Can’t Make a Monkey Outta Me

Can’t Make a Monkey Outta Me
Susan Howerter

This story, science fiction with just a touch of the Mac, is based on several articles found in one Sunday edition of the Topeka Capital Journal, August, 1999. The articles followed upon the Kansas Board of Education’s decision to remove the teaching of evolution as a requirement for Kansas students. Everyone from creationist to scientist (to politician to textbook provider) had something to say that week. Since then, the decision has been widely discussed, not only in Kansas, but around the world. A caution: although the AppleCart columns have always been written for a general audience, this month’s story should be considered as ‘PG.’

July, 1999
Dear Emily,

Well, here we are–smack in the middle of the Kansas prairie. It’s sure not much like Michigan. School starts next month and I don’t know a soul. Mom says not to worry, kids are pretty much the same everywhere. I can only hope. But I can’t say the same for the topography. Awfully flat. And awfully dry. In fact, the only trees around New Forest are the dead or dying elms along Main Street. Oh, and the pines in the park. At least the pines feel a little bit like home.

Why, oh why, do I have to have a geologist for a dad? One who gets himself posted off to outlandish places! And believe me, this piece of western Kansas is pretty strange. Not just flat. Oh, no. It’s like some people have been here so long they’ve turned into flat-landers themselves. Or do I mean flat-earthers? (Scorched Earth?) Would you believe that a few of the folks around here are actually trying to secede from the Union? Now. In 1999!!!

Still ,they are supposed to have an excellent school system in New Forest. Very high academic standards and all that. I’m signed up for English, Algebra, Latin, and History, but what I’m really excited about are the honors classes in Physics and Anthropology. We’ll get Physics first semester and Anthropology second. Since I’m determined to be a paleontologist, this is a good start.

Love from Amanda, your flatland friend.

P.S. Note my lovely handwriting. I owe it all to this great new pen that writes in four colors. Dad says if my handwriting keeps on improving like this I won’t need that computer for Christmas after all. He’s only teasing. He’s afraid I’ll be educationally doomed if I don’t have a computer by high school. So what do you think? The strawberry iMac that matches my room or the blueberry one that matches my eyes?

P.P.S So!!! You started your period! Lucky you. I’m as dry as a creek in a Kansas July.

August, 1999
Dear Emily,

Ructions! The Kansas Board of Education has just made Evolution an elective! Each school district has to decide for itself whether to allow evolution as part of the curriculum. Apparently the Creation Contingent wanted Genesis to get equal time or something, but in the end there was a Grand Compromise.

Kansas kids will no longer be required to learn about macro-evolution. Macro-evolution refers to the biggies such as once upon a time the world was full of dinosaurs, sans humans. Or that people and other primates once had a common ancestor. You know, the old Scopes Monkey Trial all over again. But we can still learn about micro-evolution. What’s that? Well, as far as I can tell, it means it’s heresy to say that one species may evolve into a whole ‘nother form, but it’s okay to say that, over time, salamanders have gotten to be better salamanders and zebras have gotten to be better zebras.

What I don’t understand is why God (that’s what we’re really talking about here, but can’t say it out loud) would put out half-assed zebras in the first place. I mean if God couldn’t get it right the first time, who could???

School starts next week and there are already rumors of an assault on the local school board by a couple of fringe factions. As you can imagine, dad is furious! Mom says calm down, nothing’s really changed. The Kansas Board of Education simply voted that each district should decide for itself. But dad says that’s just the problem and if we hadn’t sunk our savings into this move, we’d be outta here in a flash. I see whirlwinds and dust storms looming on the horizon.

Love from Amanda, your wind-blown, dust-covered friend.

P.S. Oh yeah, that reminds me. The Big Bang theory just bit the dust in Kansas as well. So much for Astronomy next year.

September, 1999
Dear Emily,

You gotta say one thing for this evolution thing. At least the school year is off to a rousing start. Church against church. Teacher against teacher. Family against family. Pretty much like the real Civil War. The last Board meeting (we saw it on CNN!) was a doozy. First the Creationists squared off against the Science Department over evolution. Then the Baptist preacher got into it with the Methodist minister over a disagreement on Genesis while some Jehovah’s Witnesses cheered them on. When it turned into actual fisticuffs, an Episcopalian Priest tried to break it up, but all he broke was his nose.

