Creationists No Longer Invited to Speak at Peoria Public Schools: But the Bad News Is...

by Dr. Eugenie C. Scott

From mid-1989 through 1991, NCSE [National Center for Science Education] reported on extensive creationist activity in central Illinois [Reports 9(3):p.21; 10(3):p.1; 10(4):p. 6;10(6):p. 1; 11(1):p. 1; 11(2):p. 4]. The Institute for Creation Research had been invited to speak in Peoria, Morton and other Illinois public school science classes for up to twelve years, with little dissent. NCSE southern Illinois and Missouri Liaison Ranse Traxler and other NCSE members brought considerable publicity to this practice, resulting in widespread condemnation from both the press and members of the state education hierarchy. The question is, what is going on now in central Illinois? According to a recent series of articles by Peoria Journal Star reporter Elaine Hopkins (4/12/92, p. A12), "Speakers on creation science have addressed science classes in the past. But teachers are not encouraged to invite them now, Associate Superintendent Melvin Hines wrote in a letter, after a 1990 inquiry from the National Center for Science Education. A book, Scientific Creationism, once listed for teacher reference on the approved list of high school science textbooks, no longer appears on the current list."

That ICR faculty members are no longer lecturing to students in science classes is the good news. Unfortunately, the four articles by Hopkins go on to discuss how students in several districts in central Illinois are systematically being denied the opportunity to learn evolution. Officials at several districts, including Metamora, East Peoria, and Germantown Hills, claimed students have "enough to learn" without having to learn evolution. In Germantown Hills, Doug Leman, Vice President of the school board, wrote a heavily-referenced, 38 page document on creationism "for the enlightenment of the teachers."

Leman wrote that neither evolution nor creationism was scientific, and both were belief systems. "Implications of the theory of evolution trouble Leman. The world cannot have developed by chance, he said. 'There has to be a master designer. Without that designer, there's no absolute moral code, only situation ethics.'" Children can be taught both models when they are old enough to understand them, but not at the elementary level. "Meanwhile, the children should not be taught 'as fact' that 'dinosaurs were here millions of years ago,' Leman said."

As Hopkins reported, "Teachers at Germantown Hills got the message." Although the textbook used in the district discusses evolution, the chapters are skipped, according to an unidentified teacher. "As a result, some children say the world is only 6,000 years old, and that the dinosaurs lived with Adam and Eve, the teacher said. Instead of supplying accurate dates, teachers tell the children dinosaurs lived 'a long time ago,' the teacher said." Teachers who do bother to teach evolution apparently "believe they need to 'balance' the scientific concepts of evolution with other 'theories,' namely the Bible's story of seven days of creation." An example is the Morton district. During the spring of 1991, Morton was the center of controversy when the school district, dismayed over "too much evolution" in the textbooks, directed the staff to develop a curriculum in creationism to be taught alongside evolution (see Reports 11(1):p. 1.) NCSE and others publicized this dictum, which directly defied the 1987 Supreme Court decision, Edwards v Aguillard. National newspapers such as Education Week carried the story.

What was taught in the fall? According to the Journal Star reporter, "Biology teachers spend one class period discussing all the theories. They include life sent to earth from outer space and religious stories, including the account in Genesis." It appears as if the "creationism curriculum" was reduced from earlier promises. Morton, apparently, does not like being the center of controversy. There are some bright spots, however. Pekin High School science department head (and NCSE member) Jill Schimmelpfennig told the reporter that evolution and only evolution is taught in the high school biology classes. Similarly, teachers at Sterling Middle school teach evolution "because it's part of a chapter in the science book."

[This article originally appeared in Volume 12, Number 1 of NCSE Reports, the NCSE newsletter. It is reprinted with the author's permission. Dr. Eugenie Scott is executive Director of the National Center for Science Education and holds a PhD in Biological Anthropology.]

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