Antievolution proposal rejected in South Carolina


On March 8, 2006, the South Carolina Board of Education voted 11-6 to reject a proposal from the state's Education Oversight Committee that would have significantly expanded the "critical analysis" language already present in the section of the new state science standards that deal with evolution. Despite authoritative criticism from science educators surveyed [Link broken] by The State (February 8, 2005), the EOC voted 10-2 on February 12, 2006, to recommend the expansion, just days before the Ohio Board of Education voted to remove similar language from Ohio's state science standards. The State (February 13, 2006) quoted [Link broken] State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum as saying, "'Critically analyze' is not just wordsmithing ... It carries with it a whole campaign against evolution."

As if to corroborate Tenenbaum's diagnosis, The State noted that the vote "handed a victory to state Sen. Mike Fair and his allies who have pushed education policymakers to include alternatives to evolution." In 2003, Fair proposed a textbook disclaimer about the origin of life. Subsequently, he repeatedly but unsuccessfully attempted to pass legislation to establish a committee to "determine whether alternatives to evolution as the origin of species should be offered in schools" and to require "teaching the controversy" over evolution. Thus The State (June 17, 2005) described him as "the dominant voice advocating for S.C. schools to teach more than Charles Darwin's theories of evolution."

Between the EOC's vote in February and the Board of Education's vote in March, Mary Lang Edwards, a professor of biology at Erskine College, wrote [Link broken] in a powerful opinion column (The State, February 25, 2006), "What certain members of the EOC want citizens of South Carolina to believe is that by adding the words 'critically analyze' to the biology standard for teaching evolution, they are merely asking students to study evolution objectively. But what they are actually introducing into the standard is the opportunity to discredit evolution." Edwards also noted that the EOC's vote not to approve the standards was despite the "overwhelming support of the standard by the state Department of Education and S.C. biologists."

In a letter dated February 25, 2006, the authors of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute's comprehensive review of state science standards encouraged the Board to reject the EOC's proposal, writing, "We hope South Carolina public education will not be pushed into defacing science standards to simply satisfy political pressure," and warning, "The claim that evolutionary theory ... needs critical analysis by schoolchildren is the last-ditch effort of a renewed creationist attack on public education." Ursula Goodenough, a professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, told [Link broken] The State (March 1, 2006), "If this were to happen, it would transform the document into something [the people of South Carolina] would be ashamed of."

Although the EOC reportedly lacks any power to revise the standards, it still retains the power to approve or reject the standards as a whole. Superintendent Tenenbaum told [Link broken] The State (March 8, 2006) that if the Board and the EOC deadlock over the new standards, the state will continue to use its old standards until the deadlock is resolved. But state representative Bob Walker (R-District 31) presented the Board with a letter, signed by 67 representatives, saying in part that the legislature may intervene if the EOC's recommendation is not accepted. So the story in South Carolina is anything but over. Concerned South Carolinians are urged to get in touch with the grassroots group South Carolinians for Science Education.