Education Oversight Committee approves standards requiring students to learn arguments for/against evolution

COLUMBIA - New language for high school biology standards is headed for consideration to the State Board of Education that would have students learn "the controversy."

The S.C. Education Oversight Committee on Monday sent proposed language to the board that would require biology students to construct scientific arguments that seem to support and seem to discredit Darwinism.

The decision comes more than two months after the subject became a divisive issue for many in the Palmetto State and nationally in February, when Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, voiced opposition during the review and approval of a new set of science standards for 2014.

At the time, Fair argued against teaching natural selection as fact, adding there are other theories students deserve to learn. He said the best way for students to learn was for the schools to teach "the controversy." On Monday, he reiterated his stance.

"We must teach the controversy," Fair said. "There's another side. I'm not afraid of the controversy. ... That's the way most of us learn best."

Barbara Hairfield, a Social Studies Curriculum Learning Specialist in the Charleston County School District, said she was in favor of having teachers use multiple texts and sources to teach. But she cautioned that this was an area where the committee needed to be very careful.

Hairfield said she doesn't oppose teaching the controversy, but she believes that's something that should come up during the discussion of the theory of natural selection.

"I'm not opposed to them talking about it, but what does that say to our students that are Hindu or Jewish or Buddhist," Hairfield said. "It's a fine line when academic standards could possibly be interpreted as promoting a religion."

She added she respected Fair for standing firm for what he believes in, yet she was one of four dissenting votes. The measure passed 7-4.

Its passing was "frustrating," "irritating" and "disappointing" to Rob Dillon, a College of Charleston biology professor and president of South Carolinians for Science Education. Dillon said this measure is part of an effort to sneak creationism into public schools.

"There are no scientific arguments that discredit natural selection," Dillon said. "There are exactly zero scientific arguments that discredit natural selection. What there are is about 10,000 religious arguments that seek to weaken natural selection."

In the last hearing, Fair and Dillon got into a debate during his address to the committee. At the time, Dillon said he believed the biology standards should be moving along the approval process with the rest of the state's standards and performance indicators for science.

Monday's recommendation now goes back to the board of education. For the EOC's recommendation to be included in the state's standards, both bodies must agree on what the language should say. Otherwise, the state keeps the current language.

Cynthia Roldan can be reached at 708-5891.

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