Survival of the Snit

Staff Editorial
The Plain Dealer
February 14, 2004
The State Board of Education is still on course to do what it promised 14 months ago: approve a lesson plan for the teaching of biology that requires students to examine what the theory of evolution can explain and what it cannot.

The loudest critics of the standards, scientists among them, portray this as a disaster. Critics of the theory of evolution aren't happy, either, because "intelligent design" their argument that some unseen hand set the universe in motion and guided its development is not specifically granted a place in the public classroom.

Between these two extremes are the standards themselves, which under the circumstances ought to speak for themselves.

The life-sciences standards for grade 10 (when most students take biology) list five broad lessons that students should be required to learn: genetics, natural selection, diversity of life forms as explained by mutation, the history of evolutionary thought and the theory that life on earth developed from single-cell microorganisms starting about a billion years ago.

Each of these is a bedrock tenet of the theory of evolution.Also found within the list of what 10th-graders ought to be able to do is this paragraph: "Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory. (The intent of this indicator does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.)"

Now the standardized lesson plans are before the state board, and one in particular, "Critical Analysis of Evolution" has the critics in a tizzy. They find misrepresentation, historical errors, irrelevance and actual falsity all through it.

What they say has the ring of truth to it, at least insofar as it sounds like a modern-day textbook. A lot of what schools put in front of students as factual information is a long way from perfect.

The "critical analysis" lesson is the one in which the questions about evolution are raised. It is more than offset by the six or seven lessons of which evolution is the basis.

Ohio students are still going to be taught biology according to the scientific method. That should be the main concern.

The semantic problems of lesson plans aren't going to be "solved" to everyone's satisfaction. Since this is a political question, there are going to be winners and losers. In this case, the losers appear to be the people at the extremes of the evolution vs. creationism debate. Ohio can live with that.