Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Cobb County Clarifies: Teach Only Science in Science Classes
On January 8, 2003, the Cobb County, Georgia, School District issued guidelines that clarify the new "Theories of Origins" policy (see RNCSE 2002 Sep/Oct; 22 : 11-2). The guidelines are available on-line at http://www.cobbk12.org/~boardpolicies/I_Policies/idbd_r.htm.
Although the "Theories of Origins" policy — adopted by the Cobb County Board of Education on September 26, 2002 — explicitly stated that it is "not to be interpreted to restrict the teaching of evolution; [or] to promote or require the teaching of creationism", its treatment of evolution is not entirely satisfactory. Although it is certainly true, as the policy states, that evolution is a "subject [that] remains an intense area of interest, research, and discussion among scholars", no attempt is made to clarify that evolution, as the common descent of living things, is not a matter of dispute within the scientific community. The "interest, research, and discussion among scholars" is about controversies over how — not whether — evolution occurred. Thus the policy as worded is likely to encourage those wishing to promote "alternatives" to evolution.
The new guidelines largely rectify the problem by clarifying the nature of the controversy over evolution: "It is recognized that instruction regarding theories of origin is difficult because it is socially controversial and potentially divisive" (emphasis added). There is no mention in the guidelines of any supposed scientific controversy over evolution or of any supposed scientific "alternatives" to it. Curt Johnston, the chairman of the Cobb County Board of Education, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (2003 Jan 9) that "Encouraging discussion of that might be illegal", evidently alluding to faith-based views such as "intelligent design".
Reviewing the guidelines, Eugenie C Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, commented, "When the 'Theories of Origins' policy was adopted, I said that the Cobb County Board of Education was sending mixed signals to teachers and citizens. With these guidelines, the board's message is loud and clear: teach only science in science classes. This is good news for the education of the children of Cobb County."
The clarification of the "Theories of Origins" policy also won approval from the American Civil Liberties Union. Michael Manely told the Marietta Daily Journal (2003 Jan 9) that, in light of the guidelines, the ACLU has decided not to file suit over the "Theories of Origins" policy. "It certainly seems that the board is telling the teachers to back down on the teaching of creationism, 'intelligent design' or other faith-based theories", he said. In August 2002, the ACLU filed suit over the textbook disclaimer mandated by the Cobb County Board of Education that refers to evolution as "a theory, not a fact" (see RNCSE 2002 Sep/Oct; 22 : 9-11).
Prominently mentioned in the Daily Journal's article was the recently formed Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education (www.georgiascience.org), a grassroots organization dedicated to promoting scientific literacy and excellence in science education in Georgia's public schools. "The members of GCISE have worked hard to ensure that evolution is taught in the Cobb County public schools as the unifying, important, and vital science that it is", said NCSE's Scott. "Everyone who cares about a quality science education for the students of Georgia's public schools is indebted to them."
By Skip Evans, NCSE Network Project Director
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