Concern over renewed antievolutionism in Ohio persists


There is concern again about the resurgence of attempts to undermine the treatment of evolution in the state science standards in Ohio. According to the current science standards for the tenth grade, students are expected to be able to "[d]escribe that scientists may disagree about explanations of phenomena, about interpretation of data or about the value of rival theories, but they do agree that questioning, response to criticism and open communications are integral to the process of science." At a meeting of the state board of education's Achievement Committee on July 10, 2006, Colleen Grady proposed the addition of "Discuss and be able to apply this in the following areas: global warning; evolutionary theory; emerging technologies and how they may impact society, e.g. cloning or stem-cell research."

Grady's proposal was widely regarded as a clear attempt to circumvent the board's February 2006 vote to retract a controversial model lesson plan and to remove the indicator on which it was based from the standards; the indicator, which called for students to be able to "describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory," was generally criticized as providing a pretext for instilling scientifically unwarranted doubts about evolution. The Columbus Dispatch reported (July 11, 2006), "Education Department staff will put Grady's proposal into draft form for consideration at the board's September meeting. It is not clear whether there is enough support among committee members to recommend any proposal to the full board."

Now that the September 11, 2006, meeting of the board is imminent, the Campaign to Defend the Constitution [Link broken] is urging supporters of the integrity of science education to lobby school board members to reject Grady's proposal should it be introduced. The Toledo Blade (September 7, 2006) reported that during a teleconference on September 6, 2006, members of the Campaign described the proposal as "a Trojan horse carrying religion into the science curriculum." The Blade added, "Patricia Princehouse, a lecturer in philosophy and evolutionary biology at Case Western Reserve University, who joined the Campaign to Defend the Constitution group, said treating evolution and other topics as though they are somehow different from the rest of science is a way to sneak creationism back into the science curriculum."

A spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Education told the Blade that no specific topics would be mentioned in a draft of the proposal, and the Akron Beacon Journal reported (September 7, 2006), "The nine-page document itself is evolutionary. Earlier this year, a proposal was to encourage debate of specific issues: Evolution, global warming and stem cell research. Now, it encourages students to conduct research and have open discussion in the classroom." Nevertheless, board member Martha Wise commented that the proposal "is a lot of gobbledygook -- it's just another wedge into the teaching of ID in science classes." Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University worried, "When they teach history, are they going to say some people say the Holocaust never happened?"

The chair of the board, Sue Westendorf, told the Blade that the controversy over teaching evolution is likely to become a political issue in the 2006 elections. Perhaps the bitterest electoral battle bodes to be in the Seventh State Board District (encompassing Ashtabula, Portage, Summit, and Trumbull counties, including Ohio's fifth largest city, Akron), where antievolution incumbent Deborah Owens Fink is facing three challengers, the Beacon Journal (August 25, 2006) reported: John Jones, who works for the utility company Ohio Edison; Dave Kovacs, a philosophy student at the University of Akron; and Tom Sawyer, a former teacher, mayor of Akron, and member of Congress, who enjoys the support of the newly formed pro-science-education coalition Help Ohio Public Education.