The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Evolution Banned from a Band Shirt in Sedalia, Missouri?

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 1, 2009

It seems that this story has been getting a lot of attention, so I wanted to mention my thoughts about it here.  Apparently, the band director designed (intelligently?) some shirts depicting the “evolution of a trumpet player” which didn’t sit too well with some creationist parents in the district…

**Aside: Dr. Steve Novella has a very interesting take on this situation over at the Skeptiblog.  Check it out!!!

That’s it… that’s the shirt that is “too controversial” for some overly uptight parents to have their kids wear?!  You’ve got to be kidding me.  As the article states:

Assistant Band Director Brian Kloppenburg said the shirts were designed by him, Band Director Jordan Summers and Main Street Logo. Kloppenburg said the shirts were intended to portray how brass instruments have evolved in music from the 1960s to modern day. Summers said they chose the evolution of man because it was “recognizable.” The playlist of songs the band is slated to perform revolve around the theme “Brass Evolutions.”

The band debuted the T-shirts when it marched in the Missouri State Fair parade. Summers said he was surprised when he received a direct complaint after the parade. While the shirts don’t directly violate the district’s dress code, Assistant Superintendent Brad Pollitt said complaints by parents made him take action.

Oh please, I cannot even begin to describe how inane all this is… so I’d better get started on it.  After venting my spleen about the stupidity of the situation, and the general spinelessness with which the school administration handled it, I shall pass along a constructive solution to this mess [hat tip to Dr. Kiki Sanford at The Bird’s Brain blog 😀 ]

First off, let me say that the depiction of human evolution as a linear progression from monkey or primitive primate to modern human as is often depicted is incorrect…

In reality, human evolution didn’t follow a linear progression like that shown in the shirt, but instead was more like the branching of a bush. The various branches of the bush led to different species of primate, one of which is modern humans, and all of these branches trace back to the “stump” of the bush: the common ancestor between monkeys, gorillas, chimps, orangutans, and humans.  Now that I’ve gone and picked that particular nit…

The decision to ban these shirts was a very bad one, based upon ignorant & overly-zealous parents (who presumably have something against their kids being exposed to… science!) and spineless school administrators who caved to parental pressure.  Interestingly enough, the state science standards of Missouri, as reported by the Fordham Foundation, have gone from receiving a grade of “B” in 2000 to a “C” today.  The report states of Missouri’s evolution standards…

No human evolution. Students are expected to be able to “identify and analyze theories that are currently being questioned, and compare them to new theories that have emerged to challenge the older ones.” The practice of exposing students to unresolved questions in modern science is a worthy one, but care must be taken that the topics covered do in fact represent legitimate areas of current scientific debate, and that this debate be at least somewhat comprehensible to students at the high school level.

Well, there you have it… those first three words are all you need to see in order to understand what’s going on here.  I think that some creationist parents know the law in Missouri pretty well, and because the standards there do not require the teaching of human evolution, they know they can pressure the schools into making a stupid move like banning this shirt.  If the teaching of human evolution were required in the standards, then things may have gone differently.  I can envision this because without that state-mandated standard, the school administrator doesn’t have anything to fall back upon for support (or blame), so it makes it easy for them to cave in to creationists who attempt to stifle the teaching of evolutionary science.  Folks, this is one reason why having strong science education standards at the state level is so important.

So how to respond to this situation?  Well, like many of you, my first inclination was to fire off an angry letter to the administration of the Smith-Cotton High School lambasting them for this decision.  However, upon seeing this blog post from Dr. Kiki Sanford, I think a more constructive approach would be best…

After reading this article about the Sedalia County (thank you Brandon for the correction!) school district’s treatment of the Smith-Cotton High School Marching Band’s new t-shirt, of course I tweeted the article. One comment came back from Tim Beauchamp (@tbeauchamp for those interested) wondering if there was a way to get one of the tees for himself.

This got me thinking… the Sedalia district’s Assistant Superintendent, Brad Pollitt, said himself that the district would have to cover the cost of the revoked shirts (some $700). So, why not try to get the school district to put the shirts up for sale as a fundraiser for the band and school district?

Here’s a letter that I wrote to Mr. Pollitt along those lines:

Dear Mr. Pollitt,

I’m writing you after reading a recent news article about the trouble that you and the Smith-Cotton High School marching band had with the “Brass Evolutions 2009″ t-shirt design.

You are quoted as saying that the district will have to absorb the cost of the troublesome tees. I know several people who would be interested in purchasing the t-shirts. Perhaps there is an opportunity for the district to make the cost of the shirts back by selling them to individuals who are not upset by the creative design, and in fact who would wear the shirts proudly.

I am sorry to hear that the design was so distasteful to so many, and that you felt it necessary to respond by revoking the shirts at a cost to the district. Our nation’s schools never have it financially easy, especially so in this time of economic recession. This could be an economic win if approached in the spirit of fundraising.

All the best,

Kirsten H. Sanford, Ph.D

I think this could be an interesting way to approach the problem. Rather than bash anyone, or call anyone names, let’s try to publicize the evolution banning event by purchasing the t-shirts. It might actually help the school out, which is something very needed these days. We’ll see if and how Mr. Pollitt responds.

If you are interested in writing a similar letter to see if we can get these shirts back into the population, you can find the contact information of the Sedalia School District administrators here, and this is Mr. Brad Pollitt’s work email.

If you do write, please, keep in mind that this is a teachable moment, and civility and compassion will do more good than temper and bile.

I agree, Dr. Sanford.  I’m off to write my own letter now – I hope others can join me in this endeavor so that we can turn a negative situation into a positive one.

6 Responses to “Evolution Banned from a Band Shirt in Sedalia, Missouri?”

  1. anonomys said

    email and tell them how many shirts you would be interested in buying. if they get enough offers they will probably print them

  2. The creator, intelligent designer, and copyright owner of the artwork posted a comment on my blog (at )

    saying they have plans to market the shirt & maybe other stuff with the artwork. The comment includes their contact information.

  3. Cool site, love the info.

  4. This site rocks!

  5. This site rocks!

  6. moonstone said

    This town is crazy to not let those shirts be worn! Why dose everything have to be taken so seriously? The shirts are funny if nothing else! I just moved here and I’m very astonished by the negitivity, lack of life and passion the natives of this place put forward. Leave the High School band alone! Get something else to worry about!

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