Back in the early 1980s, I was occasionally sent to cover the Michigan Legislature for long stretches of time. That was before term limits, and the lawmakers were an interesting bunch.
One man had a migrating toupee that slowly moved about on his head, sort of like a giant hairy amoeba. At least two or three others were clearly runners-up to amoebas in the IQ department.
My favorite was state Sen. Basil Brown, the guardian of Highland Park, who usually just sat, glowering, behind impenetrable dark glasses. Once, during a caucus luncheon, he was brought John Kelly's order by mistake. Rather than switch plates with Kelly, as is normal etiquette in the better reform schools, ol' Basil threw his like a discus, hard as he could, at the waiter vanishing into the swinging doors leading to the kitchen.
Eventually, Basil's political career would suffer a slight setback when he pleaded guilty to delivering drugs to a prostitute, and a more permanent reversal when he died nine years ago.
Late one night, looking out at this sea of enlightened leadership, one of my fellow reporters (OK, maybe it was me) was led to observe that the Michigan Legislature had finally settled the evolution debate.
"Charles Darwin was clearly wrong," whoever it was proclaimed, noting the polyester pants of a representative lawmaker from Warren.
"This legislative body proves the universe is operating on a principle of unnatural selection, and that evolution is going backwards, at least as far as human intelligence is concerned."
There were, as I recall, no dissenters.
That memory came to mind recently, when I read that the Legislature, which has pretty much failed to tackle most of the serious problems facing our state, was showing signs of meddling instead in high school curriculum specifically, what little Susie was learning in biology class.
The lawmakers are in the process of raising standards, which is a good thing. What is not so good is that they are cleverly trying to open the tent to the teaching of "intelligent design," which is a code word for injecting religion into science teaching and the public schools.
What's dangerous is that this fight is not being led by the usual yahoos, but by a slick fellow, state Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Midland), who actually has a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Harvard.
He came up with this language, which he and his sidekick, Romeo Republican Brian Palmer, the House Education Committee chair, are trying to sneak into the education standards bill:
"The course content expectations for science shall include using the scientific method to critically evaluate scientific theories and using relevant scientific data to assess the validity of those theories and formulate arguments for and against those theories."
All that sounds pretty reasonable, until you realize what this really means is that students will be required to "assess the validity" of the theory of evolution and "formulate arguments for and against" it.
Naturally, the only way to do that is by bringing in intelligent design. Somehow I don't think the framers of this bill intend for students to have to come up with arguments refuting every scientific theory.
They are really only concerned with evolution and global warming. We know that, because Moolenaar tried to do that in an earlier, less subtle education bill. This language was taken from that bill.
Regardless of what you think about religion and science, pause for a moment and consider the utter absurdity of asking 16-year-old Debbie in Hazel Park to "critically evaluate scientific theories and use relevant scientific data to assess the validity of those theories."
Great Caesar's ghost! I was considered a bright little shaver, and at that age my critical thinking powers were barely up to properly evaluating the relative merits of Denny McLain vs. Mickey Lolich.
Moolenaar and Palmer wouldn't like this comparison, but what they are trying to do reminds me very much of my old hero Josef Stalin.
Stalin, who knew about as much about biology as he did high fashion, believed in the crackpot evolutionary theories of a charlatan called T.D. Lysenko. Accordingly, the great dictator decreed that Lysenko's nutty theories be taught as the truth in Soviet schools and universities. The result set Soviet science back for decades. Michigan is already lagging far behind other states, in part thanks to religious nuts in the Legislature putting economy-killing restrictions on stem cell research.
What we all need to do is to tell the Legislature to stop trying to determine what kids should learn in high school or college. Our distinguished lawmakers were elected to run the machinery of the state.
That means balancing the budget, fixing the roads, attracting investment and new jobs, and making sure the state's great colleges and universities have what they need to be truly great.
It may also include demanding that our public schools do a better job of educating our young people. But it does not mean micromanaging things they know nothing about, or acting as intellectual censors.
Yet if politicians insist on doing this in biology classes, it seems only fair that we demand our schools be fair and balanced in other subjects as well. We should require, for example, that courses in sociology include the theory that the Aryan race is superior to all other races.
Our courses in high school civics should require a thorough examination of the theory that a dictatorship of the proletariat administered by a centrally controlled vanguard party is better for true human equality and, in the long run, economic progress than predatory capitalism.
Sound absurd? Not at all. Even now, some political theorists believe in some form of communism. Virtually no serious biologists today question the theory of evolution. While there are unsettled questions, scientists today really regard evolution as more proven scientific fact than theory.
Worth taking in: On Saturday, there will be a screening of the Grace Lee Project with remarks from Grace Lee Boggs at Barth Hall on Woodward near Wayne State University. There will be a reception ($35) at 6:30, and a chance to meet both the director, Grace Lee, and Grace Lee Boggs.
That may sound pricey, but all the proceeds go to Detroit Summer, the inspiring youth organization that is meant to rebuild and inspire Detroit from the ground level up. You can also just see the movie for much less at 8 p.m., depending on your age and income status.
And if you are feeling flush, think about going to the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights annual dinner Sunday night, and hearing Lani Guinier talk about "The Constitution in Crisis." Details at mchr.org.Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]