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Efforts were afoot recently on the Polk County School Board (in the Tampa, FL area) to begin teaching the "concept" of intelligent design in science classes as an alternative to evolution, at a time when new state standards mentioning evolution by name for the first time are under consideration. It appeared that this bonehead move had the support of a majority of the school board, but that was before the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster arrived and shamed the school board into backing down.  Jump down to read more about this somewhat merry holiday tale.

As reported a few days ago in the Tampa Tribune, the saga all started last month when a reporter for The Ledger, the county's local newspaper in Lakeland, FL, called school board member Kay Harris Fields to ask her opinion of the pending state science standards. The story quoted Fields as opposing the evolution portion of the new standards and looking for the superintendent to say whether there was anything to be done about them locally.

The Ledger followed up with another story a week later where it polled all school board members on the issue and reported that five of seven school board members declared a personal belief in the concept of intelligent design, and four of those five board members said they would like to see intelligent design taught in Polk schools as an alternative to evolution. One of those four board members, Margaret Lofton, made her views on the topic quite clear:

"If it ever comes to the board for a vote, I will vote against the teaching of evolution as part of the science curriculum," Lofton said. "If (evolution) is taught, I would want to balance it with the fact that we may live in a universe created by a supreme being as well."

Enter the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

If you aren't familiar with the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, it asserts that an omnipotent, airborne clump of spaghetti intelligently designed all life with the touch of its "noodly appendage," and that He appears in "full pirate regalia." The Pastafarians, as the Church's believers call themselves, first came to national attention in 2005, when the Church's leader, twentysomething Bobby Henderson, wrote an open letter to the Kansas Board of Education when the evolution flap was going on there, insisting that students also be taught about the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  (You can read more about the Church in this recent Wired Magazine article).

The Pastafarians appear to have grown in numbers quite a bit since 2005, and soon after the Ledger story appeared, Polk school board members were deluged with e-mails demanding that Flying Spaghetti Monsterism's version of intelligent design be taught in the classrooms alongside evolution and the "alternative" ID theory.  

And the school board members didn't hear from just the Pastafarians.  Local residents wrote scathing letters to the Ledger criticizing the school board members' positions:

- "It looks as if Polk County School Board members Fields, Harris, Lofton, Sellers and possibly Cunningham would have us return to those dark days of yesteryear when the old men who wove the creation fairy tale believed Earth was the center of the universe and that it was flat," wrote one Ledger reader.

- "Look out Polk County - as long as our School Board considers flouting science standards, we will remain Hillbilly USA," wrote another local citizen.

In addition, many local officials made statements to distance themselves from the board members' views. You see, the dust-up over ID/creationism comes just as Polk County is trying to secure approval for construction of a science-focused campus of the University of South Florida in Lakeland that would be the state's first four-year public polytechnic college. Polk County and Lakeland city governments each have recently pledged $5 million to help kick-start the campus, which local leaders hope will start a high-tech corridor. Marshall Goodman, a USF vice president who has worked to promote the new campus, was blunt in telling the Tribune his views on ID. "You can't even call it pseudo-science," he said.

Polk school board members were clearly caught off-guard by the speed and verocity of the response to their public support for ID/creationism in the classroom, and they quickly backed off any efforts to teach intelligent design. "They've made us the laughingstock of the world," board member Lofton told the Tampa Tribune, in reference to the Pasafarians. Board member Tim Harris was quick to say that he had no "agenda" to insert ID/creationism into the curriculum. "My personal opinion and how I vote don't always jibe," he told the Tribune. And board member Fields, who started the controversy, tried to blame - big surprise here - the media! Fields told the Tribune, via e-mail, that she didn't realize there would be a story "on the front page of the Ledger indicating that I opposed evolution."  Yes, it's definitely the Ledger's fault for letting the public know what a publicly elected school official told the newspaper, on record, about a public education issue.

It should be noted that Florida is one of only a small handful of states with science standards that don't prescribe the teaching of evolution by name, which would change under the new standards that will be formally adopted in February. And the state is in desperate need of help in teaching science.  As the Tampa Tribune reported, in 2005, The Fordham Institute gave Florida’s current science standards an F, saying they were "sorely lacking in content."

And instead of worrying about inserting non-scientific, religious beliefs into science classrooms, perhaps the the Polk County School Board should be focusing on more pressing and troubling matters reported in the local news in recent days:

- Last week, police arrested a high school teacher in Polk County Public Schools for telling a female student he could raise her grade in exchange for sex.  

- Two days later, police arrested a elementary school principal in Polk County Public Schools for using photos of his students to create child pornography.

But never mind all that, let's just make sure we keep our students as dumb as possible by teaching them bogus religious-based "concepts" in science classes that have absolutely nothing to do with science.

As the Polk County case illustrates, these are tough times for intelligent design/creationism believers.  The 2005 federal court ruling in Dover, PA (which barred the teaching of intelligent design in public schools there) certainly took the wind out of their sails.  But more than that, civic and business leaders appear to be fed up with the ID movement, as it were, and now realize that their communities will be branded as backward and ignorant if their local school boards push the teaching of ID and oppose the teaching of evolution.

And in a change from the recent past, ID/creationism believers on local school boards now appear to run for cover when their beliefs are exposed.  In the past, they could active in furtive and insidious ways to get elected to school boards and foist their religious beliefs into science teaching. But now groups like the Pastafarians are helping to expose the ID/creationist crowd and force them to take public stands on the issue.

Speaking of that, not far from Polk County, it appears that a majority of the Pinellas County School Board also support the teaching of intelligent design/creationism in science classrooms, according to a recent article in the St. Petersburg Times.  As suggested by the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in a recent post on the Church's website, you might want to let those four school board members know what you think about that idea.  And depending on your beliefs, you might want to insist that they also teach Flying Spaghetti Monsterism's version of intelligent design:

Nancy Bostock:
Peggy O’Shea:
Jane Gallucci:
Carol Cook:

Happy Holidays everyone!

Originally posted to davidkc on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 04:20 AM PST.

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