Sunday, January 16, 2005

Evolution All Over Again

This morning, The New York Times runs the statement that the Dover, Pennsylvania school board wants read before the teaching of a biology lesson on evolution. To my surprise, I found that I did not have a lot of argument with the statement.
It acknowledges the controversy over evolution, and I think that awareness is a good thing. I think that too much of the public school curriculum has been dumbed down to avoid controversy, to the detriment of students. This is particularly true in the teaching of American history. I want students to learn about the controversies and political strife in our history: The labor movement, slavery and the Civil War, the protests of the 1960s, and, yes, the battles over church and state.
That's what this statement does, I think. It provides a context in which it is acknowledged that many people disagree with the theory of evolution.
Here's the statement:

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's theory of evolution and eventually take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.
Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence.
A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations. Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book "Of Pandas and People" is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.
With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origin of life to individual students and their families.
As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments.

The statement is being opposed by teachers, some parents and some political organizations, for reasons I understand as well. I would rather this ground be covered in a social studies class than in the science class, but since it is simply a preface to a course on evolutionary theory, I don't think a lot of harm is done to the cause of science.
It's strange of me to take the "conservative" position on an issue like this, but in this case it seems sensible to me to acknowledge the controversy and move on.