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Debate on creationism delayed in South Carolina

Reform panel to study standards dealing with teaching of evolution

The Charlotte Observer December 16, 2005

Columbia - The state Board of Education voted Wednesday to avoid the debate over teaching creationism in S.C. public schools -- for now.

The board decided to continue the use of current biology standards, written in 2000, while an education reform panel studies the wording that deals with teaching evolution.

The Education Oversight Committee had voted Monday to recommend approving new biology content standards with the exception of the part dealing with evolution, which it removed for further study.

In order not to confuse teachers by telling them to teach only part of a new biology standard, Education Department attorney Dale Stuckey recommended the board not "piecemeal" the biology standards and vote to leave the current ones in place.

The board voted 10-5 to adopt new teaching standards for all other subjects, but leave biology standards in place for now.

State Sen. Mike Fair, an oversight panel member whose arguments have sparked the current debate, said Wednesday that, while he personally favors the concept of intelligent design, he is not trying to push that agenda.

"This is not a backdoor attempt, it is not a front-door attempt, it is no attempt to get intelligent design into the classroom," Fair said. "The political climate is not right in South Carolina for that to happen."

State board member Ron Wilson, who voted against adopting the new standards, said he will continue to fight.

"I believe in creation, and I'm opposed to the Darwinists and the evolutionists wanting a monopoly," Wilson said Wednesday.

"They're for censoring what we teach in science, and I think that's horrible."

Panel backs teaching evolution

State board affirms current approach; intelligent design theories excluded, for now

By Bill Robinson, The State (Columbia, South Carolina), December 15, 2005

South Carolina science teachers should continue using the same approach to teaching evolution in high school biology classes they have employed since 2000, the state Board of Education ruled Wednesday.

The panel's decision deals a blow - at least temporarily - to a percolating movement that calls for giving teachers and students more flexibility discussing other views about the origin of life. The alternatives include "creationism," which draws inspiration from the Bible, and "intelligent design," described by its chief proponent as "the theory for making sense of intelligent causes."

The state school board's 10-to-5 vote reaffirmed its support for teaching guidelines that science teachers follow when presenting lessons on "biological evolution and the diversity of life."

"We wanted to give guidance to our schools about how to handle planning until we can get this issue resolved," state Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum said.

High school biology is a class students must earn a passing grade in to receive a science credit required for graduation. All students also take a standardized "end-of-course" biology test required by state law.

The state Department of Education spent more than a year reworking and editing science teaching standards for children in kindergarten through grade 12. Before revisions to that outline can become policy, it needs the endorsement of the Education Oversight Committee, a panel state lawmakers created to monitor school reform.

The oversight committee, in an unprecedented move Monday, rejected four sentences describing how evolution should be taught. The committee instead decided to convene a panel of experts next month to advise it on whether the standards need modification.

"The EOC does not - nor has (it) suggested ... that the (committee) would rewrite any standard," committee director JoAnne Anderson wrote in a memo sent to oversight committee members.

By a one-vote margin, the oversight panel gave a victory to one of its members, state Sen. Mike Fair, who insisted the biology teaching standard focuses too narrowly on evolution as the commonly accepted explanation for all forms of life. The Greenville Republican says he is not trying to orchestrate a back-door approach to compel teachers to incorporate creationism into their lessons.

Tenenbaum's legal advisers suggested the state board confirm its support for the bulk of the new standards for all grades, but set aside proposed changes in high school biology standards until a consensus about instruction on the origins of life can be reached.

That won't occur before February, when the oversight committee holds its next meeting.

"We have biology standards adopted in 2000 that are recognized as some of the strongest in the nation," Tenenbaum said. "The Education Oversight Committee didn't give us a complete set (of biology) standards, and until we get them, we'll continue to use the (old) standards."

Brenda Fort, a school board member from Great Falls, said, "I think you've come up with a wonderful idea."

Fort's view was not universally shared, however.

Terrye Seckinger of Isle of Palms asked, "why not just leave out the four" sentences Fair finds objectionable?

Dale Stuckey, the state Department of Education's senior lawyer, said she advised against adopting grade-level standards in "piecemeal" fashion.

Phillip Shoopman, a board member from Greer, voted against Tenenbaum's recommendation because "the current standards don't allow for critical analysis of the evolutionary theory. I think Sen. Fair has it right."

Board member Kristi Woodall, principal of Union High, also was among the five who voted "no" on the revised standards. Her reasons were different from the others.

"I don't think what's happening is fair to teachers," Woodall said. "A lot of them are already planning lessons for 2006, and if new standards come along (in a few months), all their work will be wasted."

Others voting "no" were Kristin Maguire of Clemson and Ron Wilson of Easley.

Education panel considers changes to SC biology teaching guidelines

By Jack Kuenzie, WIS Television (Columbia, South Carolina), December 13, 2005

(Columbia) Dec. 13, 2005 - An education oversight panel has put off a final recommendation on the state's biology teaching standards at the urging of a state senator.

Greenville Republican Senator Mike Fair has always been upfront about his Christianity. Now, Fair's beliefs could help change the way South Carolina high schools teach biology.

"Let science happen in the classroom. Let's debate it. Let's encourage our kids to debate."

Tuesday, on an 8-7 vote, Fair and other members of the State Education Oversight Committee moved to modify several biology teaching guidelines. The decision could allow students to consider creationism to explain human origin.

The vote drew immediate fire from some educators like Dr. Robert Dillon of the College of Charleston, "We're just terribly disappointed. It's a sad day for science in South Carolina."

Kitty Farnell of Lexington-Richland Five reacts, "We don't want to be teaching things in the science classroom that aren't real science. That just provides a foundation that's not strong for our students to advance in the 21st century."

The committee's executive director JoAnne Anderson says the group plans to put together a panel of scientists and science teachers to advise committee members on the biology standards dealing with evolution.

Senator Fair is a proponent of what is known as intelligent design, which suggests that an external force, maybe God, had a hand in the origin and development of life.

But the Senator says the EOC vote should not be interpreted as an effort to inject religion into South Carolina's classrooms. It is, he says, an attempt to give students more intellectual freedom.

For instance, instead of a rule that says, "Explain how genetic processes result in the continuity of life forms over time," Fair wants, "Critically analyze the ability of genetic processes to affect the result of the continuity of life forms over time."

He puts emphasis on the phrase "critically analyze."

Sen. Fair clarifies what's being considered, "Intelligent design is not on the table for discussion in the Education Oversight Committee, nor am I aware of any bill that's been offered."

Farnell says, "Skeptical review is part of science. But it has to be based on evidence of the natural world."

On the wall at Lexington-Richland Five headquarters, the district's mission statement encourages critical thinking. School leaders and many teachers say that's fine in most classrooms, but not in a science lab. There they say, truth is determined by proof, not faith.

It's still unclear whether the Oversight Committee has authority to change the teaching standards in the first place. The state Education Department is looking into that issue.

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