On August 2, 2001, the Hawai'i Board of Education (BOE) voted unanimously to reject proposed changes to the state's science education performance standards, including the changes proposed by BOE member Denise Matsumoto to include "multiple theories of origin" and related wording. As a result, the standards will revert to the original wording, which is more in line with the National Science Education Standards. The BOE members patiently endured 65 three-minute oral testimonials on these changes; about 75% of the presenters opposed the proposed changes. Apparently, this was a record turnout for a BOE hearing. Additionally, the BOE had received over 200 written testimonials.
Testimony opposing the proposed changes came from a wide spectrum of people, including university-level professors, Hawai'i science teachers, concerned citizens, a former BOE member, and a surprising (and encouraging!) number of religious leaders. Almost without exception, this testimony was eloquent and extremely effective in addressing the real points of concern. Those testifying in favor of the proposed changes had a much less unified message to present, covering the typical range of anti-evolutionary positions — attacks on evolution as unsupported conjecture, appeals for children to be given both perspectives and allowed to think critically and objectively to make their own decisions, support of "Intelligent Design" theory as legitimate science, and the moral imperative of teaching the Bible to build character and integrity in our children.
Overall, the testimony provided by supporters of evolution was effective and to the point. Long before the end of hearing, it was evident that this would end up being a "slam dunk" decision by the BOE. There was almost no discussion among board members before making the final, and the final vote was unanimous — making it obvious that even Matsumoto conceded the issue. This outcome confirms resoundingly that community support can help level heads to prevail. In light of this success story, I think that we can renew our confidence in the Hawai'i State Educational system. However, it is clear that we should not allow ourselves to slip into complacency at this point. We were extremely lucky that Matsumoto apparently blundered into the situation with such a naive perspective. Our success was due in part to the disorganization of the opposing side. Had this hearing been coordinated by some of the big anti-evolutionist organizations on the mainland, it might have been a longer, more complicated struggle. What our experience shows is the importance of having a network of concerned and informed citizens ready to act when evolution education is threatened. It is also important that our network reaches beyond the academic world to other interested communities of educators, clergy, and citizens in all walks of life.
Organizations such as NCSE and the American Institute for Biological Sciences (see sidebar on AIBS state list servers, p 35) provide resources and connections to concerned communities throughout the nation. These networks allow us to be ready whenever a threat to evolution education pops up again (as experience tells us it will) and to coordinate efforts with maximum effectiveness.