.” While the fourth-generation Palestinian American was exonerated, civil rights groups sent a letter of protest to the district, and attorneys are asking officials to determine whether anyone affiliated with the California school reported him to the feds. What’s less clear, of course, is why it took the FBI two years to investigate the allegation in the first place.

It took a lot less time to figure out what was going on in the boys bathroom at Briscoe Middle School near Boston. A supplier, apparently upset that he’d lost his contract to provide toilet paper to the school, snuck into the building and began supergluing dispensers shut, presumably so no one could replenish them. Students reported the grown man lurking in the bathroom, and criminal charges are now pending. Says a school board member, “It’s clearly not adult behavior.”

In Arizona, a longstanding game of tit for tat between judges and lawmakers was turned up a notch this week after a federal judge threatened to fine the state $500,000 a day if it didn’t improve funding for programs to help English-language learners. Courts have been ordering Arizona lawmakers to do just that for at least six years, and now, judge Raner Collins has also ordered the state to allow English learners to receive high school diplomas without passing standardized tests, a move which drew an immediate outcry. “To tell these students that they’re going to get a diploma even though they can’t speak English and then have them compete in the economy is a terrible way to mislead these students,” state superintendent Tom Horne said.

With the holidays right around the corner, it’s time for the annual flood of stories about the best and worst gifts teachers receive this time of year. We’ll spare you the usual details except to note that as corny as the hundredth (non-iPod) apple-themed product might be, gift-giving is far more problematic across the pond. This year, British teachers have reported receiving tasteless gifts including flavored condoms, a teddy bear with a card reading “from one horny devil to another,” and a pair of bright-red Hello Kitty knickers. The lucky recipient of that last gift, high school teacher Rebecca Heath, wasn’t offended by the underwear. Instead, she complained they were two sizes too big.

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