I haven’t made any real friends yet, In fact, I plan to take it verrry slow. Get in with the wrong crowd, the way tempers are, and it could ruin your whole year. Maybe your whole life. It’s probably just as well.

With everybody so suspicious of everybody they’ve known all their lives, no one seems to want to take a chance on a stranger. I feel like Typhoid Mary. Or Copernicus after the apple. (Hmmm… or do I mean Newton? Galileo?) As you can see, I am sadly in need of a better grounding in science, if I ever hope to be a scientist myself!

As far as school itself goes, I haven’t seen much in the way of changes. I mean, what can you do to English, Algebra, Latin, and History… right? Wrong!

Dad went ballistic when he got a look at our new Kansas history book. Hot off the press this year, called something like “Kansas–the Dismembered Prairie.” Would you believe that they jerked the first chapter! The one that told how Kansas used to be an inland sea that over millions of years became the prime wheat growing country it is today. Out went the bits about how rocks and minerals were formed as well as the salt and oil deposits that got us (Mom, dad, and me, that is) here in the first place. And, naturally, no more fossils! Not even the poor old mosasaur bones we went to see in Hayes last month.

It’s obvious those North Dakota publishers could tell which way the Kansas winds were blowing. Not one district has yet to adopt the Genesis version of a (very) young Earth and already, the book publishers are scrambling to be on the lucrative side. Is everybody out here blinded by this hot Kansas sun?

Love from Amanda, your sun-blind friend.

P.S. A really cute guy is giving me the ‘once over’ as I write this in the shade of our front porch. And he lives right next door. Maybe my social life is picking up!

October, 1999
Dear Emily

Well, it looks like Anthropology is definitely zapped for next semester. The New Forest School Board has fallen to the Creationists and the whole curriculum is being rewritten. Dad says we should get out now, before it’s too late. Mom says it’s only for a year, and surely we can stick it out that long. With so many houses going on the market around here right now, how could we ever sell?

This has got to be a short letter, because to make up for the watered down curriculum we have huge homework assignments. No more hands-on fun stuff in New Forest. After I finish diagraming my verbs for English and working the next eight pages in Algebra, I have to write a paper on Copernicus vs. the Church for Physics. We’ve had this strange substitute guy ever since Ms. Smythe stood up to the Board over her science syllabus. If I don’t want to flunk Physics, I’d better figure out which way his wind is blowing.

About my love life. It fizzled, big time. Burned to a crisp, you might say. We woke up in the middle of the night last week to find crosses burning on the lawn next door and the grass on fire. It was really scary!!! No one came to put out the fire and the whole family just got in their van and left town before morning. Turned out they were Jewish! I heard later they’d protested about the Board deleting all mention of the Holocaust from the New Forest History books. Mom and Dad were horrified. I guess everyone was. At least no one ever mentions them anymore. Everybody just sorta looks the other way when they pass that burned out foundation.

Maybe it was a good thing–about their leaving, I mean. He was really nice and awfully cute, but I wouldn’t have wanted to get off on the wrong foot.

Love from Amanda, your love-scorched friend.

P.S. I don’t know why I was complaining so much last month about the sun. It seems to be getting darker around here all the time. Have you heard of any major volcanic eruptions? Dad says ‘no’, but it’s only October. Why should it be so dark so soon?

November, 1999
Dear Emily,

Remember that sub I told you about last month? Looks like he is our new science teacher. After they put Ms. Smythe in the stocks for insubordination (she just wouldn’t quit saying the ‘E’ word!) she up and left town. Funny, I don’t remember any stocks in front of the school last summer, but no one else says anything, so I guess they’ve always been there. Maybe it was just too dark to see them. I’ve gotta get new glasses.

