Darwin on trial in textbook adoption hearing

Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 2/7/18

FLEMING ISLAND – Clay County School Board Member Ashley Gilhousen is unhappy with the current selection of science textbooks for grades K-12 and found herself in the presence of others who shared …

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Darwin on trial in textbook adoption hearing


FLEMING ISLAND – Clay County School Board Member Ashley Gilhousen is unhappy with the current selection of science textbooks for grades K-12 and found herself in the presence of others who shared that feeling, and those who didn’t, during the Feb. 1 school board meeting.

During a public hearing to approve the advertised science textbook adoption, Gilhousen expressed the problems she had with how the textbooks teach evolution, claiming that it’s presented more as fact rather than theory. She also showed concern that evolution is the only theory in the textbook used to teach the origin of life.

“I think what we heard tonight is a whole lot of science that’s been left out of our textbooks and there is scientific argument to the theory of evolution that is not being presented,” Gilhousen said. “If you look at what the state requires, it only requires our students to know the supporting evidence for [the scientific theory of evolution] and that’s my point of contention.”

Gilhousen, who is running for re-election this year, said her faith is not a part of this discussion and that rather, she wants a comprehensive science education that challenges students to think critically and make their own decisions based on empirical evidence and scientific data.

She continued on saying that what she said was echoed by constituents in the audience.

Scott Yirka, pastor of Hibernia Baptist Church on Fleming Island, said it’s a shame that students can’t have supplementary material when teaching the origin of man.

“I’d like to see our kids have [supplementary material],” Yirka said. “I’m not necessarily espousing that you teach creationism but to at least have the opportunity to have a conversation about the flaws that are in evolution.”

Yirka believes that the reason many educated people disagree with much of what is taught when it comes to evolution is because they see that the cosmology is more intricate than some sort of accident, that we are far more than atoms and molecules that just randomly appeared.

Yirka’s son, Graham Yirka, a junior at Fleming Island High in the AICE program, said he does not believe in the theory of evolution and when he brings up intelligent design, he gets ridiculed. He also believes that the theory of evolution leads people to believe they are superior to others.

“[Evolution] doesn’t just say, ‘this is science.’ It’s culture because people are taught you can be evolutionarily superior to someone else,” Yirka said. “At the core of evolution is the repudiation of equality and if in schools you want equality, equality of education, equality of opportunity, and equality all around, this is not something that’s going to further that and in fact, it’s something that’s going to hinder that.”

Others agreed with the Yirkas and also presented other problems they have with how evolution is taught in schools. Henry Allen, whose grandchildren are in Clay County schools, wants his grandchildren to be taught that they have choices in what they believe the origin of life to be. Darrell Thompson, whose daughter is a ninth grader at Ridgeview High School, doesn’t want his daughter taught evolution as fact – although, according to Florida’s Sunshine State Standards, evolution is called the scientific theory of evolution and should be taught as a theory.

There were others, though, who disagreed with Gilhousen and those in support of her position.

Shana Meiselman is a teacher who, despite her religious beliefs, does not believe it is her responsibility to teach beliefs that are not founded in science – citing creationism among others. She also stated that the theory of evolution is based in science and if properly taught, taught as theory and just that.

Renna Lee Paiva, president of the Clay County Education Association, said teachers should be teaching evolution as theory because that’s what state standards dictate, something confirmed by Superintendent Addison Davis, who said that despite personal beliefs of anyone, the Florida standards dictate what is taught and how it is taught and to go against that would be unlawful.

School Board Attorney David D’Agata reminded the board that it’s important to maintain neutrality in this decision, not calling into account any personal beliefs one might have.

“The court says that the custom for the analysis under the First Amendment is that it mandates government neutrality between religion and religion and between religion and nonreligion. You have to have strict neutrality – set aside all personal views – when you act on behalf of the government, in respect to this issue,” D’agata said. “The trouble is basically, when we are talking about neutrality, that there is no alternative scientific theory to evolution that is neutral. That’s what federal courts have time and time again concluded.”

Davis finished the discussion by explaining why the textbook that was presented is the one chosen for adoption by the district.

“I would tell you, if there was a better curriculum, would have brought it to you and when I agree with a curriculum that’s aligned with the state standards from DOE and 21 of your 21 teachers agree with it, I trust the experts and practitioners, along with my mindset of what the standards are that were given to use by the Department of Education,” Davis said. “That’s why I brought it and you won’t find one that’s better.”

After Davis’ comments, the board voted to approve the adoption of the advertised science textbooks for grades K-12 in a 3-2 vote with board members Betsy Condon and Gilhousen voting no.

In other business, the board finished the night by voting on a resolution allowing the sale of a tract of property the district owns on the grounds of Tynes Elementary School is not needed for educational purposes and will instead be sold to the Clay County Utility Authority.


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