Members of the Dover, PA school board have ordered science teachers who teach in area high schools to begin each session of their classes with a recitation of the beloved inspirational poem known as "Footprints in the Sand." Board members and some parents say that "Footprints" teaches important lessons about natural history, geology and oceanography.
Skeptics ask 'what happened to the other set of footprints?'
By Cole Walters
DOVER, PA—Life sciences teacher George Haven used to begin his classes here with an unusual practice: by focusing on whatever science-related topic he was teaching that day. But now members of the local school board say he must hold off on educating 9th graders about the origin and characteristics of organisms—at least for a few minutes. Thanks to a recent decision by the school board, every science teacher in the Dover Area School District must now start his or her class with a recitation of the beloved inspirational poem "Footprints in the Sand."
The mystery of "Footprints"
But the requirement that teachers of chemistry, physics and biology devote part of each day to a discussion of "Footprints" and its mystery—why the narrator of the poem sees two sets of footprints on some occasions and only one on others—isn't sitting well with all of Dover's instructors. Mr. Haven says that while he is a personal fan of the poem allegedly penned by Mary Stevenson in 1939—he carries a copy on a card in his wallet—he doesn't believe that "Footprints" belongs in the science classroom.
"I'm here to teach to teach kids how to take a standardized test," says Mr. Haven. "Until there are questions about 'Footprints' on the test, I'm not going to teach it." The school board is now considering taking disciplinary measures against Mr. Haven and a handful of other "Footprints" holdouts in Dover area schools.
"Footprints" scientifically significant, say fans
But fans of the inspirational ode say that the science classroom is precisely where it belongs. Parent and curriculum improvement advocate Lorraine Dittie said that she was shocked to discover that her daughter Tiffany's 9th grade life sciences textbook contains not a single mention of "Footprints in the Sand." "It's got sections on the ocean and the movement of waves, on how sand is formed and about the human skeleton and nothing, not a word about 'Footprints," says Mrs. Dittie. "As far as I'm concerned this is a free speech issue. Why is the ACLU so determined to keep 'Footprints' out of the classroom?"
"Footprints" heard around the country
Legal analysts say that the "Footprints" fight in Dover is likely just the beginning of a movement to introduce the beloved verse into science classrooms across the country. In recent months, a well-funded advocacy group—The Footprints Institute, with headquarters in Clearwater, FL—has been created to help parents and school boards add the ode to local curricula. And the Thomas More Law Center, a pro-family Christian legal firm that defends school Spirit, recently announced that it will take on its first "Footprints" case later this fall.
A town torn
Residents of Dover are largely divided about the place of "Footprints" in local science classrooms. School board elections scheduled for the spring are expected to be hotly contested, featuring an equal number of pro and anti-"Footprints" candidates. Residents say that the issue is already making its way onto campaign materials. Candidate Lorraine Dittie recently unveiled a new yard sign, emblazoned with her name and a single set of footprints on a sandy beach, a strong visual indication that the Lord is carrying her campaign.
Do you think that "Footprints in the Sand" should be required reading in science classrooms across America? Talk back to Cole Walters.