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February 15, 2008

Scientists: Be True to Your School (Board)

Srunge Are you a scientist fed up with watching creationists take over school boards from Pennsylvania to Kansas? Or do you just want to improve science education in your local district? If so, you might want to take the advice offered at an AAAS meeting session today: Run for your local school board.

The session, led by political scientist Jon Miller of Michigan State University in East Lansing, provided numerous tips for would be scientist-candidates. Miller, a member of the DeKalb, Illinois school board for 3 years during the 1980s, took participants through his 9-step program for getting elected, including how to decide whether to run in the first place (Step 1), how to raise the necessary campaign funds (Step 5), and, most importantly, how to win voters to come out and support you (Step 9).

The job is more work than glory, Miller says. And what should you expect if you actually get elected? Steven Runge, a biochemist at the University of Central Arkansas and vice-president of the Mayflower, Arkansas school board, dispelled any illusions that an electoral victory will immediately transform a lab-bound scientist into a heroic cavalier for Darwinism. Only once during his eight years on the school board, he told the audience, has he had to do battle with creationists--when some parents objected to school activities on Darwin Day. Most of the 20 hours he spends on school district business each week is devoted to more mundane matters such as hiring personnel, overseeing the budget, or making sure local sports teams have the equipment they need.

But both Runge and Miller insisted that the most important reason that scientists should run for school boards is not just to fight creationists, but more importantly to help ensure that science gets its fair share of educational funds and support. "The real battle is to make sure that we have good quality schools," Miller said. "Scientists are a critical part of this." Runge agreed: "If you're not on the school board, you can't influence its policies."

--Michael Balter

See a related session that took place during AAAS's meeting in San Francisco last year here.