Posted by Richard B. Hoppe on February 3, 2006 12:05 AM

Cleveland Plain Dealer Story Update

The Cleveland Plain Dealer has the story now, and has a stronger quote from Governor Taft:

“I think we ought to be teaching evolution,” Taft said. “I think intelligent design should not be part of the standards and should not be tested. I want to know what their views are before I decide whether to reappoint them.”

Taft also said he was chagrined by the tone of the January board meeting, which included personal attacks between board members.

In one instance, two board members read the newspaper as members of the public testified about the science standards.

“That’s not a good way to do business,” Taft said.

The money phrase here is “… intelligent design should not be part of the standards …”. It is the “critically analyze” standard that is the gateway through which the intelligent design creationist pseudo-science was wedged into the model curriculum.

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Original Entry

In an exclusive story in the February 3, 2006, Columbus Dispatch, Ohio Governor Bob Taft is reported to have said that he doesn’t think intelligent design should be taught in Ohio schools. According to the story, Taft doesn’t think the standards include intelligent design, but he called for “… a legal review of the companion lesson plan to ensure that Ohio is not vulnerable to a lawsuit”.

Taft also said he would question potential appointees to the Board more closely on the issue.

“There were cases in which I didn’t ask the right questions, in some cases where I supported someone for election or appointment,” Taft said this week when asked about the issue during a meeting with Dispatch editors and reporters.

“I’ll be asking that question now, I can assure you.”

Unfortunately, Taft wouldn’t elaborate on what he would consider a satisfactory answer. Taft will appoint four members to the Ohio State Board of Education before his term expires in early 2007. The four current occupants of those appointments all voted in favor of the ID-originated standard for 10th grade biology and for inclusion of the ID creationist model lesson plan when a motion to delete it was defeated in 2004. One changed his vote in the recent narrow vote (9-8) to retain it.

This is a reversal for a Governor whose chief of staff when the science standards were being considered, Brian Hicks, lobbied the Governor’s appointees on the Ohio Board of Education to support an ID-based science standard, benchmark, and model lesson plan. (Hicks’ emails were made public during another scandal in Ohio, “Coingate“.) In every OBOE vote on the standards, benchmarks and model curriculum, the Governor’s appointees obediently voted as a block to support the ID-based material with the recent exception noted above.

Ohio ID supporters publicly boasted about the Governor’s role in the process of developing tainted standards. In November 2003, Robert Lattimer, a prominent Ohio ID creationist, described the background for Taft’s earlier support

Our Governor is a moderate Republican. He was up for election last fall. He had done a couple of things that angered conservative voters, and he knew he needed conservative voters to win the election.

Lattimer went on to boast of the result the political pressure from ID’s creationist troops had on the Governor’s role:

And finally the Governor responded and the result was that the ‘teach the controversy’ language that we’d [IDists] been proposing was adopted by the State Board of Education by a vote of 18 to nothing. That does not mean that all members of the State Board of Education supported our viewpoint. Actually, only 5 supported our viewpoint.

Most politicians do not care about this issue. They think it’s superfluous, it doesn’t mean anything. But they do react to public opinion because that’s what keeps them in office. So that’s why they got an 18-0 vote. The public opinion was so strong in our favor. And the Governor was twisting some arms. He appoints 8 of those members, but he has pretty much influence on the whole Board. (Taped at Darwin, Design and Democracy IV, Minneapolis, November 15, 2003; tape purchased from Intelligent Design Network, organizer of the ID conference)

Hicks’ email corroborates Lattimer’s version. Hicks, now a member of the Ohio State University Board of Trustees, recently declined to comment on his role in the State Board of Education’s decisions.

The Governor’s office, and therefore the science standards, were subject to intense political pressure from the religious right, pressure orchestrated in part by at least one member of the Ohio State Board of Education. In documents released by the Ohio Department of Education to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, we learned that OBOE member Deborah Owens-Fink, who has close ties to the religious right, threatened to “bring the state down” on the Board and Governor if the ID-based material was not accepted by the board.

And if the strategy wasn’t obvious enough, Lattimer favored us with this remark in his Minneapolis talk

This is the language that we got in the Standards that was approved in December of last year. Again, it’s pretty moderate language. It’s pretty modest. It’s not anything earthshaking, but it gives us that wedge, a foot in the door that enables us to teach origins with more objectivity than we had before.

