Education Letter to the Editor


January 01, 1997 18 min read

Monkey Business

Hats off to Danny Phillips for taking a stand in the Colorado debate concerning evolution and creation [“Counter Evolutionary,” November/December]. As an old philosophy professor once said, the facts of man’s origins will never be settled until we talk to someone who was there when life began.

Your headline on the cover was very misleading. Science has settled the question of gravity, the roundness of the earth, and many other issues, but it has not settled the question of evolution vs. creation. Any honest scientist will tell you no one knows for sure.

Danny is right: The teaching of evolution as fact is pure indoctrination. As an educator, I want to provide my students with as much education as possible so they can make their own decisions. I am not afraid to match one theory against another.

I also thought it was in poor taste to mention what Danny was wearing. Had his T-shirt advertised rock-music groups, sports teams, or beer, you would not have mentioned it. However, because his shirt bore the name of a religious organization, it became part of the issue.

Many teachers are proud of Danny for taking a stand on an issue many of us are too chicken to confront. Way to go, Danny! Keep it up.

Mike Fisk
St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin

I was very disappointed in “Counter Evolutionary.” I thought the article would focus on Danny Phillips. But out of 13 columns, three were devoted to Danny and three to general history of the issue. Meanwhile, Joseph McInerney of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study got seven columns to spout his venom.

David Hill accuses Danny of being “disingenuous.” My God! Danny is only 15 years old and probably doesn’t even know what that word means. At that age, young people are still immature in their ability to cogently express themselves. One must be a mature adult to know how to be disingenuous. Danny is not an adult; he is a teenager. Back off and give him space to mature before accusing him of such adult behavior.

McInerney states that “all scientists accept the reality of evolution.” Well, I am a scientist. I have a master’s degree in physics with 34 years’ experience as a research scientist for the University of Texas Applied Research Laboratories. After I retired, I returned to the university as an undergraduate student in education. I successfully completed Texas’ certification requirements to teach math and physics, and I have been teaching for the past four years. I do not accept the hypothesis of evolution on scientific grounds, and, like Danny, I am one of those ignorant Christians. I guess that makes me an ignorant metaphysicist.

Charles Longwell
Bertram, Texas

Concluding his explanation of the basic tenets of evolution, my college biology teacher said, “It takes a lot of faith to believe this.”

Throughout my long career as a teacher, administrator, and trainer of teachers, I have read widely on both sides of the evolution vs. creation debate. I appreciate David Hill’s effort to give a balanced view of the continuing debate. Because no one was there “in the beginning,” both evolutionists and creationists look at the same data and, using faith, interpret it differently. How have we come to such an impasse in resolving the controversy?

It is interesting to note that Charles Darwin himself appeared to believe in a creator. And Clarence Darrow stated that it is “bigotry for public schools to teach only one theory of origins.”

Why then did Hill allow Eugenie Scott’s broad-brush characterization of the book by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics advocating intelligent design theory? She calls it “terrible science,” yet Hill does not give a single scientific example to support her comments. I was also troubled by the arrogance of Joseph McInerney, who said “ignorance and zealotry are the twin towers of creationism.” He puts the theory of evolution into the same category as gravitation (which is measurable) and germ theory (which is observable under the microscope). That is quite a leap of faith.

Lila Dean Bruckner
Antioch, Tennessee

I am always amazed at the arrogance of fundamentalist evolutionists. The theory of evolution can in no way be compared to gravitation or germ theories. How gravity works is open to great debate; that it exists is not. The mechanics of germ processes are still being explored; the fact of their existence is disputed by no one.

Evolutionary theory is in a completely different category. Consider these facts:

  • More than two centuries ago, scientists disproved the theory of “spontaneous generation"; yet it remains one of the primary tenets of evolutionary theory—by faith, I suppose.
  • The Second Law of Thermodynamics—the idea that all things move from greater complexity to lesser complexity, or more simply, the clock is running down, not winding up—flies in the face of a theory that contends the universe has moved from the greatest simplicity to its present incredible complexity.
  • Even though there are literally billions of fossils, no transitional fossils exist. If evolution theory were accurate, there should be millions of half-vertebrate fossils, but all we find are invertebrates or vertebrates in completely developed form.

Evolutionary theory is philosophy, not science, and should be approached that way in schools. Frankly, the idea that time and chance and chemicals combined to form the universe as we know it takes more faith than I am able to muster.

David Couchman
Trinity Christian School
Sacramento, California

Fundamentalist Christians are twisting themselves into insupportable logical pretzels by defending a literal view of biblical creation in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence. Our education system suffers yet another blow to its already embattled rigor every time creationism is presented in a science classroom.

