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Ohio board of education votes 11-4
against language questioning evolution

COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP)–The Ohio State Board of Education has voted 11-4 to discard portions of its 10th-grade biology curriculum guidelines that critics said opened the door for teaching Intelligent Design.

The model lesson plan, called “Critical Analysis of Evolution,” requires that students learn “how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.” The guidelines did not mention Intelligent Design apart from a disclaimer, but critics said information for the lesson was derived from Intelligent Design and creationist literature, The Columbus Dispatch reported Feb. 15.

Board members asked a subcommittee to determine whether a replacement lesson is necessary for the plan, which was implemented by the board two years ago.

Ohio’s vote Feb. 14 follows controversies in Cobb County, Ga., and Dover, Pa., in which courts stepped in to decide whether curriculum mentioning Intelligent Design is appropriate. Some say Ohio’s school board decided to remove any hint of the debate in order to avoid such court entanglement.

“The [Ohio] board has protected itself from legal action,” Patricia Princehouse, a biology professor at Case Western Reserve University and a leading critic of the guidelines, told The Dispatch. “We [now] have science standards that do not try and indoctrinate students.”

But supporters of the curriculum guidelines said the board went against the will of most Ohioans who, as revealed in a Zogby International poll released the day before the vote, overwhelmingly support teaching the controversy.

The poll, commissioned by Discovery Institute, found that by more than a 3-to-1 margin, Ohio residents strongly support public school teachers presenting both evidence for evolution and evidence challenging the theory.

“This is a completely outrageous slap in the face to the 69 percent of Ohioans just polled who said they want students to hear the scientific evidence for and against Darwin’s theory,” John G. West, associate director of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, said of the state board’s vote. “Most people want students to learn evidence critical of Darwinism, as well as the evidence that supports it, rather than just teaching Darwin’s theory as if it were sacred dogma.”

Also reported in the poll was that 75 percent of Ohio’s residents favor teaching Intelligent Design alongside Darwinian evolution so that students can be allowed to make up their own minds regarding the origin of life.

Casey Luskin, Discovery Institute’s program officer for public policy and legal affairs, called the board’s decision “a gag order on science” and said activists are “dumbing down the teaching of evolution” by prohibiting criticism of the theory.

“Who would have thought that simply questioning and analyzing a scientific theory would be banned in schools anywhere in America?” Luskin said. “Are we now going to enter an age when there is an outright ban on saying anything against Darwin or his theory? Unfortunately it looks as if Darwinist censorship of science is spreading.”

Luskin also said a federal judge’s ruling last December in the Dover case “clearly has no relevance for Ohio.” Since Ohio is not addressing Intelligent Design as prescribed in the Dover case, the issue is completely different, he said, and the Dover ruling was simply used as a fear tactic to get board members to vote against teaching the challenges to evolution.

The latest Ohio school board vote follows one just last month on the same issue, in which the motion to remove the provisions from the science standards failed by one vote, The Dispatch recounted. Ohio’s Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, then asked the board to seek a legal review of the standards, and a committee advising the board on the provisions said they promoted creationism.

Passage of the motion was secured Feb. 14 because two members who had voted against the change in January decided to support it, and a third member who was absent from the first vote gave her support. Also, three members who had opposed the idea of removing the language last month were absent on Tuesday, The Dispatch reported.

Observers predict the issue is not completely settled because a rotation of new members onto the board in the future could yield a vote in favor of teaching the controversy, which would be a reversal of the current decision.

“This won’t likely be the definite answer,” Virgil E. Brown Jr., a board member who voted to reverse the standards, told The Dispatch.

Before the vote, the Campaign to Defend the Constitution — which was described in a news release as “an online grassroots movement to combat the growing power of the religious right” — urged board of education members to follow the governor’s lead after he called on them to remove “intelligent design language” from the state’s science standards. The group, encompassing 40,000 teachers, scientists and members of academic organizations, labeled the language “religiously motivated” and claimed it was unconstitutional.

But not all scientists spoke out against changing the standards. Lyle H. Jensen, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences, asked the Ohio board of education to allow students to learn both sides of the argument.

“While students should surely learn about the scientific strengths of evolution, they should also have the opportunity to learn about scientific weaknesses with the theory,” Jenson, a professor emeritus with the University of Washington, wrote. “I strongly urge you to retain the Critical Analysis of Evolution Lesson Plan so that Ohio students are objectively informed concerning the facts of biology and trained to be better scientists.”

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  • Erin Curry Roach