There are thousands of school districts in the US, and their board members are usually selected in low-publicity, low-turnout elections. Rarely are they education professionals. All too often, board members are funeral directors, used-car dealers, insurance salesmen, real estate brokers, and dentists’ wives, looking for publicity or for something meaningful to fill their spare time.
Creationist activists recognize that local school boards are the soft underbelly of the American educational system, and they often organize to promote a candidate of their choice. The support of such groups can be the deciding factor in a low-turnout election. The result is that an unimaginable array of maniacal crusaders, along with various self-promoters and civic-minded ignoramuses, are running the nation’s public schools.
We can’t possibly report on all the craziness that goes on in those local elections, so we usually write only about state-wide school boards, whose activities offer more then enough craziness. But every now and then we learn of a local election that has some entertainment value. Such is the case today.
As a decisive election for Bayfield School District Board of Directors approaches, the eight candidates who are vying for three open seats explained their visions for local education in a wide-ranging forum sponsored by the La Plata County League of Women Voters on Wednesday night in Town Hall.
Here’s the district’s website: Bayfield School District. Hey — Bayfield High School are the Wolverines! But you want to know what happened at the showdown in Town Hall. We’re told that three school board seats are up for grabs, and these are the candidates:
Justin Ross, Daniele Hillyer, Koel Phelps, Kristi Smith, Wendy Cox and incumbent board member Timothy Stumpf are competing for two board seats with four-year terms.
Carol Blatnick and Judy Spady are competing for a board seat with a two-year term.
We’ll skip over the issues that don’t concern us — like raising taxes and sex education. (They all said children’s participation in sex education should be up to parents, and candidate Ross said: “I think abstinence gets very little time, if any. I think that should be emphasized that you can remain pure until you’re married.”) That’s boring. Here comes the good stuff:
Asked how evolution should be taught in schools, the candidates starkly divided along cultural lines. Spady, who home-schools her children, said though she reads the Bible daily, she felt evolution and creationism should be taught in schools. Hillyer, Phelps, Cox and Ross agreed.
How wonderful! One of those geniuses — Ross, the abstinence guy — explained his position like this:
Ross said, “Evolution is a theory and a belief. It’s never been entirely proven,” and suggested “teaching intelligent design” as an alternative, letting kids ultimately decide what they believe.
But two candidates disagreed:
Stumpf [an incumbent] said he thought evolution, a science-based theory, should be taught in science classes. Smith likewise rejected creationism in classrooms, saying creationism was a religious explanation for humanity’s emergence, and therefore best taught at home.
And one other candidate responded:
Blatnick said, “I can’t believe this is still a question.”
That’s all there is to the story. We don’t know when election day is, and we don’t know if we’ll ever learn of the results, but we thought you might enjoy a glimpse into what goes on out there.
It’s messy, but that’s the system we’ve got. It’s surprising how well it seems to work, much of the time. We prefer it to having a centralized education system, because that too can become the target for ideologues, and were they to seize control, the whole country would be messed up at the same time. Decentralization is preferable, even when the results are sometimes laughable.
Addendum: That same newspaper has this later story, Bayfield school board candidate disqualified, telling us that Ross — the creationist abstinence advocate — is no longer in the race. He doesn’t live in the district.
Election results: School Board Elections Update — 06 Nov 2013.
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