St. Augustine, one of Christianity’s earliest leaders, suggested the Genesis creation account should not be taken literally. Today, even Pope John Paul II has said that evolution is “fully compatible with the Christian faith.” It appears the Roman Catholic Church will come to some peaceful coexistence with evolution theory several hundred years faster than it delivered a pardon to Galileo for his vexing support of Copernican cosmology.

Conservative religious bodies have always resisted scientific exploration and advances. Invariably, either they finally accept the science or they cease to exist, rendered irrelevant by a newly enlightened society.

The fundamentalist logic pretzel will twist tighter and tighter as time goes by, and eventually the pretzel will snap. Science will prevail.

Richard Howell

Is it any wonder that “Counter Evolutionary” takes place in Colorado? I read the story on election eve, the day before the state voted on a parent-rights amendment that would micromanage classrooms for political correctness. This student, who claims he is “acting on his own,” states he does not want creation taught, just facts and God’s truth.

Can we not see the problem with this thinking? Must teachers bend to all concerns and desires of parents and students? If we allow this to continue without standing up for the standards we as professionals know as right and true, then we as teachers must share the blame for continued ignorance and classroom stress.

Dave Bell
Barrow, Alaska

If anything is certain, it is that scientists have not settled the evolution vs. creation debate [“Counter Evolutionary,” November/December 1996]. Although a majority of scientists currently favor an evolutionary world view, many do not. The debate is alive and well. In fact, the relevant data can be interpreted to support either theory of the origins of man, and students should have the opportunity to evaluate the data and draw their own conclusions. Allowing students to study both sides of this debate may give them a better sense of the dynamic way in which scientific theories are developed, tested, modified, and often rejected. As Danny Phillips correctly noted, failure to present the creation theory to students is a form of censorship.

Joseph McInerney, chief spokesman for the evolutionary viewpoint in the article, is singularly ineffective in his “point by point” refutation of creationism. Clearly, accusing creationists of “ignorance and zealotry” is simply abusive ad hominem andirrelevant. His statement that creationism has no scientific basis is untrue; he assumes what he is trying to prove. If the theory of evolution is supported by data and leads to accurate predictions, then it will prosper on its merits. Could it be lack of merit that prompts supporters to defend evolution by name-calling, empty arguments, and censorship?

Nora Krainis
Brunswick, Maine

If there is such a strong case for the theory of evolution, no one should fear presenting opposing theoretical viewpoints. True scientific method requires open examination of all data--especially that which conflicts with our personal biases. Research integrity is prerequisite to good science. If we refuse to consider conflicting data because it doesn’t fit our preconceptions, we have relegated our work to the annals of propaganda, not science.

When a scientific fact is dependent upon concurring public opinion or government sanction for validity, we have returned to an age of medieval darkness. It matters not whether the rulers of this new Dark Age are evolutionists or creationists. If the prevailing side can silence its opposition, it will succeed in eliminating the exchange of free ideas that has been the hallmark of the American scientific effort. That would be a profound loss for humanity and a giant leap backward for science.

Suzanne Bennett
Fresno, California

Moderating Voice

Although I thought your article on Attention Deficit Disorders [“ADDicted,” November/December] was generally fair and accurate, I was dismayed by its portrayal of my interview with the reporter. Taken from a conversation of nearly 90 minutes, the quotes attributed to me were largely lifted out of their broader context and, I fear, leave the impression that I believe that the organization Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders is largely responsible for my concerns regarding overdiagnosis and overmedication. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, I believe CHADD has been and continues to be an important moderating voice within the ADD community. Rather than promoting any specific treatment—including medication—CHADD has always insisted that medications only be considered after a thorough, professional diagnostic evaluation and always within the context of a multimodal treatment approach. Rather than seeing ADD as an excuse for inappropriate behavior, CHADD has consistently argued that individuals with ADD are, in fact, ultimately responsible for their behavior. And rather than claiming ever-increasing prevalence rates for ADD, CHADD has consistently maintained a reasonable prevalence estimate of 3 percent to 5 percent of the school-aged population.

As a former executive director for CHADD, I can personally attest to the fact that over the years, CHADD has been of tremendous help to tens of thousands of individuals with ADD and parents of children with ADD. Most important, and contrary to the impression the article may have given its reader, I believe CHADD as an organization has always provided and continues to provide responsible and reasoned leadership in the field of ADD.

