Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias Every once in a while, you read a news story that sends chills down your spine because it reminds you of an unpleasant, true-life experience.

I nearly choked after taking a gulp of morning coffee here at the office Wednesday morning as I perused a truly disturbing article.

Last week, the Kansas State Board of Education decided to remove evolution from a list of topics to be represented on statewide assessment exams for high school students. It decided instead � in the guise of local control � to thumb its nose at standards written by 27 scientists and professors and leave the question of what should be taught about evolution up to local school boards.

Why would this frighten me? Especially since it's happening in Kansas, not here in South Dakota?

Turn the clock back about 20 years. I was freshly graduated from South Dakota State University. The ink was still wet on my degree from the school of journalism there. I was still wet behind the ears, too, when it came to news reporting.

My first job was at the Lemmon Leader. While still green at my job, I encountered Lloyd Dale.

Dale was a long-time high school biology teacher for the Lemmon Public School District and a lay minister at a Lemmon church when I arrived in that town 20 years ago.

He was a well-respected educator. He had a solid reputation. Then, for some reason, he changed. He reportedly expanded his Sunday preaching to include not only his church, but also his classroom. His lectures, we heard, could be more like sermons.

No longer was the Lemmon School District's biology curriculum acceptable, in Dale's opinion. He began teaching from the Bible.

Instead of biology, with its mentions of the theory of evolution, he began teaching Creationism.

Forget carbon dating that indicates that the world is billions of years old, and man's earliest ancestors weren't roaming the planet until about 2 million years ago. The world, Dale maintained, was created in seven days. It's what the Bible states, and he was using it as his new textbook.

He also taught that man and dinosaurs co-existed. Scientists were all wrong in stating that dinosaurs were extinct way before humans appeared on the planet. His proof? The Bible mentions monstrous creatures, and, of course, the plants, the birds, the animals, were all created only days apart. The fire-breathing dragons feared by man in the earlier years of world history, he added, were, in fact, dinosaurs.

Parents became concerned. They feared that their children could begin to identify with singer Paul Simon, who in one of his songs, laments "Don't know much about biology." How would they fare after they graduated from Lemmon High School? You have to have at least a grasp of biology if you hope to study agriculture or medicine or any other science-related field. And, you should know this stuff if you're going into banking or business, too.

A well-rounded education never hurt anyone.

The school board attempted to compromise with Dale. They told him he must teach the standard biology curriculum. The board did give him some time during each class period, however, to discuss what Creationists had to say about various topics.

It didn't work. He devoted most or all of his time to teaching Creationism. His students weren't receiving an education in science. They heard sermons instead.

In the end, no one won. Kids weren't being educated properly. Dale wouldn't change. The school board had no choice but to fire him. He lost a good job. Lemmon lost a good teacher.

In the process, it seemed like we were having the Scopes trial all over again in Lemmon. And I admit creation dominated my thoughts more and more. I always had thought the concept of creation was pretty simple. On one side you have Genesis: "Who made the world? God made the world. Who is God? God is the creator of heaven and earth and of all things."

On the other side you have evolution, and the proof is a series of drawings in magazines and encyclopedias showing a creature emerging from a swamp. The first figure may look like a swamp rat, but as they continue each one looks more and more human with the final figure looking a lot like Danny DeVito.

I know from experience that the evolution vs. Creationism argument is one neither side will win, and it is even likely that not a single mind has been changed by what has been written, even if all the readers understood all the points made.

That's why I hope South Dakota doesn't become like Kansas. I hope this issue never rears its ugly head in the state again.

In a perfect Kansas, teachers would be trusted to teach evolution theory, kids would be trusted to make sense of it alongside their individual religious beliefs, and graduates of Kansas' public schools would be trusted around the world to have been given a proper foundation in the life sciences.

Along with biology, I studied history, and I recall that that the biology teacher in the 1925 Scopes Trial lost. The story of the trial is, of course, well known.

Prairie populist William Jennings Bryan volunteered to come to Dayton, TN and prosecute the teacher. The ACLU solicited the services of famed attorney Clarence Darrow to defend Scopes.

The judge in the trial would not permit Darrow to introduce scientific evidence on his client's behalf, so Darrow called his adversary, Bryan, to the stand as an expert witness on the Bible.

Darrow shrewdly cornered Bryan into a series of untenable pronouncements, and made the old man and his beliefs appear supremely foolish. While Bryan and religious fundamentalism ostensibly won the battle, it was Darrow and modern science that won the war of public opinion.

Now, 74 years later, the roles are reversed in Kansas. While scientists agree about the validity of the theory of evolution � that all organisms are evolved from a common ancestor through a process of natural selection � Creationists are prepared to imperil their children's education for the sake of religious dogma. In Dayton, science and faith now coexist peacefully in the curriculum.

In Kansas, people who know a little about religion, and nothing about science, are determined to match Darrow's self-satisfied presumption about Bryan.

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