An Open Letter to the Ohio Citizens for Science

by Eugenie C. Scott

Dear Ohio Citizens for Science,

Well, you did it.

Ohio now has standards that for the first time direct Ohio teachers to teach evolution, across all scientific disciplines. Both the writing team and all of the activists who defended evolution’s inclusion get our thanks. Gone is that mealy-mouthed “change over time” stuff of the old directive. Students will be tested on evolution, and so teachers will teach it. The Ohio standards give your teachers a great shield to stand behind when parents harass them about teaching evolution (“I have to, Mrs. Brown”), and also a nice little cattle prod for those teachers who are reluctant to teach the e-word.

Consider that the opponents of evolution first tried to get creation “science” into the standards. They failed. Then they linked up with the Intelligent Design folks, and tried to get ID into the standards. They failed. Then they tried to weaken the amount of evolution taught. They failed. Then they tried to sneak ID into the social studies standards. They failed. That’s at least four flops, and there may be more examples of the virtual rout of antievolution forces in Ohio.

Their last-ditch effort was to try to require teachers to qualify evolution, but the best they could do was item #23. “Describe how scientists continue to investigate and analyze aspects of evolutionary theory” can only mean – taken literally and also in the context of the evolution-rich standards as a whole – that teachers should encourage students to discuss interpretations of the pattern and process of evolution, not whether evolution took place. To call for the teaching of aspects of evolutionary theory is not to call for teaching “evidence against evolution!” Phil Johnson and other ID proponents can spin this all they want, but they must at heart be very disappointed that after a year of hard work, all they got was a set of standards with plenty of evolution, and only one wimpy sentence to try to spin into a victory.

As a final standards-related task, I encourage you to devote some time to clarifying the import of item #23. Clearly, antievolutionists will be trying to convince teachers that “evidence against evolution” is required by the standards, and we need lots of letters, calls to radio talk shows, etc., getting the word out that what the Standards direct teachers to do is to teach straight, unqualified evolution. Item #23 means that, as in any science, teachers will present to students controversies within the field. No big deal.

And of course, it doesn’t hurt that ID got a final last kick in the shins with Ms. Wise’s “The intent of this indicator does not mandate the teaching or testing of Intelligent Design." Because standards don’t “ban” subjects, but rather mandate their inclusion, Ms. Wise’s sentence is a clear signal to teachers that ID is off the table.

Over these many months, I have been extremely impressed with the dedication of members of the OCS. You have stayed in there, doggedly resisting the pressures, supporting school board members who saw the light, and trying to persuade the undecided. As everyone knows by now, politics is the art of persuasion, and the acceptance of the Ohio science standards required a lot of educating of school board members – to say nothing of the general public. Your calls, letters, e-mails, op-ed pieces, and other forms of communication were instrumental in turning the tide, I am sure. Many of you took much time away from your jobs and families, and I know many of you spent a lot of your own money traveling and paying for phone calls and faxes! I want to thank you for your efforts, not just because we are concerned about what happens in Ohio, but because if the antievolutionists had won in Ohio, it would have made it harder for those of us in other states as well.

Thanks, guys. You done good.
We can't afford to lose any time when it comes to the future of science education.

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