The Evolution of Science
Opposition in Blount County seems largely from the outside. In the last few months, a small group of opponents has been discreetly meeting, calling themselves GENES - Great Education Needs Evolution Science. When GENES first heard about the resolution, they got a videotape copy of the school board meeting. But the decision went by so quickly on the tape, they had to watch it a second time.
The GENES group met in October at a local private school to brainstorm about what to do next. There were only about a dozen men in attendance, mostly science faculty from the nearby University of Tennessee and a few local educators; not a single parent of a student in the Blount County schools. Former principal Vandy Kemp was invited as a guest speaker and advisor to the meeting.
"There is nobody on earth that is more beleaguered than high school teachers," says Kemp to the group. "They're being attacked from all sides. So they have gone under their rock and they're just trying to get by from day to day. And so if the Board says, 'Do this,' they're going to do what they can. But mainly, they're just going to survive."
Kemp has been counseling the GENES group to consider what she sees as more constructive steps, like teacher education programs in science.
We met with Vandy Kemp the morning after the GENES meeting where she stressed her fundamental words of advice to the group: Don't talk of creationism vs. Darwinism. That's nothing but a dead-end debate in Blount County. Instead, direct the discussion to the improvement of science education and evolution will find its way, even with the school board that's currently in office.
"They are very godly, sincere, well-intended people," says Kemp. "I have every sense that they feel some sort of calling because they express that God has placed them there to do good work. But I also believe that they are concerned as a group about slippage of morality, slippage of values, and they believe that the way to deal with that is through the school system, and that they have a responsibility to push Christian, specifically Christian values. So that begs the question, could that group of men last night do anything about it?"
How many more school districts like Blount County might there be, quietly and effortlessly changing science standards? That was Eugenie Scott's concern when she sent us there, as a defender of the teaching of evolution.
By comparison, Philip Johnson, the "architect" of intelligent design, was looking toward the future too, when he directed us to an alternative high school in San Diego; a school he'd only read about in a small Oregon newspaper. The article made reference to the school's unusual approach to teaching evolution, including a recent experiment that integrated intelligent design.
In the end, Phillip Johnson had the same question as Eugenie Scott about the place we were going to visit, although with a more hopeful tone. How many more schools like this might there be?
Continue to part 3