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Big bang in Ohio

"Big bang in Ohio" Continued...

Issue: "BMOC: Big mandate on campus," Sept. 14, 2002

A organization called Ohio Citizens for Science, led by Case Western Reserve philosopher Patricia Princehouse and Pamela Keiper of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, even argued that teaching alternatives to Darwinism would stifle the economy, since students would be scientifically illiterate and unprepared for the New Economy. They say that the broadness that Mr. Lattimer and others demand could lead to educators teaching stories about Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster, along with kooky beliefs about scientific racism, alchemy, and astrology.

Ms. Princehouse and Ms. Keiper compare the latter two to intelligent design, in that they are "motivated by religious feeling, rather than strictly by the scientific allure of the results" and say the concept should be kept out of public schools on First Amendment grounds.

To their chagrin, popular support points in the direction of teaching alternatives to Darwinism. A poll by the Cleveland Plain Dealer found that most Ohioans wanted both traditional evolution and intelligent design in public schools. The poll found that six in 10 supported teaching both ideas and another 15 percent supported teaching the evidence both for and against evolution (but not necessarily intelligent design). Also, 9 percent supported teaching nothing about human origins, only 8 percent wanted just evolution, and another 8 percent wanted intelligent design only.

"This tells me that science education has a long way to go," grumbled Eugenie Scott of the pro-evolution National Center for Science Education after the results were announced. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tim Hagan complained that intelligent design would drive away top scientific minds: "It undermines the very effort we're trying to do to attract people to this state." (Ohio's incumbent Republican governor, Bob Taft, is quiet on this issue. Officially, he says it is a matter for the school board to decide.)

WHILE THE STANDARDS WAR has flared up in 2002, Ohio's evolution debates go back a few years. What teachers can say in class often depends on the local administration and school board. "Currently each district can have a say in what's taught, which sometimes makes this issue tougher to deal with," school board member Sue Westendorf explained.

One teacher who tries to discuss the pros and cons of evolution is Bryan Leonard, a science teacher at Hilliard Davidson High School near Columbus. He uses his biology classes as part of a research project for his doctoral dissertation in science education. To participate, kids must have a signed permission slip from their parents.

Mr. Leonard maintains that students learn better when they can study both sides of a pressing controversy. After all, this is routinely done with stem-cell research, genetic engineering, cloning, and other hot topics. "I talk to kids about the nature of science, that everyone, including scientists, have biases," he explained to WORLD. "That's just part of human nature. Science tries to set up ways to decrease bias, but when you're dealing with scientists you're dealing with humans and human nature."

Technically, the state does not bar teachers from discussing Darwinism's deficiencies, but the legalities involved are murky. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court barred all states from requiring the teaching of creationism in public schools. Yet this served to heat up the question of origins, as the intelligent design movement grew throughout the 1990s.

In 2000, a national survey by California physicist Lawrence Lerner deemed Ohio deficient in teaching evolution. He gave the state an "F" in a report issued by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He complained then that the state's school board was reluctant to use the word evolution.

That school board became the center of controversy after it drafted new standards, which noticeably mentioned the term. Robert Lattimer, who was on the writing team, lobbied to allow the teaching of alternatives, but his plea was disregarded. Deborah Owens-Fink and fellow board member Michael Cochran complained that the writing team's proposal left out alternatives to Darwinism. A public debate on origins followed-and the board said it was deluged by thousands of letters, e-mails, and other correspondence about evolution in science classes.

Reform proponents are encouraged by a congressional report that accompanied the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. It reads: "where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society."

"Teach the controversy" proponents say that curriculum changes face an uphill battle with the school board. "They'd like to find a solution that would satisfy both sides," Mr. Lattimer told WORLD.

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