Wade Horn
Gaithersburg, Maryland

Your article about attention deficit disorders [“ADDicted, November/December 1996] highlighted the important role that comprehensive assessment, individualized treatment, and appropriate educational interventions play in the lives of children with ADD--exactly what Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders advocates.

Although we found much of your article accurate and illuminating, part of your report concerned us greatly. We know very well the pain, frustrations, and challenges that ADD can present to children, families, and teachers. To suggest that anybody is “excited” to learn that a child has been identified as having a disorder such as ADD is insulting.

We wish your reporter had contacted CHADD instead of choosing only to interview a former employee. Your readers would have benefited from learning how CHADD is working with educators and others to promote the importance of comprehensive assessment and ensure that properly diagnosed individuals are receiving the interventions they need to succeed in the classroom and in life.

Julie Doy
National President
Plantation, Florida

Parents should do the most dangerous thing in the world: read. I read a lot about Ritalin and the organization Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders. I teach kids who are on Ritalin, too. This country thinks that the answer to everything is to use drugs. Parents won’t check for food allergies, but they’ll let a doctor start their kid on this stupid drug.

I’d rather have a naturally hyper kid than some of the zombies I’ve had. I personally think that the makers of Ritalin, the doctors, and the ADD advocates work together to create this ADD myth and are getting rich.

Rodney Blackwell
Scottsboro, Alabama

Mr. Feel Good

Regarding David Ruenzel’s review [“Books,” October 1996] of my book Beyond the Classroom: Let me get this straight. Our students’ poor showing on tests of achievement and disdain for academic excellence should be celebrated as indicators of their “iconoclastic spirit” and “youthful vitality”? Please. Perhaps Ruenzel should worry about the fact that most American teenagers can’t even define “iconoclastic” and that the majority probably think that “vitality” is a hair-care product. Ruenzel’s feel-good perspective is precisely what’s wrong with the education-reform movement my book criticizes.

Laurence Steinberg
Professor of Psychology
Temple University

Although I was happy to see your review of Beyond the Classroom, I was disappointed that David Ruenzel used so much of his space to expound on his own viewpoint.

One of the strengths of Steinberg’s research is its evidence that details the exact reasons why students are not performing well. The suggestions for parents are extremely important: practice authoritative parenting, monitor school performance and friends closely, discourage employment during the school year, and stress high expectations. But the book is discouraging for teachers; the evidence suggests much of what we do is hindered by what we have little control over.

Martha Ryan
Las Vegas


Who cheated on the test? [“Whodunit?” October.] Those who made the test cheated. Standardized tests are not designed to be taken; they are designed to be graded. They don’t test what students know; they test how well they take tests.

My students are bilingual, but I have to give them the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, which they can barely read. It asks students in New Mexico to decipher a poem about subways. I asked my 20 students what a subway is: Two said a sandwich, three said a restaurant, one said a train, and the other 14 had no idea.

When I get new students from Mexico who know no English, I have to give them two standardized tests in English that they have no means of understanding. I often wonder: Do we have schools to educate children or to keep the test makers in business? I’m afraid of the answer. So who cheats on these tests? Who gets cheated? You tell me.

John Bower
Santa Teresa, New Mexico

Fashion Czar

I find it appalling that professional educators have to be asked to dress professionally [“Fashion Statement,” October]. We as teachers are supposed to be professionals in our field, and our professionalism should be evident in all aspects of our teaching, from proper grammar to prepared lessons to appropriate dress.

No wonder the teaching profession fields so much criticism from society. I find it outrageous that we have to be directed not to wear shorts, halter tops, and sweats to school. Such attire would never be tolerated in other college-degree professions, and educators are very upset when students come to school dressed this way.

As a professional, common sense should tell you to dress professionally. A directive should not be required.

Anne Thearling
Southgate, Michigan

Men And Children

While reading “Odd Man Out” [September], many unpleasant memories surfaced. September 1949 found me teaching kindergarten in Schenectady, New York. Schenectady was the only district interested in having me as a kindergarten teacher. I had interviewed with other people who questioned why I would want to work with the “little ones.”

I was very fortunate to have been accepted for what I wanted to do. I wish Bert Morgan and all the other men who want to work with young children the best of all worlds.

Frank Austin
Scotia, New York

I have been an elementary teacher for the past 26 years. I can empathize with both Bert Morgan and David Downing. There is always the feeling that you are being held to a different standard of acceptable behavior than a female teacher. There is also the “Oh” reaction when you answer the question, “What do you teach?” And there is the belief that you don’t really have a serious job.

