Standards

New Ohio Draft Ignores Alternatives to Evolution

By David J. Hoff — September 18, 2002 3 min read
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Supporters of the teaching of evolution are declaring victory in the latest draft of science standards under consideration in Ohio.

They say the proposal would offer an accurate treatment of the theory of how the animal kingdom evolved, which is almost universally accepted among scientists, though questioned by a few. What’s more, the Ohio draft ignores alternative theories that suggest evolution hasn’t always happened naturally and could have been the work of an “intelligent designer.”

Gerald D. Skoog, the dean of the Texas Tech University college of education, in Lubbock, and an expert on how evolution is taught in schools, called the Ohio standards “quite comprehensive. They’re really solid standards.”

Those who advocated that the science standards reflect the simmering controversy over the legitimacy of evolution as a theory are disappointed with the draft now circulating among members of the Ohio board of education.

“The current draft standards have an evolution-only approach,” said Robert P. Lattimer, a Hudson, Ohio, resident who is on the 41-member panel that wrote the draft.

Mr. Lattimer said he objects to the current version of the standards because “it does not address any of the points about teaching the controversy.”

After reviewing the latest proposal last week, the state school board’s standards committee forwarded it to the board for debate at its regularly scheduled meeting next month. The board is required by state law to adopt a new version of state science standards by the end of the year.

Latest Flare-Up

Ohio has been the latest battleground over how the theories stemming from the 19th-century work of Charles Darwin ought to be taught in U.S. classrooms. More than 1,000 people attended a state board hearing last spring where proponents and critics debated how the state’s science standards should address evolution. (“Debate Over Teaching of Evolution Theory Shifts to Ohio,” March 20, 2002.)

Backers of a nascent theory called “intelligent design” suggest that evidence for evolution doesn’t rule out the possibility that an outside force such as God helped shape the animal kingdom. Leading scientific organizations dismiss intelligent design because it hasn’t been subjected to professional peer review and maintain that it shouldn’t be part of the K-12 curriculum.

Mr. Lattimer, a research chemist, said he and other members of the group, Science Excellence for All Ohioans, have been urging that the science standards allow teachers to “teach the controversy” over evolution.

Mr. Lattimer said the standards should show evidence challenging evolution, allow teachers to discuss the alternative theories, and include a definition of science that doesn’t limit explanations about evolution to the natural world. None of those points is directly addressed in the current version of the document, he said.

The draft demonstrates that the intelligent-design promoters have failed to sway policymakers in Ohio, said Eugenie C. Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit group that supports the teaching of evolution.

Detractors of the Darwinian theory started by trying to put intelligent design on equal standing with evolution. When that effort failed, they tried to require that alternatives be taught, Ms. Scott said.

“The intelligent-design people have lost big in Ohio,” she said. “The alternatives are religion, and they don’t belong in science classes.”

Social Studies Question

Where they could end up, though, is in another area of the curriculum.

At the standards-committee meeting last week, Mr. Lattimer said, some members talked about putting the intelligent- design theory in Ohio’s social studies standards, which are also slated to be rewritten by the end of the year.

That solution would not satisfy evolution’s critics, he said.

“Our concern is that evolution is being treated so one- sidedly in the science standards,” he said. “That would not satisfy our concerns.”

Mr. Lattimer said his group would lobby the state board to insert disclaimers about evolution in the standards’ life-science section.

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