'Loophole' Seen Spurring Push for Alternatives to Evolution

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BOSTON--The U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively banned "creation science'' from the science classroom contains a loophole that creationists are using to press public schools to include alternatives to evolution in the curriculum, according to researchers who spoke here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science this month.

In its 1987 decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, the Court struck down a Louisiana law requiring equal time for the teaching of creationism in public schools. But in his majority opinion, Associate Justice William J. Brennan noted that "scientific'' alternatives to evolution may be taught, said Eugenie Scott, the director of the California-based National Center for Science Education.

Recently, panelists at a session here said, conservative Christian groups in a number of districts have used that loophole to champion vague, religiously based revisions of the teaching that creation came into existence by divine power some 6,000 years ago.

One approach is "sudden appearance theory,'' which holds that all life appeared within the last 10,000 years--a term that may easily be confused with a scientific concept of the same name that implies a timeframe of billions of years. Another is "intelligent design,'' which holds that some sentient force mapped out the pattern of existence.

Howard J. Van Till, a professor in the physics department at Calvin College, contended that some of the popular support for alternatives to evolution stems from a reaction to some dogmatically atheistic scientists.

He noted that extremists on both sides of the debate use the same arguments about the geologically "sudden'' appearance of certain fossils to argue for--or against--the divine origin of life.

But, he added, such a debate is theological, not scientific.

"Your differences are profound,'' he said rhetorically. "So please, conduct your battles on your own turf.''

Motivating Hispanic students to succeed in mathematics may require more than simply changing the curriculum, according to researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Rather, it requires a broad-based approach that involves the entire community in the effort to teach the long-term value of an academic subject that many Hispanic parents may never have taken.

Drawing on a long-term study they are conducting in a California school district, Ronald W. Henderson, a professor of education and psychology, and Edward M. Landesman, a math professor, said that many Hispanic parents, particularly recent immigrants, who wish their children to succeed academically are simply unequipped to assist them.

"What little information about careers is available in schools tends to be superficial, and parents who have little formal education--particularly those who have never attended American schools--simply do not know how our system works,'' Mr. Henderson noted.

One solution, the researchers suggest, is for business and civic groups to help Hispanic students prepare for the work world.--P.W.

Vol. 12, Issue 22

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