The Oakland Press published an editorial on its website on Saturday about Dick DeVos’ statements advocating the teaching of intelligent design in public school science classes. Their editorial stance is essentially to dismiss it as a non-issue brought up by a “frenzied media” or by “anonymous political groups.” Speaking as a founding board member of the only organization that has spoken out publicly on the issue, I can only assume that they are referring to Michigan Citizens for Science. Unfortunately, the editorial in the Press fails to address the crux of the issue.
They make two primary arguments. The first is that while DeVos says he supports the right of local school boards to include ID in their science classes, he “stressed that he would not push the idea if elected.” I’m frankly a bit baffled as to where they got this idea from. There is nothing in any public statements put out by DeVos or his campaign that even indicates, much less stresses, that he would not push the idea if elected; indeed, there is good reason to doubt this.
In the state legislature, Republicans with whom DeVos is allied have been pushing this issue for years, initiating several bills since 2001 that would either mandate or allow the teaching of ID in public school science classrooms (the initial strategy was to attempt to mandate it, the latest strategy is merely to put in language encouraging and allowing local boards to do so). And Republican party leaders in the legislature are currently pressuring the state school board to incorporate many of the arguments of ID advocates into the new science standards; they have already pressured the board into delaying the vote on the new standards to give them time for more input into the decision. In light of that, is there any good reason to believe that DeVos would not “push the idea” if elected? Clearly not.
The second argument they make is that the issue is a distraction from “real issues” and that we should instead be focusing on “Michigan’s long-suffering economy and our financially strapped schools.” But in reality, the question of whether ot allow ID in science classrooms has an enormous impact on both of those issues. The fact that our schools are strapped for cash is precisely why DeVos’ position is so irresponsible. By encouraging local school districts to put ID into their curriculums, the Republicans are inviting them into a Dover Trap.
In 2004, the school district in Dover, PA, passed a policy to put ID into their science curriculum, against the advice of their attorney. A suit was filed and a Federal judge in the case declared the teaching of ID unconstitutional. The result was that the Dover Area School District ended up having to pay $1 million in legal fees, and they were fortunate to only get away with a bill that small (the total bill for the plaintiffs was nearly $2.5 million, and the board didn’t even have to pay the cost of their own defense because the Thomas More Law Center picked up that bill). It could easily have cost them much more.
DeVos and the Republicans in the legislature are leading local school districts down a primrose path to financial difficulty. They are encouraging them to incorporate into their science teaching a religious belief that has already been declared unconstitutional to teach by the Federal courts. If local school boards do what DeVos wants them to do, they will invite a Federal lawsuit that will almost certainly end with them holding a huge bill for legal fees. It is absolutely irresponsible for anyone involved in state government to be encouraging local school boards to follow this path, especially at a time when our economy has left schools strapped for cash.
Let’s also consider that Michigan’s economy depends largely on our ability to attract high tech companies to locate here, and teaching ID in public schools will make it more difficult to do so. Kansas has already discovered that in the wake of their battles over ID, where university officials report that it has become more difficult to recruit top flight professors who do not want their children in schools that water down science education with religious alternatives, and where officials from high tech corporations have also said it would affect their decision on where to locate because they would have a harder time recruiting top scientific talent in such an environment.
The Oakland Press editorial team has it half-right. Yes, there are important issues that we ought to be focusing on in regard to our economy and our schools. That is all the more reason, then, to reject DeVos’ stance on this issue and to reject these attempts to weaken the science standards in public schools. What is at stake is nothing less than our children’s future in science-related fields and our state’s future as a place that can attract businesses that depend upon a pool of scientifically educated employees.