Local School Districts
The fundamentalist movement has always targeted the local school districts as a prime place to advance their various agendas. Local school board races have served as the platforms for fundamentalist campaigns surrounding sex education, school prayer, and other "traditional values". And the creationists have not been far behind.
In 1973, the ICR released an eight-step program for instituting their "two-model" approach in public schools. With very little modification, this strategy is still being followed today. In what the ICR states is "in order of recommended priority", these steps consist of:
"1. Most basic is the necessity for each concerned creationist himself to become informed on the issue and the scientific facts involved. He does not need to be a scientist to do this, but merely to read several of the scholarly creationist books that are now available. He should also study creationist literature that demonstrates the fallacious nature of the various compromising positions (e.g., theistic evolution, day-age theory, gap theory, local flood theory etc) in order to be on solid ground in his own convictions." (Morris, ICR Impact, "Evolution, Creation and the Public Schools", January/February 1973)
This in fact is the primary purpose of ICR itself. The ICR exhortation to learn about evolution by reading creationist literature produces creation "scientists" who know nothing at all about science other than what the ICR has told them, and who simply have no way to form any realistic opinion as to their validity. (That is why ICR propaganda tends to appeal to two kinds of people--those who already have strict fundamentalist beliefs--and here the ICR's religious arguments are worth much more than their scientific "data"-- and those who presume to know much more than they do--these people are swayed by the ICR's "science" because, although they know nothing about the subject, they presume to be "well-informed" on the basis of having read a few ICR books). As we have seen, most of what the ICR says in its creation "science" is misleading, either intentionally or otherwise, but it makes good sense to those who do not know enough about science to see all of the logical and factual distortions. Note also the ICR's encouragement to learn the "fallacious nature" of opposing religious viewpoints (theistic evolution, old- earth creationism). This is an important part of the ICR's "two-model" approach, since they must establish, under their "balanced treatment" argument, that theirs is the only view worthy of such fairness.
"2. He should then see that his own children and young people, as well as others for whom he is concerned, have access to similar literature on their own level . . . He should encourage them always to be gracious and respectful to the teacher, but also look for opportunities (in speeches, term papers, quizzes, etc) to show that, although they understand the arguments for evolution, the creationist model can also be held and presented scientifically." (Morris, ICR Impact, "Evolution, Creation and the Public Schools", January/February 1973)
Once a small nucleus of true believers come to the creationist faith, the time has come to spread the word. This, as we shall see, is the primary purpose behind all of the "debates" that ICR organizes.
"3. If he learns of teachers who are obviously bigoted and unfair towards students of creationist convictions, it would be well for him to talk with the teacher himself, as graciously as possible, pointing out the true nature of the issue and requesting the teacher to present both points of view to the students. Under some circumstances, this might be followed up by similar talks with the principal and superintendent." (Morris, ICR Impact, "Evolution, Creation and the Public Schools", January/February 1973)
The first part of this constitutes the carrot--attempting to use reasonable persuasion to induce the teacher to voluntarily introduce creationist religious views into the classroom. The last sentence introduces the stick--if the teacher refuses, then it's time to go over his or her head.
"4. . . . There is thus a great need for teachers, room libraries, and school libraries to be supplied with sound creationist literature. Perhaps some schools, or even districts, would be willing to provide such literature themselves. If not, the alternative is for parental associations, churches, or individuals to take on such a project as a public service." (Morris, ICR Impact, "Evolution, Creation and the Public Schools", January/February 1973)
Getting creationist materials into the school library is the first step towards getting it in the classroom.
"5. Creationist parents, teachers, pastors and others can join forces to sponsor meetings, seminars, teaching institutes etc., in their localities. Quality creationist scientists can be invited to speak at such meetings . . . Also such men can be invited to speak to churches or in other large gatherings of interested laymen." (Morris, ICR Impact, "Evolution, Creation and the Public Schools", January/February 1973)
This is the beginning of the creationists' local organization, and it is usually at this stage of the campaign that the creationist "debates" will be held. The emphasis here upon outreach to local pastors and churches is not at all accidental or incidental. These people will in fact form the core of the creationist effort (although, in these post-Arkansas times, this role may be carefully concealed and downplayed).
"6. Discussions can be held with officials at high levels (state education boards, district boards, superintendents, etc) to acquaint them with the evidences supporting creation and the importance of the issue. They can be requested to inform the teachers of their state or district that the equal teaching of evolution and creation, not on a religious basis, but as scientific models, is both permitted and encouraged." (Morris, ICR Impact, "Evolution, Creation and the Public Schools", January/February 1973)
At last we get to the real fight--the request to introduce a "balanced treatment" policy. This request may be made by teachers the creationists have been able to recruit, or by a "committee" of local creationist parents. This campaign will be supported by a blitz of public pressure organized within the local church congregations. Conversely, the request may be made quietly in the hopes that the policy will be passed before anyone knows enough about it to organize any opposition. If the school board already contains a number of creationist sympathizers, this step becomes all the more easier.
