Federal Department of Education Backs Academic Freedom on Evolution Controversy

Click here to read the full text of the letter from the Department of Education.

SEATTLE, MARCH 9 – The US Department of Education has given its clear support to the right of state and local school boards to teach the scientific debate that now exists about biological evolution.

In a March 8 letter signed by Acting Deputy Secretary Gene Hickok, the department called official attention to Congressional report language in the No Child Left Behind Act that states that “where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist.” The Department further expressed its own support for the “general principles…of academic freedom and inquiry into scientific views or theories.”

Advocates of greater intellectual freedom in science education hailed the statement: “The letter is important,” notes Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, director of the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute, “because some Darwin-only activists and educational officials have claimed that public schools could risk losing their federal funding if they allow students to learn about current scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory. By affirming the importance of the Santorum language, the executive branch of the federal government has just joined the Congress in making clear that states and local school boards have the right to teach students the scientific controversy that exists about Darwinian evolution and to determine their own science curriculum content.”

The letter also made clear that the federal government does not require OR prohibit the teaching of any particular scientific view or theory of origins. The letter was circulating Tuesday in Congressional offices.

The Education Department letter was a response to an inquiry from Montana’s superintendent of public instruction in which the superintendent apparently asked whether the alternative theory of “intelligent design” was “required” by the federal law. (Intelligent design theory “holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”) The school board in Darby, Montana has not proposed teaching intelligent design, let alone asserting that doing so is “required” under the NCLB act.

“No doubt the Darwin-only lobby will claim the Education Department letter as victory because it makes clear that states are not required to teach the theory of intelligent design,” said Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute.

“But the question posed by the Montana state official was a red herring.” Chapman stated. “No one that we know of has suggested that the federal law requires teaching intelligent design. At the school board in Darby, Montana the issue is the same as it is in Ohio and a number of other states; namely, can students be taught about the growing scientific debate over Darwin’s theory? The issue before states and localities is not about teaching intelligent design, let alone requiring it, no matter how hard the Darwinists try to spin the topic.”

“What the federal government actually does support,” Chapman continued, “is ‘academic freedom and inquiry’ on scientific theories, and that now should be quite plain to any fair-minded observer. If states and localities follow that common sense approach they will not go wrong.”

Public opinion polls by the Zogby International organization, and by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, have shown overwhelming public support for teaching the evidence for and against Darwin’s theory in public schools. Though a minority within science, hundreds of scientists have indicated their agreement.

“That is why,” Chapman said, “Darwinists try to change the terms of the debate to bogus targets.”

Discovery Institute

Discovery Institute promotes thoughtful analysis and effective action on local, regional, national and international issues. The Institute is home to an inter-disciplinary community of scholars and policy advocates dedicated to the reinvigoration of traditional Western principles and institutions and the worldview from which they issued.