The politics of teaching evolution in Texas comes down to one word


Highlights

The State Board of Education is expected to vote Friday on new science curriculum standards.

A committee appointed by the board has pushed for changes to or elimination of anti-evolution standards.

The board has voted to keep some ability to teach scientific phenomena seen as challenging evolution.

The State Board of Education is expected to resolve on Friday a months-long tug-of-war over whether Texas high school students should continue learning theories that challenge the scientific understanding of evolution.

It started in January when a committee of educators and scholars appointed by the State Board of Education to streamline the state’s voluminous biology curriculum standards recommended changing or removing four standards that require students to learn about scientific phenomena that critics say evolution can’t readily explain. The majority-Republican board in February proposed restoring most of the language so that students would continue to evaluate the complexity of cells, the origin of DNA and abrupt appearance and stasis in fossil records.

Democrats on the board, all of them whom voted against restoring the standards, feared that the language would invite teaching creationism and intelligent design in the classroom.

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The committee has now softened the language that the board has proposed restoring, asking that instead of “evaluating,” students should “identify” the scientific explanation of the origin of DNA and compare and contrast cell complexities.

The board is slated to vote Friday on final adoption of the streamlined biology curriculum, which would go into effect in the fall.

“It becomes obvious that there were no ideological underpinnings to our recommendations, that we didn’t see some magic meaning in the word ‘evaluate,’” committee member Ron Wetherington said to the board Tuesday.

Wetherington, a Southern Methodist University professor, said the committee’s recommendation is meant to save teachers time in the classroom by reducing the number of days spent on the subject matter from nine days to four or five.

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Skeptics of evolution say the committee is trying to indoctrinate Texas students into learning one side of a scientific explanation, depriving them of the ability to think critically about the origin of life.

“I thought that the whole idea of education was to ask questions, to consider alternative view points and to probe for the truth,” Stephen Smith, who opposes teaching evolution alone, told board members. “Evolution is a myth. For an evolutionist, it is a religious philosophy. There’s not a shred of evidence that one species evolved from another.”

By the end of the public testimony on the biology curriculum standards Tuesday, some of the committee members were willing to compromise with the board on other language of the curriculum standards in question. Instead of “evaluate” or “identify” scientific explanations of the origin of DNA and cell complexities, students would “examine” them.



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