Committee approves new science standards for students, evolution clause on hold
COLUMBIA - An education committee approved new science standards for students except for one clause: the one that involves the use of the phrase "natural selection."
Clause in question
"Conceptual Understanding: Biological evolution occurs primarily when natural selection acts on the genetic variation in a population and changes the distribution of traits in that population over multiple generations.
Performance Indicators: Students who can demonstrate this understanding can:
Analyze and interpret data, using the principles of natural selection, to make predictions about the long term biological changes that occur within two populations of the same species that become geographically isolated from one another.
From page 79 of the South Carolina Academic Standards and Performance Indicators for Science
The South Carolina Education Oversight Committee met Monday to review and approve the new set of science standards that the Department of Education will begin implementing by the fall of 2014 for students. Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, argued against teaching natural selection as fact, when he believes there are other theories students deserve to learn.
"Natural selection is a direct reference to Darwinism," Fair said after the meeting. "And the implication of Darwinism. is that it is start to finish."
Fair argued South Carolina's students are learning the philosophy of natural selection but teachers are not calling it such. He said the best way for students to learn is for the schools to teach the controversy.
"To teach that natural selection is the answer to origins is wrong," Fair said. "I don't have a problem with teaching theories. I don't think it should be taught as fact."
Ultimately, the committee approved all measures except that clause, which now gets sent back to the committee level for review. State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais said after the meeting he was not surprised by the debate that took place.
"This has been going on here in South Carolina for a long a time," Zais said. "We ought to teach both sides and let students draw their own conclusions."
Meanwhile, a debate taken up by an advocacy group against the use of the word "critically" when it comes to the standards of natural selection and climate change was largely ignored. College of Charleston biology professor Robert Dillon said in a previous interview the use of "critically" on two pages of the entire packet means more than it appears.
"They're trying to make evolution appear controversial, they're trying to make it somehow different," said Dillon previously. "Well, it is controversial, but the controversy is political or religious, it's not scientific. It's this richly symbolic situation."
Dillon asked in January to have the word "critically" added to the other 129 "analyze" clauses in the packet to avoid singling out climate change and evolution. The package approved on Monday did not take his request into consideration. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
During the meeting, there was also debate on how quickly the new standards will be fully implemented. Briana Timmerman, director of the Office of Instructional Practices and Evaluations for the state's department of education, said implementing standards is a stressful process for teachers, who have to find ways to transition into the new requirements.
Teachers will likely take on aspects of the new standards during the next year and will likely be fully teaching the newer standards by the deadline, which is 2016-17, she said.
"They (teachers) will want to start improving their knowledge in those areas," Timmerman said during the meeting. "That gives the teachers time to transition in a much more meaningful way."