Evolution Backers, Critics Claim Victory In Science Standards Published: Wednesday, December 11, 2002 NEWS 01A By Catherine Candisky THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
New curriculum guidelines adopted yesterday by the State Board of Education require that students to be taught about biological evolution as well as criticisms of that theory. But the board also inserted language stipulating that the new standards do not require the teaching of the concept that the world was created by an intelligent designer. The sentences added are in italics:
* Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory. (The intent of this indicator does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.)
* Describe a foundation of biological evolution as the change in gene frequency of a population over time. Explain the historical and current scientific developments, mechanisms and processes of biological evolution. Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory. (The intent of this benchmark does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.)
Source: Ohio Department of Education
Students are to be taught biological evolution under curriculum guidelines adopted yesterday by the State Board of Education, but it will be left to local school officials to decide how much they learn about opposing concepts such as intelligent design.
After a yearlong debate that drew international attention, the state board unanimously adopted grade-by-grade science standards after inserting a disclaimer that the standards do not "mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.''
Board member Joseph D. Roman of Fairview Park said the clarification was necessary because of erroneous claims that the standards would require instruction of the controversial alternative to Darwinian theory.
"The Board of Education has made a clear statement against pseudoscience,'' said Patricia Princehouse, a philosophy professor at Case Western Reserve University and director of a pro-evolution group, Ohio Citizens for Science.
"This is a huge victory for science and a huge victory for the kids of Ohio.''
Supporters of intelligent design -- the concept that certain life-forms are too complex to be explained by evolution and some unknown intelligence must have played a role -- claimed victory as well. They applauded the school board for adopting standards that require 9th- and 10th-graders to be taught "how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.''
The provision, they argue, ensures that students will learn about the continuing debate surrounding life on Earth.
Although seemingly insignificant to many, the provision was characterized as a setback for evolutionists by an intelligent-design backer.
"Any small victory over the Darwinian juggernaut helps the public to see that scientific dissent from this stifling orthodoxy is legitimate and widespread,'' said Phillip E. Johnson, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley. His 1991 critique of evolution, Darwin on Trial, helped launch the intelligent-design movement.
The board's directive "permits but doesn't mandate the teaching of intelligent design . . . so it gives teachers the chance to teach the controversy,'' said Robert Lattimer, a Hudson chemist and spokesman for Science Excellence for All Ohioans. He was among a handful of intelligent-design proponents on the 41-member team that drafted the standards.
"Students should be able to hear both sides of the story.''
Calling the standards historic, Stephen C. Meyer of the Discovery Institute in Seattle said, "Ohio has become the first state to require students to learn about scientific criticisms of Darwinian evolution as well as scientific evidence supporting the theory.
"This policy will help remedy the selective presentation of evidence made by most biology textbooks today.''
Another supporter of intelligent design, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., applauded Ohio's new science standards.
"Today's vote by the Ohio State Board of Education, which mandates critical analysis of evolution, is exactly the kind of decision anticipated by Congress last year when we adopted the No Child Left Behind education act,'' he said.
"The decision is particularly significant because Ohio was the first state since the passage of the new education act to debate the treatment of evolution within its science standards.''
School districts won't be forced to follow the standards. However, they will be the basis for new standardized student tests -- including a 10th-grade graduation exam -- so teachers who ignore them will risk putting their students at a disadvantage.
State law required the board to adopt standards for science and social studies by Dec. 31. The board unanimously passed the social-studies standards without debate yesterday.
Martha Wise, a board member from Avon, said she had planned to oppose the science standards because she feared that they created a back door for the teaching of creationism. Inclusion of the disclaimer, she said, won her vote.
"It's really too bad that we have to use the words intelligent design in the standards, but what we are saying is we don't want to teach or test intelligent design,'' she said.
Board members supporting intelligent design agreed the standards had been misinterpreted. But even without the mandate for intelligent design, the standards, they said, are a step in the right direction.
Michael Cochran, a board member from Columbus and intelligent-design proponent, said the standards call for a critique of evolution.
"We're not mandating it, but if a teacher or local board wants to explore alternatives to evolution, they can,'' he said. "What we have long objected to is the indoctrination of evolution. There is a controversy and students ought to hear about it.''
Ohio State anthropologist Jeffrey McKee, also a member of Ohio Citizens for Science, said he opposed singling out evolution for a critique, adding that all scientific theories are subject to analysis.
The disclaimer "satisfies my concerns but it doesn't mean the intelligent-design community will go away. They can still go to local school boards and make their case,'' Mckee said.
"This process has been a real wake-up call.''
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