A large, industrial Northern state may be about to banish the word "evolution" from its science curriculum standards. Acting on a mandate from the state legislature, the Illinois Board of Education has developed new Learning Standards for a number of subjects, including science. Learning Standards are supposed to define appropriate content for meeting a number of goals, including the expectation that students will come to "Understand the fundamental concepts, principles, and interconnections of the life, physical, and earth/space sciences" (State Goal 12). Yet evolution, which has been listed as one of the major unifying concepts organizing the National Science Education Standards issued by the National Academy of Science, is never specifically mentioned in Goal 12 or anywhere else in Illinois' proposed learning standards.
NCSE members who contacted Board of Education staff learned that there had been no mention of evolution in the first public draft of the Standards, but revision teams added a reference in response to extensive public comment, as well as the recommendations of expert reviewers. However, according to a letter from the Superintendent of Education that was released with the final "Proposed Learning Standards", members of "an External Review Team consisting of parents, educators, business people, civic leaders, and representatives of family groups ... recommended... that no controversial content which was not included in the draft previously disseminated for public review would be included"... (italics in original). Goal 12, Standard A now reads, "Know and apply concepts that explain how living things function, adapt, and change."
As NCSE member David Bloomberg commented at the June 11 meeting of the Board, the vague wording of the standard can refer to individual or short term changes "like my blood pressure changing during the day." While "benchmarks" expanding upon the standards refer to evolutionary processes and supporting evidence, the fact is that the "e" word never appears. Teachers who use the most accurate term to describe what they are teaching are given no protection from parental complaints. Worse, the External Review Team's report says only that the state "could provide examples and support materials to assist local districts in deciding when, where, and how to teach these [omitted, "controversial"] subjects. Since evolution is one of the topics omitted from the revised "Draft Standards" before they were submitted as "Proposed Standards", districts that choose to teach it could be forced to rely on limited, local resources.
At press time, the Board of Education is again receiving comments from the public. It is impressive that there had been so much public support for evolution, and if there is more such support, the Board could decide to override the Review Team’s recommendations. If they do not, it is likely that evolution education will become a local option, and many Illinois students will be denied the opportunity to learn about the major theory unifiying biological knowledge.
In April 1997, the Institute for Human Origins (IHO), a not-for-profit paleoanthropology research institution located in Berkeley, CA, completed negotiations with Arizona State University to move to that university in July of 1997. NCSE Supporter Donald C Johanson will remain Director of the Institute, and senior staffers William H Kimbel and Kaye Reed will hold dual positions as Institute scientists and members of the ASU Department of Anthropology. Also moving to Arizona with IHO are geochronologist Robert Walker and paleoanthropologist Eric Meikle and support staff.
The move is viewed by both IHO and ASU as being to their mutual advantage: ASU receives a prestigious research institution and IHO receives partial financial stability and the many administrative and scholarly advantages of a university affiliation. Johanson and his staff were looking forward to mentoring graduate students.
Of particular interest to NCSE members, however, is the response of Arizona Regent Kurt Davis when asked to approve the University's association with IHO. Although voting to approve the arrangement, he added an amendment that ASU would "come back with a plan that would implement and examine the use of courses to offer alternative theories, as well." The ASU newspaper reported that, in a memorandum to other regents, Davis expressed concern that "we will expend tax dollars to continue research and create debate from only one perspective" (State Press, April 28, 1997). The Board of Regents voted unanimously to approve Davis' motion.
Letters to the editor in local Tempe papers varied from support to criticism of the regents' decision, some assuming it would require the teaching of creation "science" at ASU. As NCSE members know, "alternative theories to evolution" is a popular euphemism for creation science, but the wording of the resolution is vague. Reportedly, both the religious studies program and science departments are uninterested in presenting "alternatives to evolution". Administrators appear to be uncertain as to what to do about Davis' suggestions, which also raises questions regarding Regents' authority to determine curricula.