The creationist textbook Of Pandas and People has been rejected again, this time in Plano, Texas, not far from Richardson, home of the book's publisher, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics.
In a pattern that is becoming familiar all over the country, a newly elected school board began a variety of changes associated with the "religious right" agenda. In August, 1994, alert citizens contacted NCSE after hearing a rumor that the board was considering purchase of Pandas. By the time board member Tom Wilds had publicly announced his plan to purchase thirty copies of the book to distribute to science teachers, promising to by as many additional copies as teachers might request, his opposition had organized. "Keep Quality In Plano Schools" (KQUIPS) was founded not only to oppose the purchase, but to monitor school board actions and candidates, and address any issue concerning the quality of education in their community.
In the following months, there was intense discussion of the issue. Not only Plano newspapers, but the nearest metropolitan daily, the Dallas Morning Sun, covered every aspect of the problem, from the scientific and educational issues to the religious motivations of the publishers of Pandas. A local radio station broadcast KQUIPS founder Evelyn Peelle's interview of Tom Wilds. NCSE's resource center, and our state liaison provided KQUIPS spokespeople with detailed scientific critiques of Pandas, information on the legality of teaching "creation science," and help in contacting other concerned organizations.
Concern for a variety of educational issues was a key ingredient of KQUIPS' eventual success. Because their newsletter addressed a variety of issues, from zoning to graduation requirements to the cost of "Take Your Daughter to Work Day," they could not be accused, as opponents of Pandas sometimes are, of narrow-mindedly persecuting alternate views. They reached out to many members of the community. Their ranks included scientists who could explain what is wrong with Pandas and religious people who could counter letters to the editor falsely equating evolution and atheism. Also, when KQUIPS objected to introducing a textbook that had not been subject to normal review processes, they expressed a concern that could apply to any book.
Cooperation with other groups was another key to success; the North Texas Skeptics were especially helpful in collecting and distributing information, and planning strategy for addressing the School Board when it formally considered Wilds' proposal to purchase Pandas. When the board met on February 7, there was a large, determined audience. Joe Voelkering of the North Texas Skeptics told NCSE, "We brought a box full of anti-Pandas badges — a red circle and slash superimposed over a black and white drawing of a panda. Every badge was taken. When the Board looked out at the room, they could see nearly everyone there was opposed [to the book]." ACLU attorneys in the audience reminded the Board that teaching creationism was illegal. Others — despite attempts to silence them — insisted on reprimanding the Board for considering an action that could cost thousands of dollars to defend in court.
The opposition was so overwhelming that the Board decided that day not to purchase Pandas. Still, the story isn't over. While the Board determined that none of them will re-open the subject of adopting Pandas themselves, they will reconsider at the request of the school district staff (they didn't define "staff," and it seems any employee, from playground supervisor or cafeteria worker to science teacher, could make the request). Also, if local school control comes to pass, as advocated by Texas' new governor George Bush, we can expect creationism to be proposed again in Plano and many other communities in the state.
It's a good thing KQUIPS is there for the long haul. Working with groups like these is NCSE's best tactic in defending evolution. It's been said that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; it may be the price of a good science education as well.
[Thanks to Evelyn Peelle of KQUIPS, and Joe Voelkering and Mike Sullivan of the North Texas Skeptics, for information used in this story.]