Now and then you think that things are finally going right and that progress is moving in the right direction. But then, from a great height, some idiot drops a whole pile of stupid in front of you, and the path to progress is blocked once again. This happened in 2018 in Arizona, United States, after more than a year’s work by several dozen Arizona science teachers, who had been working to update the state science standards, found that their work had been to little avail. The updates were the first major change to the science standards to have taken place in more than 10 years, but were then reduced to a shadow of their former self after Diane Douglas, the Arizona State School Superintendent, took an eraser to the hard work of the team of science teachers, deleting all mentions of evolution and replacing it with ambiguous language that let in the crackpot theory of creationism for the million students in the state to now have included in their science curriculum.
Such a move isn’t just an act of stupidity, it is, in fact, an act of psychological abuse on the child that not only denies them of fact and evidence-based learning and research opportunities but also stifles the very acts of enquiry learning and critical thinking that we, as educators, try to instil in our students.
During a campaign forum in November 2017, Douglas made it quite clear that she wanted creationism to be taught alongside evolution in the science classroom but it wasn’t clear at the time that her intent was to try to eliminate the theory of evolution from the curriculum, or at best belittle it to no more than an idea. She stated quite categorically that. “The theory of intelligent design should be taught along with the theory of evolution. Absolutely.”
Here are a few examples of the changes she was intent on making;
While science teachers want their High School biology students to be able to explain “how the process of evolution results from natural selection”, Douglas aims to add an air of ambiguity by including the word ‘may’ which changes it to “how the process of evolution may result from natural selection.” The team of science teachers further proposed teaching students that “changes resulting from natural diversity within a species lead to the selection of those individuals suited to survive under certain conditions.” This statement is perfectly true and correct, but Douglas intends to say that such changes “are thought to lead to the selection of those individuals suited to survive under certain conditions.” While Douglas claims that she is only trying to change a few words here and there, we all know that if we change enough words ‘here and there’ we can change Shakespeare’s Hamlet into the script for a Scooby Doo episode.
Even though the US Courts have established that there are is a separation of church and state and that intelligent design, or creationism, should not and cannot be taught in United States public schools, the religious influence of school board members still, to this day, threatens both nonreligious members of the same school boards as well as the education of students within the school. Both the US Court system and historians have determined that intelligent design is purely a strategy used by biblical creationists who are intent on having their ideas included in the teachings within science classrooms. Both also state, quite categorically, that intelligent design is not a scientific theory. Knowing this and the fact that, a little over 10 years previously, the Dover Area School district lost quite dramatically in Federal Court and had to pay over $2 million in settlement and legal fees after they forced nonreligious members of the school board to resign or to move to other districts and enforced the inclusion of intelligent design in the Dover Area School science curriculum, Douglas still thought that she could change the Arizona science standards. Such stupidity indeed.
Reading some of Douglas’s statements, it is apparent that she has the same rudimentary understanding of the word ‘theory’ as other people do when using in its loosest common terms instead of using it in the scientific meaning to describe evolution. She, as others do, whether intentionally or through stupidity, suggest that the theory of evolution is merely just an idea, one that shouldn’t be taken too seriously when there is a big bronze age book that, of course, explains everything SO well.
“Because evolution IS a theory in many ways, and that’s what our children should understand, that while there are parts and pieces of it that are we can, I think agree, are proven science, there are other areas of it that are very theoretical. And if we’re going to educate our children instead of just indoctrinate them to one way of thinking, we have to be able to allow them to explore all types of areas”, Said Douglas.
Luckily for the 1 million students within the Arizona state public schools system, Diane Douglas is no longer the state superintendent. She passed that torch, when she was defeated by Kathy Hoffman, at the start of 2019 so we’ll keep an eye on this story and update it if needed.