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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Column: Bio textbook politicking a new low in Arizona

    In a blatant act of censorship, the Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board voted on Oct. 28 to remove a page from “Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections,” a widely used biology textbook. The page in question discusses pregnancy prevention methods, including birth control and condoms. It also contains information regarding morning-after pills and abortion-inducing drugs.

    Members of the majority in the 3-2 decision claimed the page violated Arizona law, which states, “No school district or charter school may allow any presentation time or furnish any materials to pupils as part of any instruction that does not give preference encouragement and support to childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortion.” They further argued that, since Gilbert Public Schools already offer sexual education classes, the textbook page was not necessary.

    Board President Daryl Colvin, who did not respond to a request to discuss the situation, noted in a public statement that “there is nothing natural about abortion,” and, therefore, it should not be introduced in a biology textbook that covers “natural processes.”

    What an astute observation by Colvin. Perhaps, then, biology textbooks should also omit discussion of other “unnatural” procedures, such as vasectomies. Maybe they should exclude information about subjects such as antibiotics and genetic cloning, both of which are products of human innovation as opposed to natural bodily functions.

    Unfortunately, Colvin’s ignorance represents just the tip of the iceberg in terms of problems with the board’s decision. For example, it appears that the Governing Board didn’t actually read ARS 15-115, the law it used to justify censorship.

    Nowhere does ARS 15-115 suggest instructional materials cannot discuss abortion, nor does it mandate that biology textbooks ignore the existence of contraceptive methods. Significantly, the Campbell Biology textbook never implies abortion is preferable to adoption; it simply describes contraception and abortion in terms of biological processes.

    “Requirements for sexual health education are outlined in the Administrative Code R7-2-303,” said Kate Thomas, Community Sexuality Educator for Planned Parenthood Arizona. “The State Board of Education has determined that sexual health education materials used in public schools in Arizona need to openly state that abstinence from sexual intercourse is the only method for avoiding pregnancy that is 100 percent effective, and stress that students should abstain from sexual intercourse until they are mature adults.”

    The page in question openly explains that the only guaranteed way to avoid pregnancy is abstinence, thus seeming to observe state requirements.

    Furthermore, it seems painfully obvious the board did not make its decision with the best interest of students in mind. Preventing students from receiving accurate biological information about sexual health constitutes a public health hazard by leaving them susceptible to incomplete or misinformed data. And, as board member Jill Humphereys pointed out in her dissent, presenting students with an incomplete textbook will only cause them to wonder why a page was removed. (Humphreys was willing to sit for an interview, requesting to wait until after Election Day.)

    Lily Tram, also a member of the minority, voted against the decision because she didn’t feel the district had investigated the matter thoroughly enough.

    “From my point of view,” Tram explained, “I think we should have directed our superintendent to look at this further. Nobody ever requested to see any additional materials or lesson plans that are given to students.”

    Tram suggested that removing the textbook page could have been avoided entirely.

    “It is possible that adding supplemental information to the curriculum could have solved all of this,” Tram said.

    Board member Staci Burk did not respond to a comment request. Board member Julie Smith responded affirmatively to a comment request, but suggested that most information regarding the decision could be obtained from public statements.

    Disturbingly, the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian nonprofit that also opposes same-sex marriage, heavily influenced the Governing Board’s decision. The Scottsdale-based group works to defend conservative values, not protect students, and it should not have been involved in the textbook decision whatsoever.

    Ultimately, the decision by Gilbert Public Schools to censor pages from one of its textbooks represents a classic display of the anachronistic, backward thinking that has come to characterize public education in Arizona.

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    Elizabeth Hannah is a neuroscience and cognitive sciences sophomore. Follow her on Twitter. 

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