Our group, the Science Council of New York City (SCONYC), is a federation of the nine science teachers' organizations in the City. We had run four successful conventions on educational and pedagogical matters in the past, but were totally unprepared when the creation issue came up in the legislature a few months ago.
Although we knew of creationist efforts to introduce the two-model approach into a revision that was being made of the biology syllabus, we were unaware that a creationist bill had suddenly been considered by the Senate Education Committee. By the time we learned that a vote would soon be taken, we had only one week to defend the integrity of science teaching.
Though still unorganized, we managed to send flyers to all the high schools in New York City asking for a flood of letters and telegrams to descend upon the State Capitol at Albany. The flyers supplied names and addresses of key legislators and of the 17 members of the Education Committee: they also mentioned a few crucial arguments. Quantity, not quality, was urged.
We also alerted The New York Academy of Sciences of the impending legislation. That body speedily appointed a committee which prepared a Policy Statement on the Teaching of Creationism that was sent to members of the legislature. A significant statement included was: "The subject known as 'Scientific Creationism' is lacking in scientific substance; we reject it for inclusion in science curricula."
Most members of the Senate Education Committee seemed to see nothing wrong with "letting kids hear both sides of the story." Our hastily organized campaign apprised them of the serious implications of this proposal and of the existence of an articulate, determined, and organized opposition.
We really don't know how significant a part we played in the decision, but the bill was not brought up again in committee. Thus ended our first successful skirmish. We are preparing for next year's battle with a little more savvy.
SCONYC's Committee for Scientific Freedom is now in the process of organizing an all-day symposium to be held on Saturday, December 6, 1980 in the auditorium of Rockefeller University. The symposium's purposes are to bring science teachers up to date on new ideas in evolution theory and to make them aware of competing arguments advanced by creationists and evolutionists. We shall also include an open forum from which we hope will emerge concrete ideas for organizing a committee of correspondence for the state. Furthermore, we hope to register volunteers for a communications network that will relay notices to schools and communities.
Statewide publicity for the symposium will go to scientists as well as to high school teachers. We hope that scientists will assume positions of leadership in the effort to educate the public and members of the legislature of the need to keep non-science out of science and to separate religion from government.
Now that the creationist bill has failed, the draft for the new state syllabus in biology has been issued for field trial and evaluation. We have not yet seen the preface to this draft but understand that it will describe the procedure followed by the Bureau of Science Education in deciding to omit creationism.
As in all new campaigns, we still have a number of unanswered questions. For example, what are the implications concerning IRS tax-exempt status if science teacher clubs and committees of correspondence engage in a program of educating legislators and the public on matters that lie within their field of expertise and social responsibility? What are the technical definitions of political activity and lobbying? How can we counteract propaganda aimed at school boards and textbook adoption committees? How can we support teachers in small communities in withstanding local anti-evolutionist pressures? Anyone who can answer such questions and provide guidelines for organization will help grassroot efforts everywhere.
About the Author: David Kraus was formerly Chairman of the Science Department at the Far Rockaway High School in New York City and President of the Biology Chairmen's Association. He claims not to be retired—'just re-treaded."