I’m beginning to fit into New Forest now. Got asked to a Halloween party and it was fun. We all dressed up as Puritans and burned witches in effigy. Afterwards we roasted marshmallows on the fire and had a real old-fashioned taffy pull. One kid dressed up as Dracula, but we stoned him good. He only got a concussion and a broken arm, but he will think twice before he tries to bring Satan into New Forest again.

We’re getting ready for Thanksgiving now, which means more Puritans, of course. But I’ll just be thankful if dad can keep his job. There is a lot of concern in town about people like dad. You know, geologists, engineers, computer people and so forth with backgrounds in science and technology. Still, his company is one of the major employers, so maybe it will be okay. If only dad would learn to keep his mouth shut. How embarrassing to find your own father in the stocks!

Love from Amanda, no longer sun-blind. Just blind.

P.S. Hey, my new glasses just came, but it was a waste of money. Things are as dark as ever.

December, 1999
Dear Emily,

I’m an angel! And not just any angel, the head angel. I get to anoint the baby Jesus in the school Christmas pageant. I only hope I don’t forget my lines. I have a really long piece to say. I think it is extra long, because it is a joint effort between the Methodists, the Baptists, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Everyone wants to have it their way and they never agree. Not about the Bible, that’s for sure. At least I don’t have to worry about pleasing the Congregationalists. After their church burned–for the second time!–they just sort of faded away. We never did figure out who did it, but, as the Sheriff says, “Boys will be boys.”

Lucky for me, I don’t have any homework in Latin this month. I’d never get my lines learned. Joe Fipps’ father (I’m pretty sure Joe was one of the “boys will be boys”) stormed the school board after Joe got an ‘F’ on his midterm. “Why ya’all wastin’ good money on them foreign languages?” he yelled. “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for my Joe!” It was hard to argue with his logic, especially as I hear Mr. Fipps keeps a hefty store of ammunition in his shed.

So, no more Latin! Who needs Latin anyway. I’m thinking of becoming a beautician when I graduate and I never heard of anyone saying “Amo, amas, amat” in a beauty shop. Well, I’m off to study my scripture (oops, I mean my script) for the Christmas pageant.

Love from Amanda, new angel of the lord.

P.S. You’re right. A tangerine iMac would be a standout. But there won’t be any computers under the Christmas tree this year. Dad pretends we need to save the money, just in case, but really it wouldn’t be at all the thing here in New Forest. Preacher Eb says computers are the work of the devil and if God had wanted man to compute instead of doing an honest day’s work, he wouldn’t have given us opposable thumbs.

January, 2000
Dear Emily,

I don’t know how Y2K went over back in Michigan, but it was no trouble at all in New Forest. One of the advantages, as Preacher Eb says, of living without technology. I can’t say it’s been fun drawing water from the town well, especially when it’s barely 10 above zero, but it beats depending on the devil to provide. And the new kerosene lamps aren’t too bad, though they do have an awful smell.

But, it’s the funniest thing! Remember how I was complaining about everything being so dark. I guess I just needed time for my eyes to adapt. They seem to be getting bigger and better all the time. It is so much easier to see now! I’d never noticed how pretty really big eyes could be. All the kids at school seem to have these big beautiful eyes, too. Mom says, “My God! It’s almost simian! Prosimian, even!” Dad says, “For God’s sake, not so loud!”

I say, “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain!” Of course I will have to report them.

Love from Amanda with the big blue eyes.

P.S. You will notice that my letters are getting shorter. And messier. Guess this great new pen is wearing out.

February, 2000
Dear Emily,

Dad was all set to leave New Forest, but Mom caught pneumonia in the stocks and couldn’t travel, so here we are. It’s twenty miles to the next town and since New Forest no longer allows gasoline and other works of the devil, she simply couldn’t make it. I’m sorry about mom, really, but I would hate to leave. And mom always said it wasn’t fair to move a child in the middle of the school year.

I’m sorry about this messy letter, too. I just can’t seem to get a good grip on my pen anymore, so I’m using a fat pencil with rubber grips instead. I guess I’m not the only one. The school is ordering up these things by the gross. The English teachers wanted to spend the money we’ve saved by eliminating so many courses on some manual typewriters to help us write better (and to help them read through the reams of homework they assign), but Preacher Eb and a lot of the parents said “No Way.” Are typewriters, or are typewriters not, tools of the devil? That is the burning question in New Forest at the moment.