"7. Public response can be made (always of a scientific, rather than emotional flavor) to newspaper stories, television programs, etc., which favor evolution. These responses may be in the form of letters to the editor, protest letters to sponsors, news releases, and other means." (Morris, ICR Impact, "Evolution, Creation and the Public Schools", January/February 1973)
This is what the fundamentalists are best at, and they will unleash all the stops. And this is where the local churches will earn their keep in the creationists' eyes. The members of the fundamentalist congregations will be the "foot soldiers" of this campaign. They will man the phones, stuff the envelopes and pass out the leaflets. Creationist pastors will ask their members to write letters to the editor and postcards to the local school board members. And they will also provide the financial support which the campaign needs for its media blitz. Since the creationists will make every effort to paint their viewpoint as "scientific" and not at all religious, they will keep the fundamentalist pastors in the background and out of the public's eye, but their role is crucial--without the support of the fundamentalist congregations, the creationists would not be able to build any sort of a local movement.
"8. Financial support should be provided for those organizations attempting in a systematic way to do scientific research, produce creationist textbooks and other literature, and to provide formal instruction from qualified scientists in the field of creationism." (Morris, ICR Impact, "Evolution, Creation and the Public Schools", January/February 1973)
The ICR is, of course, referring to itself here. Nearly all of ICR's budget comes from the sale of creationist books and from donations by churches and other fundamentalist organizations. This money enables them to repeat this process at another location.
The creationists are greatly aided in their task by the political structure of the American education system. School districts in the United States are run by locally-elected school boards, who are, under state law, given broad discretionary powers concerning curriculum guidelines and course content. Despite the power wielded by these bodies over local education, however, school board elections are one of the least-watched and least- participated-in elections in the United States. Voter turnouts in local school board elections are typically less than 10% of the electorate. To the creationists and other fundamentalists, with their tightly organized and well- financed local organizations, such elections present a perfect opportunity. As Pat Robertson points out, "Consider what this means. In a school board race in a city with a population of 500,000, there may be 250,000 registered voters, but only 20,000 will vote. This means that 11,000 people out of 500,000 will be sufficient to elect one or more school board members." (Robertson, 1993, p. 62)
"The simple truth regarding apathy, low voter turnout, and close elections tells us that the combined strength of dedicated Evangelicals coupled with equally dedicated pro-family Roman Catholics and Orthodox Jews is more than sufficient to decide any election for any office in the land." (Robertson, 1993, p. 63)
The creationists have not neglected this "simple truth".
Most often, fundamentalist and creationist candidates for local office try to hide their religious agendas while they are running for office (since few of the items on the fundamentalist agenda have much popular support). Instead, they will run a campaign around such traditional conservative issues as local taxes, cutting waste, etc. Only once they are elected and in office will the real agenda be shown (a strategy which has earned such candidates the moniker "stealth candidates"). When a number of fundamentalist candidates are running, they will often make every effort to avoid advertising the fact that they share a common goal, and will often even deny that they know each other (they may in fact have never met before the campaign--although they will have been selected, supported and funded by the same local fundamentalist organizations). The school board members who attempted to introduce creationism into the Plano, Texas school district in 1995, for instance, ran as "stealth" candidates and made no mention of creationism until after the election.
Even a "stealth" campaign, however, will be intently watched by the local fundamentalist religious organizations, who will make sure that their members know about the candidates (and which candidates God "wants" them to vote for). There will be a massive effort by fundamentalists to register their members to vote and to "get out the Christian vote" on election day. Few non- fundamentalist local candidates will have the resources to take on such a well- financed and well-organized campaign.
Once the creationists are in office, talk will begin about "balanced treatment" and "fairness" between "opposing scientific outlooks". Many times, this will be done with the help of some sympathetic teacher or educator, who will ask the school board to provide "more balanced" teaching materials.
The most common tactic used to justify the introduction of creationist material into the classroom is the "balanced treatment" argument. Proponents will present a mass of "scientific data" which they say demonstrates that evolution is being questioned by serious scientists, and which illustrates the legitimacy of creation "science" as an "alternative". In the interests of "fairness" and "balance", they will argue, the creation model should be presented along with the evolution model so the student will be able to choose which one to accept.
Proponents will also attempt to demonstrate the popularity of the two-model approach, and may introduce a number of local polls or surveys. In introducing a creationist "equal time" resolution into an Arkansas school district in 1980, a supporter argued, "Our district would be providing good public relations by adopting this resolution since surveys across the country indicate that about 80 percent of the patrons supports it. By adopting this resolution, I feel our district would be providing a leadership role by promoting academic integrity and responsibility on this matter." (Montagu, 1984, p. x) This will be supplemented through the use of the creationist's local religious ties, which will mobilize hordes of church-goers to flood the school board with letters and postcards, as well as placing a large number of letters to the editor in the local newspapers supporting the request for "balance".
Once the decision has been made (by vote of the school board) to introduce "balance" into the science curriculum, teachers will be provided with information, teaching guides and instructional materials from the major creationist organizations, usually ICR or CSRC. "Supplemental textbooks" will be issued (usually Of Pandas and People). Other creationist materials may be purchased as library resources (usually Scientific Creationism or Evolution? The Fossils Say No!).
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