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AAAS Urges South Carolina Educators to “Resist Efforts to Weaken Science Education”
As the South Carolina Board of Education prepares to consider changes to state biology standards March 8, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on February 28 urged officials to “resist efforts to weaken science education.”
In a letter to Joe Isaac, chair of the State Board of Education, AAAS Board Chair Gilbert S. Omenn said that proposed alternative language would undermine the teaching of evolution and confuse students about the nature of science versus religion.
The Education Oversight Committee, advised in part by two scientists representing a leading anti-evolution group, has recommended changing the way that biology is taught to K-12 students. The alternative language, suggesting that students should “critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory,” superficially seems reasonable, Omenn noted.
But, nationwide, these same words have become code for those who wish to insert one particular type of religion into science classes, AAAS officials said. More than a dozen pending state laws, including South Carolina S 909, sponsored by Sen. Mike Fair (R-Greenville), would diminish the quality of science education by emphasizing “flaws” in the theory, or by calling for more critical thinking though only regarding evolution.
“The proposed changes to South Carolina’s biology standards would resuscitate an unnecessary and artificial conflict between scientific facts and faith,” said Omenn, professor of medicine, genetics and public health at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. “Bringing this staged conflict back to life would only confuse South Carolina’s students about the nature of science, while distorting their understanding of how science relates to religion.”
Further, Omenn said, “The alternative language threatens to diminish the very personal nature of religious faith, by suggesting that the rich diversity of beliefs could ever be fairly portrayed as a single viewpoint in a science classroom.”
As President Bush pointed out in his latest State of the Union Address, at a time when America is facing unprecedented challenges to protect our national security, to find new energy sources, and to defend against diseases such as Avian flu “the nation cannot afford to compromise the quality of its science education,” AAAS noted.
The stakes are especially high in South Carolina, which has established a record of excellence in science education, Omenn said. A recent report on state science standards by the Fordham Foundation applauded the treatment of evolution in South Carolina’s 2000 Science Curriculum Standards as “exemplary” and granted South Carolina an “A” grade, one of only seven awarded in the nation.
In closing, Omenn wrote: “We urge you to maintain those high standards by rejecting the language proposed by the EOC and retaining your standards as originally written: ‘The student will demonstrate an understanding of biological evolution and the diversity of life.’”
AAAS has consistently opposed efforts to insert non-scientific content into science classrooms, though the organization does not seek to inhibit discussions of religion in other, more suitable settings. Science and religion are not in opposition and can readily co-exist in the context of many people’s lives, although they occupy different domains, said AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner, executive publisher of the journal Science.
“Creationism and intelligent design may be perfectly appropriate in courses dealing with philosophy, religion, family teachings or world views,” Leshner said. “But, South Carolina’s State Board of Education should stick to teaching science in science classrooms.”
3 March 2006