Love from Amanda, your bug-eyed, all-thumbs friend.

P.S. Speaking of burning, there is a large wooden platform with a stake in the center, right next to the stocks. I asked dad about it, but he just looked scared and shook his head.

March, 2000
Dear Emily,

What do you mean??? New Forest is not the armpit of the world!!! In fact, we are completely progressive. Way ahead of you guys, in backwoods old Michigan. And it won’t be long until everyone lives like us. There was this woman candidate, I’m not quite sure of her name (something about pineapples?) because we don’t keep up much on outside politics here in New Forest, but I think she is running for vice-president or something. Anyway, she used to live in Kansas. Or maybe it was her husband that did. But she is very famous and so is he. Not to mention educated. And when they asked her what she thought about Evolution vs. Creationism in the public schools, she just said, “I’m a person of deep spiritual beliefs and I believe each state should decide that for itself.” So there! That ought to show you.

Your former friend, Amanda

P.S. My mother is much better, thank you. But we no longer communicate. It must be some kind of generation gap thing.

April, 2000
Dear Emily,

It is NOT true that some babies were born in New Forest with vestigial tails. I don’t care what you saw on CNN! (I can’t believe you are dumb enough to believe everything you see on TV!) It is true that a lot of babies died this winter, but it was a pretty hard winter, especially for people without a fireplace to keep their houses warm. Maybe that’s why some of us seem to have a little extra down on our arms and legs now. Really soft and cozy. Pretty, too.

Amanda Green. Proud citizen of New Forest, New Kansas!

P.S. I don’t expect to write again. And not just cause this pencil hurts my hand!

May, 2000
Dear Emily,

Bet you are surprised to hear from me after last time. But it is spring, the sap is rising and I am full of joy and forgiveness. Besides, Preacher Eb, our new principal, says forgive your enemies and you will lead them unto the truth.

Now that the weather is better we’ve been holding classes in the park. Our school was the old-fashioned kind, all air conditioning and no windows. We could hardly breathe. The only problem is all the naughty boys who would rather shinny up a tree than study. Well, who can blame them. These marvelous pines were just made to be climbed. Yesterday, I beat Teacher to the top.

Am I still your friend?


P.S. What are hairstyles like in Michigan? Short hair is the rage this year in New Forest. No one can seem to put in a hair band or fasten a barrette. I may have to rethink my idea of being a beautician.

P.P.S What I can’t understand is why it suddenly stays so light, so long. Last winter it was so dark. Now the sun is so bright we’re all wearing big round sunshades.

June, 2000
Dear Emily,

I’m glad we’re still friends. And yes, I’m even glad you got the purple iMac for your birthday. Really. Someday, you will outgrow the clutch of demon technology, but until then I’ll remain your faithful friend.

Besides, right now I have a problem that I can’t discuss with anyone but an old (and faithful) friend. The good news is I think I’m finally about to get my period. But it doesn’t feel like any of the things we learned in Junior Hygiene. I’m all itchy and swollen. You know… down there. And sort of bluish, too. Did that happen to you? And the guys. Well, they seem to sense something different and keep sneaking up behind me when I’m not looking. Yuck! I don’t remember anything like that in those movies they showed us. Please, help me out here!

Well, gotta go. The whole band’s off for rock climbing at the quarry. Last one to the top’s a baboon-butt!

Love from Amanda, your trusty true-blue friend.

P.S. I just realized why it is so hot and sunny here. Of course! The sun swings in real close to the Earth during the summer, doesn’t it? And to think I got an ‘A’ in “Aristotle / Father of Modern Physics.” Silly me!

P.P.S. School’s out next week. I can’t believe it’s been a year since I left Michigan. Gotta say it’s been a real learning experience.

P.P.P.S In fact, you could almost say I’m a whole ‘nother person.

Susan Howerter

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