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California Science Framework Stressing Evolution Adopted

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After making what supporters of creationism called "cosmetic changes," the California Board of Education last week unanimously approved a curricular framework for science that includes evolution as a key theme of instruction.

The 187-page document, which is expected to guide the selection of textbooks in the largest state, had won praise from science educators and civil libertarians for its emphasis on evolution, as well as for its approach to teaching.

Unlike much current science instruction, the framework, which was approved by the board's curriculum commission in September, is organized by themes, rather than specific topics. Such an approach, commission members said, would encourage teachers to focus on the connections between science disciplines and reduce the emphasis on memorizing discrete facts.

In adopting the document, the board approved without comment the new approach. However, it agreed to delete three passages the commission had included to explain its emphasis on evolution.

A statement that "there is no scientific dispute that evolution has occurred and continues to occur; this is why evolution is regarded as a scientific fact."

A description of a National Academy of Sciences report on evolution and creationism, and the U.S. Supreme Court's 1987 ruling overturning a Louisiana law mandating the teaching of creationism.

Beverly Sheldon, director of research for the Traditional Values Coalition, an Anaheim-based group that claims to represent 6,000 churches statewide, called the changes "cosmetic," and predicted that supporters of creationism will take the board to court for violating the state's policy against "dogmatism" in science instruction.

"They were told to remove references to teaching evolution as fact,'' Ms. Sheldon said. "They deleted a sentence from the introduction, but left in place all the examples of evolution as fact."

The board's action, she said, will move teachers "further from realizing their constitutional right to teach alternative theories if they choose to."

But Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education Inc., a group in Berkeley that advocates the teaching of evolution, countered that the board's action will ensure good science teaching in the state.

"I'll take 98 percent of a loaf, and forgo the other 2 percent, if the alternative is not having a strong scientific and educational document," she said.

"A slice was taken off" the loaf, Ms. Scott added. "It looks funny, but it's still nutritious."

Michael Hudson, Western director of People for the American Way, a civil-liberties group, was less sanguine about the board's actions. The changes, he said, leave open the possibility that publishers and teachers could downplay the importance of evolution in science teaching.

"The state board had the chance to slam the door on the creationism-evolution debate," he said. "Unfortunately, they left it ajar."

"The question is," he added, "will those changes be an invitation to publishers to weaken coverage of evolution in their textbooks?"

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