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Creationists plan to fight curriculum standards

Evolution debate

Friday, March 10, 2000

BY David Lore
Dispatch Science Reporter

The debate over what to teach Ohio students about evolution apparently isn't over, despite State Board of Education approval Tuesday of new standards. Pro-evolution forces, led by the Ohio Academy of Science, won the first round, but creationists say they have just begun to fight. "We intend to marshal our forces and get a whole lot more people involved," said Gary Martin of Gahanna, founder of the Young Earth Creation Club. "We know that thousands will object to this both on scientific and religious grounds."

The Ohio Department of Education, after reviewing more than 120 written comments from the public, suggested new science "competencies" last week as part of an overall curriculum revision for the 12th-grade proficiency test. Board members subsequently revised those sections dealing with cosmic and biological evolution to accommodate scientific viewpoints. Now, the science standards for the first time direct teachers to instruct students on the evolution of the universe and the planet, as well as on the biological process of natural selection. But the board rejected 9-5 an amendment to require the teaching of scientific evolution and "intelligent design," the belief that the universe and its creatures came into being through the act of a creator.

Lynn Elfner, executive director of the Ohio Academy of Science, said the academy wanted to see Ohio's standards -- for the first time -- use the word evolution in reference to the development of the universe and of living things. "We got two-thirds of what we want," Elfner said. "We wanted the 'E-word' in three places, and we got it in two. We got it in terms of cosmic and Earth history but we're still looking for it in the paragraph on biological evolution."

Elfner said the academy will pursue the issue with another state panel that is drafting a slate of expectations as to what seniors should know when they leave high school. This group, the Joint Council of the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Board of Regents, meets April 10-11 at Washington State Community College in Marietta, Ohio.

Since 1994, Ohio curriculum guides have favored the term "change over time" to play down any controversy over evolution. Some educators argue it's not necessary to use the word evolution in state standards as long as the intent is clear.

Elfner disagrees. "If you don't prescribe it (evolution), it won't be taught," he said. "If you don't use the right language, there will be all sorts of excuses offered for not teaching it."

Martin called the board action "blatantly pro-evolutionary" and said he hopes the Joint Council will consider the concerns of creationists. He criticized the state board for adopting the language without allowing time for public comment on various drafts. Creationists are not asking the state to require the teaching of evolution and intelligent design, he said.

Instead, they want guarantees in the standards that arguments or materials critical of the theory of evolution can be introduced, he said. This was among language changes suggested by creationist speakers but not adopted by the board.

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