Thursday, April 20, 2006


The Luck of the Draw in Wichita

There is more on the inability of Connie Morris, a part of the conservative majority on the Kansas state Board of Education, to understand the limits of her authority in her role as a government official in a democracy, much less get what the Flying Spaghetti Monster is all about. There is also a sign of hope.

In an article by Roy Wenzl in The Wichita Eagle entitled "Flying Spaghetti Monster: Lessons in wielding authority," there is a retelling of the tale of what happened when Morris, on a tour of Stuckey Middle School in Wichita, discovered a poster of the FSM on science teacher Randy Mousley's classroom door. Morris, who was keeping mum about the incident before, now says she has received at least a thousand e-mails from "Pastafarians" and:

We know it's a satire. I don't mind the ridicule; it comes with the job. But I do personally object to my own religious beliefs being ridiculed, and that's what the Pastafarians delight in doing.

Now, I can't speak for every person who e-mailed Ms. Morris but she has certainly missed the point of the original exercise. Some people have created a fictitious program to serve as a stand-in for their theological and philosophical beliefs and are demanding that it be taught in public schools at taxpayer expense.

And once Ms. Morris and the rest of the ID Movement stop doing that, most people will stop ridiculing them. And it isn't Ms. Morris' religion that is being mocked; it is the pretense of Ms. Morris and the rest of the majority on the board that they aren't trying to abuse their authority by injecting their religion into public school science classes that is being mocked.

On the positive side is the profile of Mousley (who, incidentally, was not the person who put the poster up on his classroom door). More concerned with teaching the kids in his charge than pandering to the nobs, he was not overly impressed by the boards visit:

Controlling and teaching hundreds of middle-schoolers keeps a teacher on tip-toe all day. So if somebody wants to take a tour, Mousley lets them in the door and keeps on booming out facts and theories and questions about geology or astronomy or Newton's Laws of Motion or whatever is on his classroom agenda that day.

Mousley was teaching hands-on geology when [Principal Kenneth] Jantz led the board members through the classroom.

Mousley barely looked at them.

As to his attitude about the whole brouhaha:

[H]e is no atheist. "I'm just a guy who believes that beliefs, including my own, should be kept private. They are nobody else's business."

Sometimes when he teaches that the Earth is billions of years old, students will say that their parents teach them that the Earth is only 6,000 years old according to the Bible.

He says he tells these kids that he is glad they have these beliefs, and that religious beliefs should be respected, but that this is a science class where science is taught. Then he moves on.

He did, according to an analysis of the public testimony concerning the "Minority Report" adopted by the board implementing the ID strategy, testify that he opposed the Minority Report because "Teaching Creation is unconstitutional." He is not alone in that opinion, of course.

In any event, after Jantz told Mousley that Morris had found the monster poster offensive:

Mousley felt bad for Jantz; he respects Jantz as a good administrator, "a straight talker" who supports his staff. Jantz's leadership makes people want to work for him, Mousley said.

He noticed that Jantz didn't ask him to take down the poster. He merely reported what had been said. Then Jantz walked away.

Mousley had to decide what to do.

There was more than a little riding on this: Mousley is a teacher of influence. For the past three years, the district has appointed him to serve on committees that tweak the district science curriculum.

He is an authority figure. What he decided now had to be based not only in what was right, but in whether obedience to authority is a respected value. Morris, he knew, represents a certain authority, and the conservative thinking of many Kansans who pay taxes to schools.

It took only moments for him to decide.

Jantz had made no requests. Teachers, though they are often rigidly scripted by the rules of curriculum, are still free to be their own authority figures, up to a point.

Given that authority, there was no doubt in Randy Mousley's mind about what to do with the poster.

He left it on his door.

There are some real lucky kids in Wichita.
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