Geotimes
Web Extra Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Evolution on the mind in Georgia

Over the past month, evolution has been back in the news. In an 800-page draft of Georgia's educational standards released for public comment in January, the word "evolution" had been removed from the biology curriculum. After statewide and nationwide uproar, Kathy Cox, the state superintendent of schools who removed the term from the standards, recanted last Thursday, saying in a statement that she "misjudged the situation" and is now recommending that the word evolution be put back in the curriculum.

Cox said she removed the term from the curriculum "in an effort to avoid controversy" but "instead, a greater controversy ensued." She originally suggested using the phrase "biological changes over time" in lieu of "evolution" but still keeping in the basic tenets of evolutionary theory. But scientists and teachers were afraid that she was intentionally opening the door the teaching of intelligent design or creationism, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Cox's staff estimates that they had received nearly 1,000 comments about the curriculum, most of which were critical of the proposed change, according to the Journal-Constitution. Georgia's governor also spoke out against the change, as did former president Jimmy Carter. "As a Christian, a trained engineer and scientist, and a professor at Emory University, I am embarrassed by Superintendent Kathy Cox's attempt to censor and distort the education of Georgia's students," Carter said in a statement. The debate went as far as the state legislature, with some House democrats proposing a bill on Monday to require that the state curriculum conform to the national standards.

Evolution is always a hot-button topic and has been contentious for a number of years in Georgia, where in 2002, the Cobb County school board decided to place a disclaimer in the front of middle and high school biology texts that says that "evolution is a theory, not a fact." Cobb County also voted to allow its teachers to discuss alternatives to biological evolution in the classroom (Geotimes, November 2002).

Much of the state's proposed science standards are derived from the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Benchmarks for Science Literacy publication, which includes evolution as a critical scientific concept that must be taught. Benchmarks specifies how students should progress toward science literacy, recommending what they should know by the time they reach certain grade levels.

However, when writing the state's science standards, Cox chose certain parts of the publication to use and parts to exclude, according to a National Center for Science Education (NCSE) statement.

"There is systematic deletion of evolution," the statement says, which includes biological evolution and geological evolution, including discussion about the age of Earth. In dropping evolution from the standards, NCSE says, Georgia would have regressed.

While reaction is largely positive to Cox's decision to add evolution back into the standards, the Journal-Constitution reports that some scientists still worry that picking and choosing what parts of Benchmarks to include in Georgia's state curriculum, rather than using all of the standards, will dilute Georgia's educational system. They suggest that the board of education insert all of the Benchmarks standards into the Georgia curriculum.

Georgia's biology curriculum will go before the state board of education in May for a vote on all proposed changes.

Megan Sever

Links:

AGI Government Affairs
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Evolution opponents score in Georgia," Geotimes, November 2002

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