Thursday, March 4, 2004

Again, teach the best science


A heated issue most Ohioans thought was settled more than a year ago - how the origins and development of life will be taught in science classes - is again causing controversy.

At the center, again, is the concept of "intelligent design," which proposes that some higher intelligence played a role. Evolutionary scientists scoff at the notion, calling it religious creationism masquerading as science. They say it has no business in the science classroom.

Proponents of intelligent design wanted it included in the curriculum standards, but lost that battle in the fall of 2002 and settled for language that would require students to "investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory."

That solution, which we supported, ended the debate - or so we thought. Last month, the state Board of Education gave a preliminary OK by a 13-4 vote for a model curriculum that included a 10th-grade science chapter titled "Critical analysis of evolution" that would encourage students to discuss various critiques of evolution.

Some scientists cried foul, objecting that the chapter had evolved, so to speak, into a stalking horse for intelligent design. They cited a "clear paper trail" in some specific references the chapter cites. Defenders said it merely reflected the "teach the controversy" compromise, and noted that the standards specifically state they do not include intelligent design. The board is wrestling anew with the issue, and a final vote comes Tuesday.

Evolutionary scientists have a point when they say the unit opened the door to intelligent design - a point board officials have now acknowledged by removing a controversial pro-intelligent design book, Jonathan Wells' Icons of Evolution, from the bibliography.

But scientists' warnings that including a critical analysis of evolution will make Ohio the nation's laughingstock seem far-fetched. One board member, James Turner of Cincinnati, says the standards as now written are "probably the most pro-evolution standards in the country."

Some now believe too much has been removed from the critical analysis section. Others seem to believe that any material that does not foster an uncritical acceptance of evolution should be removed from the standards.

Bear in mind that while the state standards specify what has to be taught, they do not limit what also can be taught. Local school districts have the option of adding other concepts to the origins discussion.

As we said two years ago, schools should teach the best science, not try to balance competing ideologies. We also argued that the best science is a science that constantly challenges its own assumptions, and teaches students to do likewise.

The book is not closed on evolutionary biology, subatomic physics or almost any other scientific discipline you care to name. There are questions for which we don't have answers. We should teach the best of what we do know - which in this case clearly is evolution - but also teach students to keep questioning and wondering.

What do you think?

Should Ohio schools encourage students to take a critical look at evolution? Should alternative theories be discussed? Give us your opinion in 100 words or fewer. E-mail to letters@enquirer.com, fax to (513) 768-8610, or write to Science Standards, Enquirer Editorial Page, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH 45202. Include your name, address, neighborhood, daytime phone and a photo of yourself if possible.

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