Saturday, January 31, 2004

Georgia Takes on ’Evolution’ - The Decline and Fall of American Education

NYT: Georgia Takes on ’Evolution’
A proposed set of guidelines for middle and high school science classes in Georgia has caused a furor after state education officials removed the word 'evolution' and scaled back ideas about the age of Earth and the natural selection of species.

Educators across the state said that the document, which was released on the Internet this month, was a veiled effort to bolster creationism and that it would leave the state's public school graduates at a disadvantage.

'They've taken away a major component of biology and acted as if it doesn't exist,' said David Bechler, who heads the biology department at Valdosta State University. 'By doing this, we're leaving the public shortchanged of the knowledge they should have.'

Although education officials said the final version would not be binding on teachers, its contents will ultimately help shape achievement exams. And in a state where religion-based concepts of creation are widely held, many teachers said a curriculum without mentioning 'evolution' would make it harder to broach the subject in the classroom.

Georgia's schools superintendent, Kathy Cox, held a news conference near the Capitol on Thursday, a day after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an article about the proposed changes.

A handful of states already omit the word 'evolution' from their teaching guidelines, and Ms. Cox called it [evolution] 'a buzz word that causes a lot of negative reaction.' She added that people often associate it with 'that monkeys-to-man sort of thing'.

Still, Ms. Cox, who was elected to the post in 2002, said the concept would be taught, as well as 'emerging models of change' that challenge Darwin's theories. 'Galileo was not considered reputable when he came out with his theory,' she said.

Fortunately they still teach science in China and India. Minnesota is no different from Georgia, our new Republican administration is writing a biology free set of science standards. (You can't teach biology without natural selection; heck, you can't even teach cosmology without natural selection.)

The degradation of public education may have some unanticipated consequences. Private schools, where the elite are educated, will continue to teach science. I'll wager even catholic (private) schools in Georgia and Minnesota will teach modern biology. The transformation of schools into agents of evangelical christianity may make vouchers acceptable to a wider group, and accelerate a movement away from public education.

If the evangelicals continued their steady victories, there will eventually be a public evangelical educational system and a private secular/other system. The private secular system would attract the educated elite, and they in turn would attract parents seeking social networks. The evangelical school system of 2010 could become a stigmatized backwater of ever growing ignorance (ok, so it might produce an incompetent President or two ...).

The evangelical right can indeed win this war, but they may not like what they get. Perhaps they should reconsider ...

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