Wedging Creationism into Ohio

As we know, intelligent design “theory” has no content save the claim that something or other designed something or other sometime, and somehow or other manufactured whatever was designed without leaving any traces of the existence of the designer, the manufacturer, or the manufacturing process. It is no more than recycled creation science relabeled with a few new terms. For example, Behe’s “irreducible complexity” replaced Henry Morris’ “organized complexity”. (Henry wasn’t happy about that.) And the federal courts have taken notice of the constancy of content underlying the changing labels. “Sham” is the word used. One hopes that Governor Taft’s legal advisors know that word.

The “critically evaluate” biology standard and benchmark are grounded in the “teach the controversy” approach conceived as a “compromise” by Stephen C. Meyer and Bruce Chapman of the Discovery Institute. That was announced by Meyer at a public debate before the Ohio Board of Education in 2002. Rather than teach intelligent design (which has no content, of course) Meyer and Chapman conceived the teach the controversy tactic on the eve of a debate before the Ohio Board of Education about whether to teach ID. Having nothing to teach, ID advocates had to come up with something. Essentially, “teach the controversy” repackages old-time creation science – distortions and flawed criticisms of evolutionary theory, singling it out for disparagement – but now calls it “critically evaluate evolution” or “critical analysis of evolution”. It pushes the same canards that have characterized creationism since the 1970s and earlier – our librarian has traced some of the content back into the 1920s. What the Discovery Institute sold in Ohio was old-time creationism repackaged as “critical analysis”. But the new label covers exactly the same old content.

The writing committees that developed the lesson plan that operationally defines the standard was packed with creationists. Referring to the writing committee for the creationist lesson plan, Lattimer boasted

We only got four of our people on that [Writing] Team. However, three of those people are on the critical grade 10 biology subgroup, 3 out of 7. Which has turned out to be enough. These three people are all excellent people. One’s a University professor, a Ph.D. biologist, who’s very influential. He’s the only Ph.D. biologist on that group. The second group is a .. ah .. high school science teacher, and the third is a junior college biology teacher. And they have had great influence on the group.

We know that the Ohio Department of Education knew what was going on. Both internal and external expert advisors told ODE managers about it. ODE advisors told senior managers that the material was filled with lies, over-simplifications, and inaccuracies. To repeat from my earlier post:

    “The sentence … is a lie.” (an ODE scientist referrring to the Fossil Record aspect “Sample Challenging Answer”; the lie is still in the lesson)
    “Not the real scientific world. The real religious world, yes!” (Outside Field Test Reviewer referring to the lesson plan as a whole)
    “As a tool to develop objective scientific critical thinking it is an insult.” (Outside Field Test Reviewer)
    “Not ‘scientific critical thinking’” (Outside Field Test Reviewer)
    “The lesson relies solely on the vacuous pedagogical tool of staged debate. There is no … value placed on intellectual growth or learning; rather, indoctrination is the apparent point of this lesson plan.” (Outside Field Test Reviewer)
    “ODE does not support this kind of teaching strategy.” (ODE Staff Member)
    “This should have been out. Horrible non-scientific citation.” (ODE Staff Member)

Add the phrases “whacky ID” and “crackpot” to the list: they’re also in the boxes of Americans United documents referring to the model lesson plan. I have no doubt that in the event of litigation, discovery will uncover more such juicy bits. Judge Jones’ opinion in Kitzmiller and other judgments in federal courts have clearly held that sham relabeling of creationism does not remove its sectarian taint, and Ohio’s “critically evaluate” standard, operationalized as the “Critical Analysis of Evolution” lesson plan, is a sham plain and simple. Available documents firmly establish that, and further documents obtained in discovery will only cement it more firmly in place. I hope Governor Taft’s legal advisors read for comprehension.

So now Governor Taft believes that intelligent design shouldn’t be taught to Ohio school children, but the benchmark and lesson plan still encourage it. We thank the Governor for (finally) seeing the light. Now it’s up to the Ohio State Board of Education to take action to excise the creationist lesson plan and the “critically evaluate” Benchmark that was its gateway to wedge into Ohio public schools. Somewhere in Ohio there’s a teacher using this glop, and that teacher’s school district is putting its foot (and its taxpayers money) into a Dover trap set by the State Board of Education. Father Michael Cochran of the State Board of Education may be willing to spend state money on a lawsuit, but what local district can afford what Dover is going to pay?

RBH