School board confronts questions of evolution, race

The subject of state guidelines on the sensitive subjects of
race and religion arose at last week’s Gulf County School Board meeting.

Prompted by an appearance in the public comment portion of
Wewahitchka resident Grady ‘Buck” Booth, who addressed evolution, the
discussion later led to an exchange between Superintendent Jim Norton and School
Board Member Marvin Davis on the subject of critical race theory.

In his comments, Booth focused on his view that alternatives
to traditional evolutionary theory be offered.

“In biological science classes evolution is being taught as
fact,” he said, acknowledging that Supreme Court’s rulings have said that teachings can lead to a violation of the separation clause that draws
a distinction between what constitutes state-supported education and religious

“Creation theory, intelligent design, have been run by the court
 and it has all been shot down,” he said.
“A recent decision had a little thing (in it) that this is no way means that you cannot
have a critical teaching of the theory of evolution.

“Evolution turns a lot of people on and off,” Booth said. “I
prefer to look at it as the origin of life. Kids coming out of school are taught
that they evolved from some critter.

“I don’t know where it starts,” he said. “It upsets me that
they have this in their mind.”

Booth said he has done some research on the matter, and
taken a look at the writings of those supportive of teaching the theory of

“Evolutionists in the state are well-organized,” he said. “They
mention two counties in the state of Florida – Baker and Holmes – in a negative
tone. They are doing something that evolutionists don’t like.

“I haven’t had a chance to further research that,” Booth
said. “They don’t know if I am a reporter who wants to put an article in the paper
to bring them discredit.

“What I would say is the ideal thing for me is to say you
teach evolutionary theory, you’re also going to teach other theories. There are
credible scientific theories that counter the evolutionary theory, from a lot
of credible scientists.

“Why can’t we do that?” he said. “I know it would be
difficult. I am just asking for consideration of this, if you can look into it.
If teachers need to be educated in this other science, there are just a multitude
of materials.  I do have sources, and am more
than happy to teach them on the other side of this thing,

”Biological sciences (uses) fossil records to prove evolutionary
theory. Well there’s a whole other side to that,” Booth said. “That is what is
taught in our public schools and that upsets me.”

In his reply, Norton stressed that while he is in some agreement with
Booth, the state provides districts with a set of standards for its curriculum.
He asked Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Lori Price to
provide a fuller explanation, which she did.

“We have standards that we have to teach, and a core
curriculum we have to teach. It starts with the third grade being tested, and
teaching towards preparing people for that test,” Norton said. “The state has
an adopted level of expectation.”

What Norton was emphatically not in agreement with was a
request from Davis to conduct a workshop on critical race theory, a subject the
board member raised after chiding Norton for his reference to a passage
regarding the prophet Muhammad the superintendent found questionable.

Norton had referenced a textbook which mentioned that
Muhammad was a moral man, and Davis challenged Norton’s assertion.

“You are opposed to Mohammed because of the number of wives
he had,” said Davis. “Look at the dispensation that took place when you look at
our Christian founders. How many wives did Abraham have? How many wives did
Isaac have? They had multiple wives. That dispensation in that period of time
was allowable.”

Davis then addressed the subject of critical race theory,
and asked that he and his fellow board members get more specifics on what Gov.
Ron DeSantis recently signed pertaining to that teaching, which asserts that beginning
with slavery and on into today, racism is embedded in America’s legal systems
and policies.

“We need to know what the governor signed. It’s something we
need to think about,” he said. “We need to come together, we do need to have a
workshop on that to discuss that.

“Critical race theory has been around 40 years; it’s nothing
that just came up. It’s been around 40 years,” he said. “About 20 years ago the
Florida Senate and House signed a bill to teach African American history in all
the schools.

“What the governor signed, did that eliminate the teaching
of African American history in Florida public schools?” asked Davis.

Norton responded swiftly in answering Davis’ question.

“No, it did not,” he said, and then said emphatically that he
would not recommend a workshop be held.

“You can organize against me in the next election season, I’m
not going to do it,” he said.

“That’s for the board to decide whether we have a workshop
or not. That’s not your decision to say,” Davis replied.

“It’s a lot of my decision,” Norton said. “I’m not discussing
that critical race theory be entertained as part of the adopted curriculum of
this district. It has nothing to do with teaching black history.”

“I want to discuss it, that’s all I’m saying,” Davis said.

Norton then turned Davis’ argument about putting Muhammad’s
many wives in a larger context against him.

“A moral man? You can’t say a man who has nine wives is a
devoted husband or father because he’s not by modern standards,” said the superintendent.
“That’s like talking about slavery and saying it was moral. You can’t use morality
to justify slavery any more than you can use morality in a Florida adopted textbook.
(But) you can point out (something) as historical fact.

“We can define it (critical race theory) right now and when
we define what it means, everybody would say it has nothing to do (with
teaching African American history),” Norton said. “You’re murkying the waters,
that it’s taking away teaching black history.

“You’re not asking a question, you’re promoting an agenda
and you want to further it more,” the superintendent said.

“I’m elected independent of you, I’m only a manager, but if
you think you can put (a workshop) together without me…” he said. “I’m not going
to let people get worked up over this.”

No other school board members spoke on the subject, and
Chairwoman Cindy Belin moved on to the agenda items.

Norton said that Davis later telephoned him and the two had
a cordial, private conversation.

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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