Alaska Votes for Evolution

Randall Plant has forwarded me the following news story from the Anchorage Daily News.

Science Teaching Standards Evolve

The great debate on teaching evolution in Alaska’s public schools was short and sweet Friday morning.

Short in that it took less than a minute at the start of the State Board of Education meeting for board member Shirley Holloway of Anchorage to propose adopting a controversial set of state science teaching standards and for board member Esther Cox, also of Anchorage, to move to strengthen the standard on evolution.

And sweet, in that Holloway quickly agreed, noting that a procession of scientists and educators who testified for such a change the day before were “respectful, professional and very helpful.”

Specifically, Cox proposed dropping language advanced by the state Department of Education and Early Development that would have mentioned “evolution” only in parentheses at the end of a standard about life science.

Isn’t it amazing that people with no preconceived ideological notions come to the same conclusion when presented with the evidence?

The amended standard, Cox said, would state: “A student should … develop an understanding of how science explains changes in life forms over time, including genetics, heredity, the process of natural selection and biological evolution.”

Like Holloway, she was persuaded toward the change, she said, by the thoughtful comments of several who testified. (emphasis mine)

That last part is something to keep in mind – it wouldn’t have worked in Kansas though.

This is interesting as well:

The sudden light mood contrasted sharply with the angst over the same issue that filled the same room 12 years earlier, according to longtime Education Department spokesman Harry Gamble.

“Almost to the person, the only people who came out for the (1993) public hearing were people who testified one after another on behalf of creationism,” Gamble said. “There must have been a few others who came out, but they were overwhelmingly outnumbered. And the board moved with that, you know, compromise language (on teaching evolution).”

This next bit should sound familiar:

During the 1993 hearing, the board appointed by former Republican Gov. Wally Hickel failed on a 3-3 vote to insert a requirement into the state’s new science standards that required creationism to be taught along with evolution.

Critics then pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled six years earlier that teaching creationism was the same as teaching a religious doctrine in a public school and, therefore, unconstitutional. But proponents in Alaska argued that evolution was “only a theory,” just like creationism.

While the creationism motion failed, the science standards the Hickel administration adopted exemplified some of the board’s ambivalence toward teaching evolution. Its life science standard shied away from using the word “evolution” in favor of the euphemistic phrase “changes in life forms over time” and then reinserted “evolution” at the end of the sentence, in parentheses.

There’s more that should ring a bell:

Initially, the department chose to eliminate the reference to evolution altogether, even though a majority of the educators and scientists who helped draft the first part of the standards favored using it.(emphasis mine

It is refreshing, after the farce in Kansas, to see one state board of education act in a sensible fashion. Great Job Alaska!

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