Sedalia School District's educational credibility hangs in the balance

Wednesday, September 2, 2009 | 9:15 a.m. CDT; updated 1:36 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Where's Clarence Darrow when you need him?

As originally reported in a story by the Sedalia Democrat, which was picked up by the AP and has quickly spread throughout the Internet, Sedalia’s Smith-Cotton High School recently ruffled feathers when its band marched in the Missouri State Fair parade. To represent the band’s fall program, “Brass Evolutions,” band members wore shirts bearing a modified depiction of the evolution of man. In a clever twist, each figure holds a different brass instrument. 

After numerous parents complained about the design, Assistant Superintendent Brad Pollitt decided it was best to have band members return the shirts. Even though the T-shirts were not in violation of the school’s dress code, “Pollitt said the district is required by law to remain neutral where religion is concerned,” according to the Democrat. 

“If the shirts had said ‘Brass Resurrections’ and had a picture of Jesus on the cross, we would have done the same thing,” Pollitt told the Democrat.

First off, this comparison is so far from being applicable to the situation at hand it is hard to believe one could make such a statement. Although it is true that schools must show neutrality in terms of religion, Pollitt’s comparison would only make sense if the original shirt had read something such as “Brass Prophets” and bore a cartoon of Muhammad jamming out on a trombone.

Unfortunately for Pollitt, he must not understand the difference between science and religion. Furthermore, as an Assistant Superintendent, for Pollitt to imply that a scientific theory should not be discussed if it is incongruent with a particular set of religious beliefs is frightfully ignorant. 

Just for fun, let's play his illogical game. Keeping with this argument, I move that anything having to do with physics and astronomy be scrapped from Sedalia School District’s curriculum. After all, we don’t want to discourage students from thinking the world was created in seven days.

As a born and raised Catholic (read as non-practicing Catholic), it is irrational mentalities such as these that drove me away from organized religion at a young age.  I will never fault someone for having faith or being religious – plenty of good comes from religious communities - but when faith and dogma end up dictating logic and refuting science, this is detrimental.

Sherry Melby, a parent of one of the band members and a teacher in the district, exemplified this damaging mentality the best.  Melby agreed with the decision and told the Democrat that she doesn’t think “evolution should be associated with the school.”

Wow. Just, wow. 

What might be most upsetting is the effect such a decision has on young perceptions. A junior band member told the Democrat that he understood the decision because “evolution has always been controversial.” Anymore, within the scientific community, evolution is widely accepted, and pandering to close-minded creationists only further perpetuates this idea of “controversy.”

Earlier this month, USA Today ran an opinion column written by two Ph.D. wielding scientists who believe in evolution and God. Referencing a Gallup poll from 2008, they lamented that although “evolution is as well-established within biology as heliocentricity is established within astronomy” 44 percent of Americans still believe that humans remain in the same form God created them in sometime within the last 10,000 years.

Of course, it is one’s right to believe what he or she chooses to believe, but Sedalia’s school system is no place to reinforce the beliefs of those who make up this percentage. Undoubtedly, the amount of talented teachers and administrators who are truly dedicated to unbiased education in Sedalia’s schools far outnumber those who hold such beliefs, but unfortunately, fiascos such as this tarnish the district's reputation as a whole. 

To save what sliver of educational credibility the district currently has in the eyes of many, the school district should allow the shirts. Perhaps the damage has already been done, but at least this decision would show a recognition that knowledge-based education can never and should never be dictated by faith-based religion. 

Parents would be upset, and the school would probably lose the anonymous donor who is footing half of the bill for the new shirts currently being designed, but I would hope preserving the districts credibility as a system dedicated to education is worth much more to those in charge. But then again, that would involve logic.   


 Andrew Del-Colle is a former Missourian reporter and a graduate student at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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