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Geotimes
 Published by the American Geological Institute
December 2000
Newsmagazine of the Earth Sciences

Feature

Hot Spots across the U.S.
By Kristina Bartlett


The controversy over teaching evolution or creationism appears in many forms and in almost every state. Below is a sampling of recent events.


Geologic map of the contiguous United States draped over a shaded-relief digital elevation model. Different colors show  varying rock ages, from Precambrian to Cenozoic. By Jose F. Vigil et al. at the U.S. Geological Survey. Visit tapestry.usgs.gov.

California 1
New Mexico 2
Oklahoma 3
Ohio 4
Kansas 5
New York 6
Kentucky 7
South Carolina 8
Alabama 9

California 1
In February, Nigel Hughes, an associate professor of paleobiology at the University of California-Riverside, was watching his local PBS station. A special production featured John McIntosh, a science teacher at Colton High School in Colton, Calif., explaining how he used his search for the biblical Noah's Ark as a way to teach his students the scientific method. Hughes and other scientists were concerned and wrote a letter to the high school's principal. After many phone calls, an offer from the PBS station to go on the air with a rebuttal to McIntosh's message, and a letter from the Church State Council of Westlake, Calif., threatening legal action, Hughes got a letter in May from the school district's superintendent. The letter said McIntosh had been instructed not to incorporate religious beliefs into his teaching.

New Mexico 2
On Oct. 9, 1999, the state board of education in New Mexico mandated teaching evolution as part of its science curriculum, making its standards match national standards. In 1996, the board ruled that evolution need not be taught with the life sciences. Soon after the vote, a group of scientists formed the Coalition for Excellence in Science Education. The coalition worked to put scientists on the school board. Marshall Berman, a senior manager at Sandia National Labs, is vice president of the school board. “Marshall’s tenure has certainly helped to keep New Mexico safe from pseudoscience,” says Steve Brugge, a science teacher and member of the Coalition. “One scientist in the right place can make a huge difference.”

Oklahoma 3
Last year, the Oklahoma Textbook Committee voted to include the Alabama disclaimer (see right) in the state’s biology textbooks. But this February, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson ruled the committee had no authority to require the disclaimer. Science textbooks in Oklahoma won’t be up for review again until 2005.

Ohio 4
In May, Rep. Ron Hood (R-Cantfield) of the Ohio House of Representatives proposed legislation that would require a teacher, when teaching evolution, to explain evidence that does and does not support it. Hood proposed similar legislation in 1996, but then and now his proposal didn’t make it out of committee. But Steve Edinger, an Ohio University biological sciences instructor who has rallied scientists against Hood’s campaign, isn’t relaxing yet. “Ron Hood has vowed to keep introducing this bill every session until it’s finally passed into law,” Edinger says. A joint council of the Department of Education and Ohio Board of Regents is reviewing the proficiency tests Ohio twelfth-graders take, and the science requirements could be reviewed early next year, Edinger says. Meanwhile, the Ohio Academy of Science has been working to get the word evolution into the state’s science standards. The State Board of Education voted in March that teachers must use the “E-word” when they teach the evolution of Earth and the universe, but the section on biological evolution still uses the phrase “change over time.”

Kansas 5
Last year, the Kansas State Board of Education voted to eliminate references to evolution, the age of Earth and the origin of the universe from its science standards. This year, voters elected moderate school board candidates who campaigned on their support for evolution. Scientists who had drafted a “pro-evolution” set of standards early last year are hopeful that the new board will replace the year-old standards with a set that includes evolution. (See also page 16.)

New York 6
A publicly funded charter school opening next fall in Rochester, N.Y., plans to teach creationism. John R. Walker, a business professor at a Rochester Christian college and sponsor of the school’s charter application, has been quoted as saying evolution remains unproven so the charter school will teach creationism as an alternative to evolution. The Rochester school earned its charter in January from State University of New York officials. The school, called the Rochester Leadership Academy, is run by National Heritage Academies, a company based in Grand Rapids, Mich., that operates 22 charter schools in Michigan and North Carolina. Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union, acting on behalf of five parents, sued one of the company’s schools, the Vanguard Charter School Academy in Michigan, for violating the separation of church and state. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in September.

Kentucky 7
The Kentucky-based Answers in Genesis group plans to build a creationism museum that would include displays of dinosaurs and humans living together. The museum, to be built near the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, gained regulatory approval in March. In January, the Kentucky Science Teachers Association asked the state board of education to put the world “evolution” back into the state’s science guidelines. Last year, the state’s education department replaced the word evolution with the phrase “change over time” in portions of the life sciences guidelines, making the change after the final curriculum was approved.

South Carolina 8
South Carolina’s science standards came up for review last year, and scientists were ready. The standards were open to public review Jan. 12, and the board’s science coordinator, Linda Sinclair, enlisted the help of scientists to respond to any creationist opposition. The scientists attended public comment periods and board meetings to support evolution. The board adopted new science standards that are based on the National Science Education Standards and include evolution. (Geotimes, September 2000).

Alabama 9
Early next year, the Alabama State Board of Education is expected to vote on a new draft of the state’s science standards. Alabama made national headlines in 1995 when its state board of education voted to include a disclaimer in new biology textbooks. The disclaimer reads, in part: “This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory, which some scientists present as scientific explanation for the origin of living things, such as plants and humans. No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life´s origins should be considered as theory, not fact. ” The board adopted this disclaimer because textbooks that addressed evolution contrasted with the science standards the board adopted in 1995, which did not support teaching evolution. The disclaimer still appears in Alabama textbooks.
 


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