MAXWELL:  Storms champions ignorance

3/6/2008 – Printed in the NATIONAL section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

With state Sen. Ronda Storms officially joining the debate over the teaching of evolution in Florida’s public schools, reasonable residents should be wary and should contact their legislators today.
A Brandon Republican, Storms has filed a bill she calls the “Academic Freedom Act” (SB 2692). Ostensibly, the measure will provide “public school teachers with a right to present scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical origins.”
She wants to circumvent the recent action of the state Board of Education approving science standards that embrace the teaching of evolution. She wants teachers to be free to discuss creationism or intelligent design alongside what she deems to be the debatable “theory” of evolution.
Why, I keep asking myself, do we have elected officials, including House Speaker Marco Rubio, and so many average citizens who are amenable to keeping our children ignorant of scientific principles?
I keep thinking back to my youth and how I was taught science in the two Florida high schools I attended during the early 1960s. I compared notes with a St. Petersburg Times colleague who also graduated from a Florida high school during the 1960s. I attended all-black schools; he an all-white school.
Neither of us could remember the biblical version of mankind’s creation ever being mentioned in our classrooms.
In my case, all of my relatives, except for a few incurable profligates, were devout Christians. My mother was God-fearing. Jesus Christ was her companion and savior. Her Bible was never far from her side, even at work. I admired her for her calm, reassuring faith.
My grandfather was a Pentecostal minister, and he made the book of Genesis – where the creation is narrated, where mankind falls from grace – a living experience. I learned every chapter of Genesis. I knew that “in the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth,” and I knew that the “Earth was without form, and void.”
My friends and I had a lot of fun with Chapter 5, which we referred to as the “begat story.” In the chapter, 32 verses in all, the generations of Adam are named, where “Seth lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enos,” and “Seth lived after he begat Enos eight hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters….”
We joked about how Adam, Enos and Seth and all the others physically consummated all of those “begats.”
Even though the adults in our lives were true believers, the Bible stayed at home and in the pews of our churches. We were taught Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in the classroom. No one from the outside interfered. We did not hear from parents, preachers, politicians, lawyers or judges. Our teachers and our principal, Harry Burney Jr., were in charge of our formal education.
To make sure that I am not viewing my school years through rose-colored glasses, I telephoned two former classmates from 11th grade to check my memory. They agreed that we did not have any trouble whatsoever with Darwin and evolution. We decided that either intentionally or unintentionally, or spoken or unspoken, our parents and teachers and principal had drawn a hard line between the Bible and science.
They wanted us to achieve academically. They wanted us to attend college and to have great careers. They wanted us to learn the scientific method and scientific principles, the tools we would need in the big, hostile world beyond Crescent City.
The adults in our lives had common sense. The Bible had its place. That place was not in science instruction.
Now, however, too many Floridians, led by the likes of Storms, Rubio and state Board of Education member Donna Callaway, are channeling the ghosts of the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 in Tennessee. There, John Scopes, a high school teacher, was charged with teaching evolution from a chapter in a textbook that discussed ideas developed from those established in Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species. The case pitted prosecutor William Jennings Bryan against the legendary Clarence Darrow for the defense.
Again reasonable people should ask lawmakers in Tallahassee to keep Florida moving toward enlightenment by tossing out Storms’ backward-looking bill.
If passed, it will permit the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in our science classes.