A vote on whether to remove a biology textbook that describes creationism as "the biblical myth" from Knoxville, Tenn., schools was tabled for another month.
After hearing a number of parents and educators address their concerns over the book, the Knox County Board of Education decided on Wednesday to postpone its vote in order to study and discuss the issue further.
At the heart of the controversy is a phrase in the book, Asking About Life, that Farragut High School parent Kurt Zimmermann found to be biased towards Christianity.
The phrase states that creationism is "the biblical myth that the universe was created by the Judeo-Christian God in 7 days."
"Educational materials that offend, are intolerant, are racist, are biased, are one-sided in nature should not be used in our school system," Zimmermann asserted before the school board on Wednesday.
Since speaking up on behalf of his son and Sunday school students – who brought the text to his attention – last year, Zimmermann has garnered unexpected national media attention.
And it hasn't been a pleasant experience for him these past few months, he noted to the board.
He explained that the students took issue with the textbook's language but did not feel comfortable "carrying it forward to their teachers." And given the crowd and the setting, Zimmermann said he could fully understand why, without a doubt, the students felt that way.
"The subject boils down to something pretty simple actually," he said. "Should textbooks that our children are going to be reading contain offensive statements or language?"
In December, Zimmermann appealed the findings of a review committee that recommended the continued use of the biology textbook in question. Though the committee said an explanation of the word "myth" and why it was used in that context would be helpful, it concluded that the book was "appropriate" for a biology course.
A host of parents have come out since then expressing objections not only to the "myth" phrase but also to other contents in the book.
Though parents may have remained silent prior to this issue, Zimmermann stressed to the board, "Don't pat yourself in the back thinking that silence means acceptance."
Zimmermann was joined by several other parents who called for the removal of the textbooks from all classrooms.
Dr. Gene Overholt of Knoxville contended that "as written, the connotation of that term 'myth' ... implies an unfounded or false notion."
"Creationism with God as the Creator is subsequently ignored in the discussion," he added. "Instead, evolution, which is just a theory, is presented as the origin of man."
The authors, he noted, used the word "myth" in a way that can create doubt in Judeo-Christian beliefs. And this information is being presented to young students who are easily misled by strong opinions, bias or misrepresentation, he said.
Karyn Storts-Brinks, a teacher and librarian with Knox County Schools, objected to the parents' attempt to remove or alter the textbook and urged the board not to "succumb" to their fears.
"If we begin to succumb to these kinds of fears, eschewing any material that might be considered controversial by one parent or more, we are failing our students in their education," she argued.
"Exposure to ideas that may run counter to one's current worldview is what equals education," she maintained. "Our students will not be prepared to function in the world if they never have an opportunity to encounter a dissenting opinion."
Some of the school board members sympathized with Zimmermann and also expressed their disagreement with the use of the term "myth" to define creationism.
However, board member Dan Murphy said taking the recommended actions by the parents could lead to a slippery slope where every decision made in the schools will be politicized.
"I'm not ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater because of that one paragraph," he said.
Asking About Life is authored by Allan J. Tobin and Jennie Dusheck and is being used in Knox County honors biology classes.