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Evolution wording attacked

Science advisers want standards changed

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Catherine Candisky


More than two-thirds of scientists and educators who initially advised the State Board of Education on science standards are urging the board to scrap a portion of the guidelines.

Ohio’s standards for teaching 10 th-grade biology and their accompanying lesson plans undermine Darwin’s theory of evolution by singling it out for critical analysis, they said yesterday in a letter to Gov. Bob Taft.

The guidelines also open the door to teaching religion in the public-school classroom, the letter says.

Thirty-two committee members made recommendations on state science standards in 2001, and a second, larger committee was then impaneled to write the standards. Wording questioning the validity of evolution was added in 2002.

Two other committees made recommendations and wrote the lesson plans that were adopted 1 1/2 years later.

State Board President Sue Westendorf said members likely will discuss the issue at their next monthly meeting Tuesday in Columbus, although the issue is not on the agenda.

Some members already are circulating a renewed motion to strip the controversial provi- sion. Others are talking about sending the standards and lesson plan to a review panel.

Twenty-three members of 2001’s Science Content Standards Advisory Committee signed the letter condemning the 2002 standards and the 2004 lesson plan.

They said the 19-person state board, of which the governor appoints eight members, has ignored their concerns.

"Many of us warned then that in singling out this one scientific theory that has historically been opposed by certain religious sects, the board sent the message that it believes there is some problem peculiar to evolution.

"This message was unwarranted scientifically and pedagogically," the 23 wrote.

The board added the provision to "critically analyze" evolution over objections from many on the advisory committee, a panel assembled by the Ohio Department of Education.

The lesson plan "embodies intelligent design creationism poorly concealed in scientific sounding jargon," the 23 told Taft.

Critics of the lesson plan have said some of the content was drawn from intelligent design literature and it misrepresents challenges of evolution.

The state board is facing increased pressure to repeal portions of the science standards and lesson plans since a federal judge ruled in December that intelligent design is creationism in disguise and such religious beliefs cannot be taught in science class in the Dover, Pa., schools.

Last month, the Ohio board defeated a motion to delete the challenged provisions by a vote of 9-8. Energized by the razor-thin margin, critics promised to continue their fight.

Supporters also jumped back into the debate, lobbying the board to retain the curriculum guidelines.

Last week, Taft said he is opposed to teaching intelligent design in science class and suggested the school board seek a legal opinion about whether Ohio’s standards and lesson plan allow or encourage it.

Mark Rickel, a spokesman for Taft, said yesterday that the governor thought such a review was warranted after the Dover ruling but reiterated that it was a decision for the board to make.

Westendorf, the board president, said the board had the right to make whatever changes it deemed necessary to the standards before adopting them.

"We knew not everyone was happy with us but we felt like we walked down the middle of the road and had a good process," she said.

Westendorf, an appointed member from Bowling Green, said she and other board members have been bombarded in recent days by e-mails and telephone calls from "people from both sides, very passionate people, and we’re right back in this again."

Conservative groups from opposite ends of Ohio are advising their members to urge the state board to keep the current guidelines.

"These board members, evolutionists and the media have twisted this debate into something it is not — a mechanism to sneak intelligent design into the schools," wrote Rob Walgate, of the Cleveland-based Ohio Roundtable, in a recent email to supporters.

"DO NOT advocate for intelligent design. Let him know you have seen the lesson and do NOT want it removed/eliminated. Stay on point: students deserve academic freedom — intellectual honesty — freedom of speech."

Phil Burress, president of the Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values, made a similar appeal, encouraging his members to tell board members they "support teaching both sides of evolution theories."

"Classroom lesson plans that teach Ohio students arguments for and against evolution have come under attack by those who support only a pro-Darwin approach to the origin of the universe," Burress wrote.

"But the question that should be asked is why they favor censorship, allowing only one point of view, and are against having students simply learn all theories on this topic."

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