The votes are in, and it’s official. On 15 October, the state school board in Ohio, USA, voted in favor of an “intent” to pass new science standards, including a controversial amendment that would promote the teaching of debates about evolution. Is this good news? Decide for yourself.
The facts are fairly straightforward.
- Polls have shown that the vast majority of people in Ohio favor teaching different viewpoints about origins (Teach “Intelligent Design”).
- Inspired by a public outpouring of sentiment in favor of “teaching the controversy,” board members added an amendment to the standards, which says that students should be able to “describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.”1
- If the amended science standards get final approval in December, Ohio will become the first US state to officially encourage teachers to teach controversies about evolution.
The significance of this vote is not as clear as it might seem, however. Both evolutionists and proponents of “intelligent design” have found the wording acceptable because they interpret the “controversy” differently.
- Tom McClain, an evolutionist on the Ohio school board, said he was content with the new standards: “What we’re essentially saying here is evolution is a very strong theory, and students can learn from it by analyzing evidence as it is accumulated over time.”2 He also said, “Evolution is a longstanding theory that has enormous factual basis. The evidence on the theory continues to grow. Naturally, that would be part of the document.”3
- John Rowe, an evolutionist who heads the science/health curriculum council for Cincinnati Public Schools, said he likes the emphasis on evolution and true science: “I’m fine with children being exposed to different ways of thinking, but just not in my science classroom. I don’t want kids thinking science is when you make things up randomly. You have to be able to test things. You have to be able to set up hypotheses to find out if they’re wrong. If you can’t do that, then it doesn’t meet the definition of what science is.”4
- Michael Cochran, a board member who supports intelligent design and who co-sponsored the amendment, is also content with the new version of the standards: “The amendment allows teachers and students in Ohio to understand that evolution really is a theory and that there are competing views and different interpretations. This allows them to be discussed.”5
- Deborah Owens Fink, another board member who has supported teaching intelligent design, says: “Teachers will have the freedom to introduce scientific evidence critically analyzing all aspects of evolutionary theory. We’re just affirming what should be taking place already and making sure teachers recognize that they can do this.”
Evolutionists are excited because the new science standards give a prominent place to “evolution,” a term missing in the previous standards. Evolutionists are also pleased that the standards do not mention intelligent design.
Proponents of intelligent design (ID) are excited, they say, because the new standards clarify and reinforce the freedoms of teachers to discuss controversies about evolution. They believe that teachers have had this freedom all along, but it is now being set in stone. According to the ID people, the new standards will leave it to local school districts to decide how to handle intelligent design. (Note that early in the curriculum debate, many proponents of ID wanted to include “intelligent design”-by name-in the standards, but they later shifted the emphasis to “teaching the controversy,” which they believe would allow more alternatives than just intelligent design. For more information about ID, see AiG’s views on the Intelligent Design Movement.)
It is encouraging to see some openness in Ohio to teaching controversies, despite being couched in such flimsy language and undefined terms. The amendment says that students should learn how scientists “critically analyze” evolution, but this could mean two things: (1) students need to learn the different views about how evolution works (but not question the reality of evolution), or (2) students need to learn alternative views to evolution. Evolutionists prefer the former interpretation. In fact, Lynn Elfner, who directs the Ohio Academy of Science, said he thinks that the amendment is pointless because all fields of science already allow open debate about how each theory works.6 ID proponents, on the other hand, want the amendment to open the door to alternative theories.
So what are the practical benefits of these revised science standards? Well, technically they will not even become official until after the state board presents them to the education committees of the Ohio legislature in November, and then the board must make a final vote by 31 December. Furthermore, teachers in local school districts are not required to abide by the standards (although teachers have a powerful incentive to follow the standards, because state tests are based on these standards). The new amendment may well provide encouragement and emboldening for Christian teachers to do what they have probably been free to do all along, i.e. teach evolution (and long ages) “warts and all,” including the problems with it.
It’s shocking to see just how much confusion and misunderstanding has attended Ohio’s controversy over curriculum standards. Answers in Genesis sincerely hopes that Ohio will make an unambiguous stand in defense of the liberty of teachers and students to discuss the problems with evolution and to offer alternative explanations.
Past Articles on Ohio’s Developing Story
Vote on Evolution in Ohio 7 September 2002
Teach “Intelligent Design” 14 June 2002
Eyes of the Science World Turn to Columbus, Ohio, USA 13 March 2002
Ohio—First US State to Teach “Intelligent Design”? 8 March 2002
Creationism battle heats up again in US schools 8 February 2002
AiG’s Commentary on the ID (Intelligent Design) Movement 28 August 2002
Who Won in Cobb County? 1 October 2002
Equal time for creation in Cobb County? 26 August 2002
Supreme Court: Don’t Teach Evolution Difficulties! 10 January 2002
Honest Science “Left Behind” in U.S. Education Bill 7 January 2002