Sunday, Sep. 26, 2010
Modesto science teacher's plan to teach intelligent design sparks debate
Of all the much-wrangled issues in public school education, the case of evolution may be the most fragile peace.
Last month, a Modesto science teacher announced at a back-to-school night that he would teach the theory of intelligent design alongside evolution. Modesto City Schools district officials say that will not happen.
However, some trustees and other science teachers say it should. Parents on both sides of the divide are discovering that it is.
"I agree that some science and other teachers (teach intelligent design), yes, and it is unethical when they do so," retired science teacher Mike Kennedy of Oakdale said in an e-mail.
Intelligent design is the theory that living things are too complex to have happened randomly in nature. Proponents say science proves there was a master designer.
Skeptics argue a theory that can't be disproved is not science, it is faith, and as such does not belong in science class.
"The problem is that intelligent design is trying to somehow wed science to faith and it can't because in intelligent design you start with an assumption and it's unquestionable," said Central Catholic High School science teacher Chris Wilde.
Wilde's classroom has a life-size cutout of Albert Einstein by the window and a crucifix over the door. The 34-year teacher, who holds master's degrees in physical sciences and theology, said there is no conflict between evolution and her faith.
"I love this quote by Pope John Paul II: 'Let science tell us what and how. Let religion tell us who and why.' Truth is truth. We just answer different questions," she said. "We believe in a God that is so powerful he could create it all, then allow it to unfold. To me, that is a far more awesome God."
Wilde added, "I think it's so wonderful that I'm related genetically to every other creature that's ever lived. ... I think it's an honor."
Schools standards differ
At Big Valley Christian High School, science teacher Francesca Orr works within a more conservative Christian standard. The school is attached to Big Valley Grace Community Church, which states on its Web site, "We believe that man was created by God in His own image, and not the product of evolution or animal ancestry."
Orr said in an e-mail, "All of our content subjects are taught in accordance to rigorous California state standards, while our instruction is delivered from a Biblical world view."
Wilde and Orr teach in private schools, where religious instruction is approved and high-stakes state tests are not such a driving force.
In public school, teachers don't have time to expound on personal views, said Megan Gowans, executive director of the Modesto Teachers Association.
"Typically, in these days of testing, the district has looked askance at that. You really can't deviate from that (pacing) calendar," Gowans said.
She said the union was not notified of any problem in the case of Roosevelt Junior High teacher Mark Ferrante, the instructor who last month told parents of his intention at back-to-school night. Ferrante did not answer e-mails seeking comment.
"He will not be teaching intelligent design. He has been instructed to teach the state standards and intelligent design is not in the state standards," Modesto City Schools spokeswoman Emily Lawrence said last week.
The administration hews to the official policy, set by the board a decade ago, of not teaching intelligent design. Today, as then, the Modesto City Schools board is divided on the issue.
"The current curriculum states that the evolution of man, Darwinism, must be taught as a theory. I feel we do our students a disservice by not helping them become critical thinkers when we forbid the teaching of competing scientific theories, such as intelligent design," trustee Nancy Cline said in an e-mail.