Panelrejects biology model :Debate erupts over way evolution taught in10th gradeBy Chris Dixon

Tuesday,February14, 2006

Edition: FINAL,Section: NATION, Page A1      

Columbia— The state Education Oversight Committee voted 10-2 Monday toreject standards for teaching evolution in 10th- grade biologyclasses and sent a proposed compromise to the state Board ofEducation that calls for adding critical analysis of the theory tothe curriculum.

The panel votedagainst adopting language previously approved by the Board ofEducation, and the vote was made over the objection of EducationSuperintendent Inez Tenenbaum, who sits on the committee as anonvoting member.

But the decisioncould lead to a stalemate between the two panels over thecontroversial issue.

Tenenbaum hassaid the Board of Education already has adjusted wording in thestandards in response to concerns presented by state Sen. Mike Fair,R-Greenville.

In a contentiousdebate, committee members Fair, Rep. Bob Walker,

R-Landrum, andKaren Iacovelli, a governor's business appointee, sparred withTenenbaum over including the term "critically analyze" in statebiology standards in sections that teach students about evolution.

Supporters of thecurrent standards argue that they have been thoroughly vetted andapproved by nationally renowned scientists and science educators andthat the real motive of opponents is to discredit evolution in favorof religion-based teachings such as intelligent design. Opponentshave argued that the standards do not allow for teaching validcriticisms and shortcomings in evolutionary theory.

The standards inplace since 2000 have earned the state high marks among educators andthe Fordham Foundation, an educational think tank highly regardedamong many conservatives. The new additions are part of the regularfive-year revision of state teaching standards.

While those inthe committee meeting denied Tenenbaum's assertion that the injectionof the term "critically analyze" into biology teaching was part of areligious agenda, the use of the term is generally associated withthe Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that hasadvocated the replacement of "materialistic explanations with thetheistic understanding that nature and human beings are created byGod." One of it's strategies is "To see intelligent design theory asthe dominant perspective in science."

While it haspublicly disavowed the teaching of intelligent design in recentstatements, the institute has staked out strong views in favor ofcritical analysis and even sent its Washington, D.C., spokesman,Logan Gage, to a Jan. 23 meeting of the oversight committee inColumbia.

He handed out apress release entitled: "South Carolina Has Historic Opportunity toAdopt Science Standards for Critical Analysis of Evolution."

During themeeting, Tenenbaum argued that the standards the Board of Educationoriginally agreed upon were sound and that the state's evolutionteachings had only recently come under attack after the DiscoveryInstitute targeted the state's science curriculum.

She suggestedthat creation could legally be taught in the context of a historyclass and also argued that it would become very difficult forteachers to instruct evolutionary curriculum in a testable way.

"Criticalanalysis is very good, but by singling out evolution with criticalanalysis, you imply a controversy that does not exist within thescientific community," she said.

Committee membersFair and Walker said they were not pushing a religious agenda andtook issue with Tenenbaum's claim that evolution was settled science.They also pointed to incorrect sections dealing with evolution instate textbooks as proof that critical analysis was a good idea.

"We're onlyteaching one side of evolution," Walker said.

"We're not askingfor creationism or intelligent design. We're asking young people tolearn what's right and wrong with evolution."

In voting downthe standards, committee Chairman Bob Staton, a Republican candidatefor state superintendent of Education, offered compromise languagefor Tenenbaum to take back to the Board of Education for approval.

Staton's proposedwording would mean that students themselves must be able tocritically analyze evolution.

Under the wordingpreviously approved by the Board of Education, students would have tounderstand how scientists use data to critically analyze the theory.

"We have beenworking at a compromise for months," Staton said, "and today we wereable to hammer out one that will benefit our children instead ofusing the issue as a political football."

For her part,Tenenbaum said she was not involved in the compromise and it was tooearly to tell whether the Board of Education would approve therevised language when it meets in March or go with the standards thathave already been approved.

"We've negotiatedin good faith," she said, "and to get here and have everythingsubject to change without listening to input from the scientificcommunity is very disappointing."

The AssociatedPress contributed to this report.

Reach Chris Dixonat

cdixon@postandcourier.comor (843) 745-5855.


Standard B-5 ascurrently written:

The student willdemonstrate an understanding of biological evolution and thediversity of life.


--B-5.1.Summarize the process of natural selection.

--B-5.2. Explainhow genetic processes result in the continuity of life forms overtime.

--B-5.3. Explainhow diversity within a species increases the chances of its survival.

--B-5.4. Explainhow genetic variability and environmental factors lead to biologicalevolution.

--B-5.5.Exemplify scientific evidence in the fields of anatomy, embryology,biochemistry and paleontology that underlies the theory of biologicalevolution.

--B-5.6.Summarize ways that scientists use data from a variety of sources toinvestigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.

--B-5.7. Use aphylogenetic tree to identify the evolutionary relationships amongdifferent groups of organisms.

The compromiselanguage worked out by the EOC says it would approve all the aboveindicators if the standard were rewritten to say:

The student willdemonstrate an understanding of biological evolution and thediversity of life by using data from a variety of scientific sourcesto investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.