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Our View: Religion, Science and 'Dirty Words'

Our View: Religion, Science and 'Dirty Words'

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Teacher

ASHLEY SMITH • TIMES-NEWS Tim McDaniel, a teacher at Dietrich School, pauses for a photo on Tuesday in front of the school. Four parents have filed a complaint against McDaniel for teaching about the reproductive system out of a biology textbook.

 Vagina. There, we said it. Orgasm. Yup, we just went there.

These are not curse words that should be restricted to “adult conversation” around tobacco-stained card tables. The former is a technical term for an organ required for mammalian reproduction, which includes humanity. The latter is an involuntary response at the core of reproduction.

So the fact that Dietrich science teacher Tim McDaniel had to live for nine months under the shadow of a state investigation over his use of said words astounds us. The Professional Standards Commission last week finally cleared McDaniel of any wrong doing during his human reproduction lecture, which included discussion of the female reproductive organ and the body’s response to intercourse. Sex isn’t dirty. It’s an act of survival.

The complaint by a handful of overzealous parents should have been immediately tossed. The state’s handwringing gave undue credence to a small-minded attack on objective probing of the universe.

John Scopes — the teacher who in 1925 intentionally broke Tennessee law by teaching evolution to force a court battle — McDaniel is not. The Scopes’ war is over in scientific terms, regardless of what some might say. Darwinian selection is not a “theory,” as some too often contend. It’s the reproduction-based paradigm of modern biology. Without a working understanding of natural selection and reproduction, students are incapable of grasping the rest of biology. That’s a fact.

This is the framework McDaniel was working within when he picked up his chalk on that fateful day in February. His lecture wasn’t an assault on religion or a display of disrespect for certain belief systems. He was arming his students with the necessary tools to either accept, or ultimately reject, the sciences. Everyone has a right to his or her own beliefs, but blindly reinforcing a narrow perspective doesn’t foster strong minds.

A critical mind, the ultimate goal of an education, must be challenged with varying ideas. It’s up to the individual to either accept, disavow or work into some other nuanced world view, the concepts presented. Sadly, McDaniel won’t teach reproduction in his classes anymore because of the complaint.

Science has long been a political lightning rod. Anything that challenges entrenched belief systems, and occasionally throws out its own standing laws for something new, is bound to offend. It shakes people’s beliefs. Some embrace the challenge.

Others, like the parents who called for McDaniel’s job, shriek from their cocoons, too often touting trumped-up pseudo-science specifically designed to give the fearful something to which to cling. True science has no agenda other than to attain to some measure of testable truth.

There’s a place for politics and religion in public education. It can be rightly found in civics, literature and the other soft sciences and liberal arts. But even in this more subjective realm, attempts to limit the debate to a narrow perspective is an affront to the purpose of education. Doing so disarms students and limits their potential.

The state did more than make McDaniel linger in doubt for the better part of a year when it took its merry time reviewing the complaint. It did a disservice to reason.

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