On Friday, November 5, the Oklahoma State Textbook Committee, which is charged with approving textbooks for the state's 540 school districts, voted to require publishers to affix a disclaimer to any science book that discusses the theory of evolution. The committee's decision is not subject to review by any other state agency, including the State Board of Education, and the only way individual districts could avoid using the sticker would be to purchase textbooks without state assistance.
The text of the disclaimer is identical to that adopted by the Alabama State Board of Education in 1996.
According to news reports,
Committee member John Dickmann, who introduced the disclaimer, said it was added because biology texts do not give enough attention to alternate explanations of the development of life.
"Some of us on the committee wanted to send a strong statement to the publishers that we are fed up with textbooks that only present one side of the story," said Dickmann, a Broken Arrow Central Middle School teacher. "I'm not just picking on science, either. I have concerns in other subjects, too." (Associated Press, 1999)
The Committee currently consists of eleven members appointed directly by the governor (there are positions for twelve members); 7 of the eleven members belong to the Association of Professional Oklahoma Educators (APOE), an organization only a few years old whose members represent only a fraction of the state's teachers, most of whom belong to the Oklahoma Education Association (Cooper, 1999). Speaking for the Governor's office, Mike Brake told the Tulsa World, "We asked if they knew people in the district who follow the governor's point of view on education. It's no surprise they are members of [the Association of Professional Oklahoma Educators ]", and added , "The governor hasn't selected members on the basis of teacher organization," Brake said. "We look for philosophy first." (Cooper, 1999).
While there seem to be no statements about evolution at the APOE website, the links page, which consists primarily of links to "Alternatives to the NEA [National Education Association] in other states" and to educational policy organizations, also contains a link to the conservative "Family Research Council" (FRC). An FRC policy paper declares:
It was in the 19th century that America's Judeo-Christian foundation started to erode. One contributing factor was Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which began to replace the theory of intelligent design as the accepted explanation for the origin and purpose of the universe and life. America's intellectual elites concluded that God was a myth and that the universe, life, and society had evolved on their own - a conclusion most Americans dispute. The intelligentsia's acceptance of this explanation resulted in the replacement of the Judeo-Christian worldview with humanism's shifting moral and legal standards. (Hoeft, 1999)
Early reactions to the Committee's decision seem mixed. State legislators have said they do not intend to address the issue (Ervin, 1999).While , "State schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett expressed deep annoyance and said, 'We are concerned with this action and are looking into it further'... Education Secretary Floyd Coppedege expressed some sympathy for the committee's opinion but said such decisions 'should have been left to the local textbook committees."such decisions 'should have been left to the local textbook committees'"(AP, 1999 ). The Executive Director of a national civil liberties group sent a later to state officials that read in part, "I am writing today to let you know that this action raises serious constitutional concerns and that failure to reverse it could result in a lawsuit" (AU, 1999).
Scientists and interfaith groups in Oklahoma are organizing to oppose the Textbook Committee's action, and have turned to NCSE for information on the history and legality of evolution disclaimers. NCSE will continue informing Oklahoma members of opportunities to support evolution education, and keep RNCSE readers informed of further developments.