One of the more interesting things that came out of yesterday's election is the sweep of school board seats in Dover, Pennsylvania, which is currently in the midst of a controversy and lawsuit over its school board supposedly mandating the teaching of intelligent design in the classroom.
Upon doing a bit of digging, I came upon the statement that precipitated this whole issue.
“The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.
Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.
Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, "Of Pandas and People", is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.
With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments.
Now, keep in mind that this statement was to be read to ninth-graders at the beginning of their biology class. Indeed, as the article I cited mentioned, teachers did not even have to read it themselves; school administrators would do it if the teacher did not wish to do so. The reading of this statement was all that was required; no other curriculum modifications were made or mandated.
Now, notice a few other things in those paragraphs:
1) The statement made it clear that the school was going to teach evolution because that is what was on the standards test.
2) It does not mandate that students read the book Of Pandas and People, which is about intelligent design; it merely says that it is available if students are interested.
3) It does not say that intelligent design is a theory, or that it meets the scientific criterion to be one; it says it is an alternate explanation for the origin of life.
However, scientists and educators demanded, as cited in the article, that this statement be removed because it "mandated the teaching of intelligent design creationism".
That is the weakest "mandate" I've ever seen. You're not telling students what it's about, you're not talking about it in class, and you're not requiring them to read the book on it. I only wish MY high school assignments had been that "mandatory".
What this is more than anything else is hysterics on the part of the antireligious bigots for whom evolution is a cornerstone of their attempts to deny the existence of God or prove that religion is irrational superstition. Ironically, these same bigots argue that they must exclude alternatives or kids won't get the education they need; in my cynical view, what they're excluding is the chance that they won't have to answer, "I don't know" when pressed.
UPDATE: Pat Robertson, as is his wont, decided to make things worse -- although for whom, I am not sure.