Amy Binder and John H. Evans, in a column in the Washington Posts, reflecting on the never ending debates about the teaching of evolution in the classroom, write: “We propose a compromise that would neither violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment nor limit the teaching of evolution in the public schools.”
This is how their column begins:
A proposal before the Texas Board of Education calls for including the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution in the state’s science curriculum. This initiative is understood by supporters and opponents to be a strategic effort to get around First Amendment restrictions on teaching religion in science class. The proposal is a new round in an old debate, and, if it fails, creationists will innovate once again, just as they have since the 1920s.
If they succeed, there could be national implications: Because of Texas’s sizable school population, the state curriculum can influence national standards. Book publishers don’t want to produce multiple versions of the same text for different states or regions, so ideas that work their way into Texas’s curriculum often end up shaping content in classrooms elsewhere.
Opponents of teaching intelligent design — civil libertarians, scientists and educators alike — have fought these challenges with a scorched-earth line of attack. No compromise, ever. Bloggers opposed to the idea of intelligent design ridicule its proponents as fundamentalist hicks, while formal assessments tend to condemn them in a slightly more civil tone. Those who study social movements, as we do, know that loss does not always deter; in fact, crushing one’s opponents, especially again and again, can create feelings of persecution and solidarity among them and deepen their commitment to their cause.
From a tactical perspective, this may not be the best way to protect the science curriculum or the separation of church and state. From a more humanistic viewpoint, stigmatizing those who believe in intelligent design does not get us any closer to a respectful discourse. We presume that the Texas challenge will be found to violate the Constitution and that scientists will never accept the watering down of evolutionary concepts in the classroom. But by taking seriously a concern of critics of evolution, educators could offer an olive branch that might result in less debate overall and in better-informed students.
The problem may well be that the tactical perspectives from both sides are too hardened, right now. Can you imagine PZ Myers or Ann Coulter offering an olive branch? Amy Binder and John H. Evans – Evolving Toward a Compromise – washingtonpost.com