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Dec 14 2005
Education panel wants S.C. board to re-evaluate biology stan

Evolution debate simmers

Education panel wants S.C. board to re-evaluate biology standards


The Post and Courier

The national controversy over teaching creationism alongside evolution might be about to tear through South Carolina.

The Education Oversight Committee, which reviews standards used by teachers in the classroom, voted 8-7 this week to remove the standards used to teach evolution in high school biology classes, in order to further study them.

The committee only has the power to recommend changes to the S.C. Board of Education, which must approve the curriculum standards.

Changes could open the door for introducing "intelligent design." The controversy over science classes learning intelligent design, the idea that the universe is so complex that a higher power must have created it, has driven a wedge between families, teachers, school districts and state boards across the county.

Proponents say intelligent design is a valid alternative explanation to evolution, Charles Darwin's scientifically supported theory that life evolved over millions of years from simple cells that adapted to their environment. Opponents say intelligent design is belief, not science.

State Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, an Education Oversight Committee member, made the proposal, saying he wanted to encourage "critical analysis of a controversial subject in the classrooms."

The vote came to the horror of college and public school educators who attended the meeting Monday.

"They withheld the heart of the biology curriculum. That's unprecedented. These standards were written by the National Academy of Science," said Robert Dillon, a College of Charleston biology professor and a West Ashley schools constituent board member.

The move is a step into the unknown for the seven-year-old committee, whose job is to vote to approve or disapprove the board's revision of subject standards as a whole.

The biology standards up for revision cover 100 pages. Only the section covering genetics and evolution was disapproved.

The state education board holds its regular meeting today and is expected to take up the issue. But nobody really knows who does what next, and many expect the issue to go to the General Assembly.

In a press release Tuesday, the committee's director, Jo Anne Anderson, conceded it doesn't have the authority to rewrite standards and asked the state board to recommend appointees organize "a balanced panel of scientists and science educators" to advise the committee on what rewrite to recommend to the board.

State school board member Terrye Seckinger of Isle of Palms predicted the board will wait to see the committee's rewrite before acting. That is expected in February.

"I have always advocated for what I consider a truthful approach to biology," Seckinger said. She'd like to see "open discussion" of the theories in high school biology classes.

"The nearer you get down to microbiology, the more you understand there is no explanation for how DNA came together," she said. "I think there is a lot of rhetoric that does cloud the issue to a degree, and that's unfortunate."

Dillon said: "That's nonsense. It's simple nonsense. We do have extremely fine and detailed theories to explain everything in science. There is no alternate to evolution that is science." Dillon compared the proposal to having to teach alchemy alongside chemistry and astrology alongside astronomy.

"South Carolina schools already have excellent high school biology standards in place that were approved in 2000. Until new standards are approved, high schools will use the same ones they've been using," said state schools Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum in an e-mail through her press office.

The e-mail continued: "The process of developing new science standards took an entire year and involved science teachers and university professors from all over South Carolina. There was a two-month review process that solicited suggestions from the general public. There were extensive State Board of Education discussions in September and November on the merits of the standards. To see a year of hard work by all of those people treated so dismissively during a short debate by the EOC - well, let's just say it was very disappointing."

Karen Floyd, a Republican candidate for state education superintendent, has said she will encourage the teaching of intelligent design in public schools during her campaign.

Among incidents across the country, the Kansas Board of Education voted amid rancorous debate to allow creationism to be taught. And in Dover, Pa., the school board was sued by eight families after trying to introduce intelligent design into science classes, and then all eight members were voted out in November.

The next day, religious television host Pat Robertson warned the town it could face disaster for voting God out of the city.

Contact Bo Petersen at 745-5852 or

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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