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Creationism in Grantsburg

A small Wisconsin town about sixty miles northeast of Minneapolis is the latest hot-spot in the evolution/creationism controversy. On June 28, 2004, the Grantsburg school board unanimously passed a motion "... to direct our science department to teach all theories of origins." Over the summer, local parents and concerned citizens raised questions about the meaning and purpose of the motion. On October 12, the school board revised its policy to read: "When theories of origin are taught, students will study various scientific models or theories of origin and identify the scientific data supporting each."

The revised wording raised new questions about the policy's intent and how it would be implemented. Michael Zimmerman (Dean of the College of Letters and Science, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh) alerted colleagues throughout the University of Wisconsin system. On October 18, Zimmerman and 42 fellow deans sent a letter to the Grantsburg school board and superintendent of schools. The letter urged the school board to withdraw the policy and advised that "alternative theories" consist of misinformed, spurious attacks on evolution combined with misleading, simplistic versions of evolutionary theory. A second letter signed by over 300 biology and religious studies faculty from 43 institutions of higher learning, both public and private, from across Wisconsin was sent on November 1.

The school board and superintendent of schools continue to defend the policy. They say that the policy is meant to promote "critical thinking" and to give teachers "academic freedom." Letters to the editor and editorials in local papers show that many in the community infer that the school board is endorsing the teaching of creationism.

Parents and concerned citizens opposed to the policy are continuing to press the board for clarification of its intent. They have asked questions such as, "What happens if a teacher says that evolution is the only scientific theory?" Or, "What teaching materials will be used?" So far, the school board has answered only in vague terms.

The president of the school board, David Ahlquist, is pastor at a local Baptist church. An editorial in the local newspaper in support of creationism mentioned that this church "recently" hosted Dr. Ron Carslon, a young-earth creationist from Minnesota who travels widely and lectures on "Evolution versus Creation" and related topics (see his web site).

National press coverage of the Grantsburg situation began when the AP picked up a story that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel online on November 5.

For further information, contact Susan Spath at spath@ncseweb.org.

(Story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online)