Skirmishes continue to break out in the US over science education in public schools. The latest struggles focus on state education standards for the teaching of science. Boards of education across the nation are now “looking over their shoulders,” watching to see what happens to the next state that gets in the creation/evolution limelight. The spotlight is now on Ohio.
Ohio, a relatively quiet Midwestern state far from the previous battlegrounds of Louisiana,1 Kansas2 and Minnesota,3 is host to the next round in the creation/evolution debate. Pro-evolutionists have squared off against advocates of “intelligent design”–the latter argue that students need to be taught the weaknesses of evolutionary theory and understand alternative explanations of the facts (e.g. the complexity of life shows intelligent design).
The buildup to these recent confrontations goes back to the Reagan Administration’s explosive report Nation at Risk (1983), which revealed the appalling condition of public education in the United States. In the aftermath, educators began scrambling to make academic improvements. Their proposals centered on raising the standards that students are expected to achieve. (Critics of this approach argue–with some justification–that raising test standards does little to improve the quality of actual classroom instruction; put another way, instructors “teach to the test’).
Although Presidents Bush and Clinton tried to impose national standards on all public school students, their efforts were blocked; and the war over standards defaulted to the fifty states.
Science standards are among the prickliest issues. To educate what they would call first-class students, many of the nation’s influential educators argue that well-informed students must be able to explain the world from an evolutionary framework. Yet, unlike all other Western nations, the United States has a large majority of citizens who reject this anti-Christian framework (see Teaching Creation and Evolution in Schools). Many parents resent bureaucrats forcing their children to accept evolution and to answer test questions accordingly.
Some states have tried to avoid the issue altogether, either by keeping the word “evolution” out of their standards or by talking around the topic (see News Release: “Evolution Out of the Curriculum, but in the Tests”). To combat these compromise tactics, secular humanists produced a condemning “report card” on the states, ranking them based on the evolutionary content in their standards4 Thirteen states flunked the test, encouraging red-faced legislators to initiate changes in the standards.
Surely not in Ohio
That’s where the story picks up in Ohio.
Ohio was one of the states that flunked the report card. A bill, passed in 2000 without any popular support, was designed to restructure the Ohio board of education and, among other things, push through a pro-evolution agenda in the state’s science standards.
A move to develop new science content standards had already begun in 1997 under the direction of the Ohio board of education. The writing team first met in June 2001, with plans to allow public comments in the spring of 2002, followed by final revisions and official adoption of the standards by the state board in December 2002.
A number of creationists in Ohio, however, were upset when they discovered that the first draft of the standards was filled with evolutionary content, without any allowance for alternative explanations of life’s origins or even a questioning of evolution. In the uproar, the state board held a special meeting on 4 February 2002 to investigate the process that the writing team (and advisory committee) used to draft the science standards.
The next draft, to be open to public comments, is set to be released this April.
Meanwhile, as educators were tackling this issue, Ohio legislators entered the fray, proposing a couple of education bills in the state House. One would give the state’s House and Senate an opportunity to review the science standards and make changes.5 The other bill would require (reasonably, we might add) that instructional programs “encourage the presentation of scientific evidence objectively and disclose the historical nature of origins of life science and any material assumptions on which the explanation is based.”6 It goes on to say,
“It is the intent of the general assembly that to enhance the effectiveness of science education and to promote academic freedom and the neutrality of state government with respect to teachings that touch religious and nonreligious beliefs, it is necessary and desirable that “origins science,” which seeks to explain the origins of life and its diversity, be conducted and taught objectively and without religious, naturalistic, or philosophic bias or assumption.”
AiG encourages all Ohioans to voice their concerns, as appropriate. Yet every Christian–nationally and internationally–must recognize the significance of this debate. The issues are the same everywhere, and bad precedents are sure to be widely imitated and then set in stone as law.
As the origins debate continues to rage, Christians need to see the significant drawbacks to forcing public-school instructors to teach creation. AiG has been clear about its position: “While we don’t support compulsion to teach the creation position (imagine how unbelieving teachers would distort our position), it would be good if teachers had the legislative freedom and encouragement to present critiques of evolution and discuss alternatives” (from a commentary on the failed effort to include a “balanced treatment” clause in the new US federal education bill, titled Honest Science “Left Behind” in U.S. Education Bill).
Such a position would provide true academic freedom in a public education system that currently and exclusively indoctrinates young people in the worldview of evolution.