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Evolution standard approved after 7-month delay


South Carolina's Education Oversight Committee (EOC) approved the state science standard concerned with evolution on June 12, after delaying for seven months at the behest of committee member Senator Michael Fair (R-District 6), a well-known opponent of teaching evolution. The State Board of Education approved a new version of statewide academic standards last November, including the evolution standard and its seven indicators, one of which involves "critical analysis." In December 2005, the EOC refused to approve the evolution standard while Fair and committee member Representative Bob Walker (R-District 31) spent several months lobbying for insertion of "critical analysis" language into all of the evolution indicators and the overarching standard. South Carolina parents and educators along with the Fordham Foundation's science standards review panel and the American Association for the Advancement of Science expressed broad opposition to Fair's proposals on the grounds that such language could weaken science education and allow the introduction of intelligent design or creationism.

In an open letter (February 25), the Fordham Foundation panel wrote, "The claim that evolutionary theory ... needs critical analysis by schoolchildren is the last-ditch effort of a renewed creationist attack on public education." On March 8, the State Board of Education rejected Fair's proposal to expand the "critical analysis" language, and returned the original standard to the EOC for approval. (See, e.g., this story [Link broken] "Board of Education rejects call to 'critically analyze' evolution" March 8.)

According to a report in The State [Link broken] (May 31), Fair and allies dropped their opposition to the standard after attaching a proviso to the state budget which requires the state to purchase textbooks which incorporate “higher order thinking skills and critical thinking."

Since its approval on June 12, the indicator within the evolution standard has been subject to differing interpretations. An article in The State [Link broken] (June 13) quotes Department of Education spokesman Jim Foster as saying that the indicator “...does not require students to study alternatives to evolution..." In a report in the The Sun News (Myrtle Beach, SC, June 12) Martha Fout, a science specialist who helped write the standards, commented, "It's not as if members of the scientific community do not want the students to think critically. We want them to think critically everywhere." According to an Agape Press story (June 15), however, Fair "...says it is his hope that these guidelines will be a precursor to allowing alternatives to the theory of evolution, such as intelligent design, to be taught in the state's schools." For more comment and analysis, visit the website of South Carolinians for Science Education.