Electoral Colleagues, Science by Design, and a Second-Place Finish

By Mark Toner — November 05, 2004 3 min read

The election season is finally over, and while both President Bush and challenger John Kerry have called for unity, it may be too late for two North Carolina teachers who ran against each other for state legislature. Republican Bryan Holloway and his Democratic opponent, Robert Mitchell, who both teach history at West Stokes High School in Danbury, began the campaign season with good-natured jokes and friendly debates in civics classes. But by the week before the election, things had soured to the point that Mitchell felt compelled to file a complaint with the state board of elections, charging, among other things, that his colleague used school paper, its copier, and student labor to put together campaign fliers. Holloway wound up defeating Mitchell at the polls, ending the political battle, but their friendship is over. Superintendent Larry Cartner says of the campaign bickering, “There’s an old saying that if you want to change something in a child, change something about yourself. It’s unfortunate that the political process in our environment tends to get ugly.”

Ohio, it turns out, is a battleground state in more ways than one. In recent years, opponents of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution have backed away from religious rhetoric in favor of “intelligent design,” which argues that life is so complex, it cannot be explained by natural selection. This fall in the Buckeye State, biology teachers began following a mandate to “critically analyze” evolutionary theory, the result of a 2002 ruling by Ohio’s State Board of Education. Although openly mocked by some scientists, the movement has made progress at the grass-roots level, and the board’s decision is its biggest victory since Kansas removed evolution from its curriculum in 1999 (only to later reverse the action). “Our opponents would say that these are a bunch of know-nothing people on a state board,” says Stephen Meyer, director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank leading the charge. “We think it shows that our Darwinist colleagues have a real problem now.” The battle is moving into other states—and into textbooks, which, of course, dance to the tune set by standards such as Ohio’s.

Dancing is all one student in Holland, New York, wanted to do. Since the boy was homeschooled, though, his request to attend a dance at Holland Middle School prompted lively discussion among school board members. They ultimately approved the request and went so far as to consider opening all extracurricular activities to homeschooled kids—except sports. As superintendent Garry Stone put it, it’s best to mend bridges. “In this time of tight funding, these are the community members who are voting on our budget. These are also the kids that might come back. We should make them feel comfortable so if they wanted to come back, they wouldn’t feel like an outsider.”

That kind of hospitality doesn’t extend to Panzerfaust Records. The Minnesota outfit with apparent neo-Nazi roots has distributed 20,000 CDs of hate music, including such songs as “Hate Train Rolling” and “Under the Hammer,” to students across the country as part of a campaign called “Project Schoolyard USA.” In Houston, administrators have been on the lookout for the CDs while trying to promote tolerance, which itself isn’t always an easy sell. When Dulles High School formed a gay-straight alliance and invited students to speak during a staff-development program, “some of the teachers walked out,” principal Lynn Marshall said.

And as the political furor dies down to a dull roar, let’s return to the story of Stu Starky, the Phoenix teacher profiled in the October issue of Teacher for his quixotic run against Arizona institution Senator John McCain. As expected, even predicted by Starky himself, he garnered just over 20 percent of the vote. While political writers and pundits enjoyed such metaphorical excesses as “McCain rolled his straight-talk express over Democrat Stuart Starky,” we should point out that the unknown middle school teacher did get more than 345,000 votes statewide—an impressive showing for a political unknown. And since he teaches math, we know he won’t ask for a recount.

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