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Ohio science standards & evolution: ‘Teach the controversy,’ panel says

COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP)–A State Board of Education of Ohio committee has approved a measure to amend the state’s science standards to include teaching the debate over evolution.

After months of deliberation, the committee recommended that students in Ohio public schools be able to “describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.”

The full 19-member board of education will vote on the proposed science standards in December following additional time of public comment, including a public hearing Nov 12.

Ohio becomes the first state to venture into the evolution controversy since Kansas’ state school board in 1999 removed evolution as a key component of the state’s science standards — a move which was reversed when statewide elections the following year placed pro-evolution members in the board’s majority.

The Ohio committee “should be commended for insisting that Ohio students learn about scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory as a part of a good science education,” said Stephen A. Meyer, director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, after the panel’s Oct. 14 decision. “Such a policy represents science education at its very best, and it promotes the academic freedom of students and teachers who want to explore the full range of scientific views over evolution.”

Opponents insist that the proposed standards for teaching evolution still open the door to teaching supernatural theories to Ohio’s 1.8 million public school children, and they vow to continue their opposition. They also claim that the new standards single out evolution as a controversy when other scientific issues also could be addressed.

But Deborah Owens Fink, one of three board members who suggested the new evolution standards, said overwhelming public interest in questions regarding evolution merited special attention to the theory, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer Oct. 15.

“I think it was very clear from the response from the public that it should be treated differently,” she said. “Other aspects of the standards did not get 20,000 responses.”

Critics also assert that the revised standards make room for the intelligent design theory, which they say is only creationism in disguise. Intelligent design, endorsed by various scientists at the nation’s leading universities, describes living matter as too complex to have resulted from random chance, thus it must have been purposefully created.

Meyer noted that the board “essentially followed the advice of more than 50 Ohio scientists who urged that ‘students be permitted to learn the evidence for and against’ biological evolution.” School districts, meanwhile, would have the option of examining intelligent design theory, according to the proposed Ohio curriculum.

Meyer first introduced the “teach the controversy” stance to the Board of Education in March and presented his view on the op-ed page of the Cincinnati Enquirer March 30. There he wrote, “When two groups of experts disagree about a controversial subject that intersects the public school curriculum students should learn about both perspectives.”

“In such cases teachers should not teach as true only one competing view, just the Republican or Democratic view of the New Deal in a history class, for example,” he continued. “Instead, teachers should describe competing views to students and explain the arguments for and against these views as made by their chief proponents. Educators call this ‘teaching the controversy.'”

Meyer, in a Discovery Institute news release Oct. 15, took note of critics’ charges that the proposed Ohio curriculum “promotes religion” and singles out evolution.

“The religion charge is just a red herring raised by those who don’t want to allow any scientific criticism of Darwin,” Meyer said. “There are growing numbers of scientists today who are raising significant objections to Darwinian theory. These objections have nothing to do with religion.

“As for singling out evolution, the board’s decision is entirely appropriate given that many evolution proponents insist that their theory be immune from critical questioning in the classroom. The Darwin-only crowd wanted evolution taught as dogma, not science,” Meyer said.

Joseph Roman, co-chairman of the Ohio panel, noted that the debate over origins should not detract from a 75-page set of standards that he said would give the state one of the strongest sets of science education guidelines in the nation, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.

“I think we have a set of science standards that have a very good chance of getting kids excited about science, rather than afraid of it,” Roman said.

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