A New Reason Not to Teach Evolution to Kids: It's 'Philosophically Unsatisfactory'

Here is a vignette from a small newspaper  that will sound familiar to Southerners like me who were taught creationism in school:

Mark Tangarone, who teaches third, fourth, and fifth grade students in the Talented and Gifted (TAG) program at Weston Intermediate School, said he is retiring at the end of the current school year because of a clash with the school administration over the teaching of evolution . . . In an e-mail to Mr. Tangarone dated Sept. 8, 2008, [the school superintendent] rejected the basic program, citing for the most part the teaching of evolution: "While evolution is a robust scientific theory, it is a philosophically unsatisfactory explanation for the diversity of life. I could anticipate that a number of our parents might object to this topic as part of a TAG project . . . The TAG topics need to be altered this year to eliminate the teaching of Darwin's work and the theory of evolution."


And here is something that makes this story a bit less familiar: it took place in Connecticut.

A few months ago, I wrote about parents and school administrators who shy away from teaching young children about natural selection even as they encourage them to explore the world that evolution has given us. Their reasons are not always religious. Sometimes parents believe that children can't hoist in the complexity of evolutionary theory (which is actually elegant and simple if it's taught well, but that's another blog post). Sometimes they are worried that their children's teachers can't comprehend or accurately convey that same complexity. Sometimes they want to shield the very young from brute facts, or what one of my sources called "a theory where an awful lot of organisms have to die for things to work."

And sometimes, as in the Connecticut case—best as I can tell—there seems to be an odd, uneasy fusion of all three problems, as well as the religious issue, in play. The superintendent of the Weston school goes on in his e-mail to note that "evolution touches on a core belief—Do we share common ancestry with other living organisms? What does it mean to be a human being? I don't believe that this core belief is one in which you want to debate with children or their parents, and I know personally that I would be challenged in leading a 10-year-old through this sort of discussion while maintaining the appropriate sensitivity to a family's religious beliefs or traditions." But in the subsequent newspaper article, the superintendent backpedals from all that, saying that Tangarone, the teacher, is leaving merely because he is "a 'disgruntled employee' who is 'unhappy with being supervised.' " 

You know what? I’d be disgruntled, too, if my supervisor told me he was scared to offend people by suggesting that we "share common ancestry with other living organisms"—or that I wasn't allowed to do my job because he found scientific facts to be "philosophically unsatisfactory." Surely the most philosophically unsatisfactory action one could take is to deny the truth.