Although there are times when I have doubts, I know I have had a positive effect on many students. I am proud of my accomplishments. I hope Bert and David are, too.

Jim Harrington
Allen Dale School
Grants Pass, Oregon

Arnold Pakula’s attitude [Letters, November/December] saddens me. Being a teacher requires caring. I could not teach without touching my students. A pat on the back, a handshake, and, yes, a hug are frequent rewards in my classroom. Teaching in city schools, I am unable to imagine surviving the day without the close encounters with my students. Considering many of them receive little or no affection at home, I simply cannot adopt a “hands-off” policy either for their well-being or my own. I understand such an approach may someday lead to disastrous consequences, but that’s the risk I face in order to teach.

Suzanne Unger
Palmyra, Pennsylvania

A Test Of Principle

After reading “Up in Smoke” [January], I could not believe that a dedicated social studies teacher and a Teacher of the Year with 27 years of service lost her job because of a marijuana cigarette found in the ashtray of her unlocked car. Any policeman, student, city official, school board official, or passerby had the opportunity to place that cigarette in the car. Someone saw a window of opportunity to get rid of Sherry Hearn for preaching students’ rights and being a thorn in the side of the school board.

I support Hearn 100 percent in her decision not to take the drug urinalysis. Unlike her, I didn’t speak out when I, like other members of the U.S. Army, was given a military order to submit to drug tests each month I was stationed in Vietnam. Like Hearn, I found it a demeaning act: As I provided the sample, a fellow soldier looked on as a witness.

James Gilfone
Prince George, Virginia

Thank you, Sherry Hearn, for taking a brave stand. I hope I would have done the same thing. And if you never teach again, your students have learned the meaning of democracy and the most fundamental--and dangerous--rights we have: the right to have a belief that differs from the mainstream and the right as teachers to share our views with our students.

I have researched the issues of free speech and expression in our roles as educators. Yours is another story in a long and notorious series of attempts to stifle discussion, opinion, and true democratic debate. I hope you can take your case to a higher court, and I hope that the court will find in your favor. It will be a landmark decision if you win.

Heidi Perlmutter
Watsonville, California

I am a middle school teacher, and I am disgusted at the message Sherry Hearn is sending her students. She knew the rules and helped enforce them. But now that she has been “busted,” the rules don’t apply anymore. If she thought the district’s drug searches or drug policy were wrong, she should have quit or taken the matter to court earlier.

I spent more than 21 years in the Army before retiring and continuing my teaching career. In that time, I was in a supervisory position for more than 17 years. There were many times that I saw “false positives"--drug tests where evidence incorrectly suggested drug use. In every case I know of, the innocent person followed procedures and cleared his or her name.

We need to understand that we give up certain rights when we take any job. Hearn knew the policy and agreed to it when she signed her contract. By continuing her employment, she gave up her “right” not to take the drug test. Now, though, the ball is in her court, and she refuses to play. It doesn’t work that way in the real world. Hearn and others need to stop using their “rights” as a crutch to get out of trouble. It’s amazing how most criminals avoid prosecution on technicalities involving their rights. And it’s amazing how innocent people don’t have to rely on technicalities to avoid prosecution--just proof.

Let’s teach our kids cause and effect and how to accept responsibility and become accountable for their actions. We are the role models.

F.D. Raymond
Pikeville, North Carolina

Junk Journalism

Tacky journalism is not usually your style. But the article [“Surprise!” January] about Catherine Schaller’s award from the Milken Family Foundation crossed the line. I’m referring to your editorializing within the article. You note that the Milken Foundation was founded by Lowell Milken and “his infamous brother, Michael, the fallen junk-bond salesman.” Editorializing in a reputable magazine is done on the editor’s page and signed with the name of an editor. No one signed that article, probably because it was so glaringly tacky.

I rejoice with a happy teacher being recognized as outstanding. Is Teacher Magazine rejoicing with teachers or using them for their own opinions?

Shirley Splittstoesser
Urbana, Illinois

Teacher Magazine takes no editorial positions but welcomes the opinions and comments of its readers. Letters should be 300 words or fewer and may be edited for clarity and length. Comment articles fall under two general headings: Viewpoint and First Person. Essays should run approximately 1,000 to 1,250 words (four to five double-spaced pages) in length. All letters and submissions should include an address and phone number. Mail them to Teacher Magazine, 4301 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 250, Washington, DC 20008. Letters also may be sent to tmletter@epe.org, essays to tm@epe.org.

A version of this article appeared in the January 01, 1997 edition of Teacher as Letters