Societies Continue Efforts to Support K-12 Teaching of Evolution Theory

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Publication date: 
24 March 2004

In cooperation with many of its Member Societies, AIP continues to track efforts around the country that could weaken the teaching of evolution in K-12 science classrooms. The most recent action taken by the societies was a letter to the Ohio Board of Education. Earlier this year, as part of a model curriculum for classroom science, Ohio's Board considered not only lesson plans teaching evolution, but also a lesson plan presenting a so-called "critical analysis" of the theory of evolution. According to correspondence from National Academy of Sciences President Bruce Alberts to the President of the Ohio Board of Education, this lesson plan contains "serious problems" and misrepresentations of the evolutionary theory.

Prior to the Board's final approval of the curriculum, AIP and several of its Member Societies sent a letter to Ohio Board members, urging rejection of "any lesson plans that require students to compare the well-accepted science of evolution with the dubious hypothesis of Intelligent Design creationism." The letter was signed by officials of AIP, the American Physical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the Optical Society of America, the American Astronomical Society, and the Society of Physics Students. The text of the March 4 letter follows:

"Dear [Ohio Board Member]:

"As leaders of scientific organizations with over 2,790 members in Ohio, and 130,000 members nationally, we write to urge all members of the Ohio Board of Education to use accepted peer-reviewed science and pedagogical expertise as the board prepares to adopt state-approved lesson plans. Such a process leads to a strong curriculum of the highest quality, accuracy, and pedagogical appropriateness.

"We write to you now as you cast a final vote for state-approved lesson plans upon which proficiency tests will be based. Please do not approve any lesson plans that require students to compare the well-accepted science of evolution with the dubious hypothesis of Intelligent Design creationism. Intelligent Design is a system of religious beliefs, not a scientific theory. Religious doctrine –in any guise– does not belong in science classrooms.

"At a time when our nation's welfare increasingly depends on technology, it has never been more important for students --our future workforce-- to understand the basic ideas of modern science. In science, evolution has survived extensive testing and repeated verification; it is not a belief, a hunch, or an untested hypothesis. Any dilution of the overwhelming scientific evidence for evolution should sound an alarm to every parent and teacher.

"We urge you to support strong peer-reviewed science in Ohio science classrooms and to make sure those standards are complete. Your diligence will ensure that Ohio students will be better equipped for higher education and the workplace."

On March 9, however, the Board gave final approval to the proposed model curriculum, including the lesson plan on critical analysis of evolution. Teachers are not required to teach the model lessons plans, but the plans are based on state science standards that will form the basis for student proficiency testing.

AIP and several Member Societies were also prepared to send a letter to the Georgia Board of Education in February, as proposed new science standards for the state were being considered that eliminated both the word and the theory of evolution. However, the letter was not sent; after an outcry by scientists, educators, and higher education faculty in the state and former President Jimmy Carter, the Georgia science standards were revised to restore references to evolution.

The societies are also monitoring developments in a number of other states, including Oklahoma and Alabama. In Oklahoma, a bill passed unanimously by the state House of Representatives on February 24 would mandate a disclaimer on all science textbooks used in the state, claiming that evolution is a controversial theory and any statements about life's origins should be considered as theory, not fact. In Alabama, bills have been proposed to give teachers the freedom to teach alternative theories to evolution and protect them from penalties for teaching such theories.

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