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Minnesota's Opportunity to Improve Teaching of Evolution and Avoid Extremes Should Not Be Missed, Says Discovery Institute

January 23, 2004

Minnesota's Opportunity to Improve Teaching of Evolution and Avoid Extremes Should Not Be Missed, Says Discovery Institute

Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS, Jan. 23 /PRNewswire/ -- The Minnesota legislature has an historic opportunity to improve the teaching of evolution in Minnesota's schools as it begins to hold hearings this week and next on new state science standards, according to the Discovery Institute. The Institute is the nation's leading think-tank dealing with challenges to Darwinian evolution and science education standards.

"Legislators will decide whether Minnesota students get to learn about evolution fully and fairly, or whether their science education will be held hostage to the demands of extremes on either side of the debate," said Seth Cooper from the Institute.

"Some defenders of Darwin's theory are insisting that students be prevented from learning about any scientific problems with the theory, while some critics would like religious views to be presented in biology classes," Cooper added. "Both views reflects poor science, and if either extreme wins, students and teachers will lose. Fortunately, there is another option: Teach evolution, but teach it fully, including coverage of some of its scientific weaknesses."

According to Cooper, the legislature faces a clear choice on how evolution is covered in the science standards because the science standards writing committee submitted two different drafts of benchmarks dealing with evolution. The legislature will now have to choose whether to adopt the majority draft or the minority draft produced by the writing committee.

"The bad news is that the majority draft doesn't require that students learn the scientific weaknesses of modern evolutionary theory as well as its strengths," said Cooper. "Some members of the committee seem to have decided to pick and choose which parts of evolution they felt students needed to learn, and which parts could just be ignored."

"The good news is that four members of the writing committee, including the committee chair, filed a minority report that proposes improvements to two existing benchmarks in order to make sure that students will learn about some of the scientific criticisms being made of parts of modern evolutionary theory. The minority report is based on sound science and represents a moderate path between the extremes of this debate."

The first benchmark improvement proposed by the minority report requires students to be able to distinguish between changes existing within species (microevolution) and the emergence of new species and changes above the species level (macroevolution). The second would require students to be able to describe "how scientists continue to critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory."

Cooper added that the minority report followed guidance from Education Commissioner Cheri Yecke, who had encouraged the standards committee to look to guidelines set down by Congress in the Conference Report of the No Child Left Behind Act. Congress urged states to present "the full range of scientific views" on controversial topics "such as biological evolution."

Last fall, Commissioner Yecke received a letter from Congress stressing that this guidance in the No Child Left Behind Act Conference Report was the official position of Congress on science education. The letter was signed by Minnesota Congressman John Kline and Congressman John Boehner, chairman of the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee.

The minority report also followed input from the overwhelming majority of citizens who testified at several public hearings last fall and asked that the standards require coverage of the scientific criticisms of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution as well as its strengths. Contrary to Minnesota law, the science standards committee's majority gave no indication that it even considered such input in formulating the standards. Finally, the minority report addressed some of the concerns raised by one of the state's official expert reviewers of the science standards, University of Minnesota scientist Dr. Christopher Macosko. Macosko criticized an earlier draft of the science standards for ignoring the scientific weaknesses of Darwin's theory.

"The debate over how best to teach evolution has devolved into an either-or argument that threatens science education in our schools," said Cooper. "But there is another approach laid out in the minority report --teach the scientific controversy. Instead of pretending there is no debate over Darwin's theory we should use it to further educate students about the scientific controversy surrounding evolutionary theory."

If you'd like to speak with a spokesperson for Discovery Institute contact Rob Crowther at +1-206-292-0401, ext. 107, or by e-mail at rob@discovery.org

About the Center for Science and Culture

Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture is the nation's leading think tank and research center dealing with challenges to Darwinian evolution and science education standards. Visit the Center online: discovery.org

About Discovery Institute
Discovery Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan, public-policy, think tank which promotes ideas in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market and individual liberty. Current projects include work in technology, science and culture, the economy, education choice, regional transportation, and the bi-national region of "Cascadia."

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