February 15, 2006
Ohio Board Undoes Stand on Evolution
By JODI RUDOREN
COLUMBUS, Ohio, Feb. 14 — The Ohio Board of Education voted 11 to 4 Tuesday
to toss out a mandate that 10th-grade biology classes include critical
analysis of evolution and an accompanying model lesson plan, dealing the
intelligent design movement its second serious defeat in two months.
The board, which became the first in the nation to single out evolution for
special scrutiny under the academic standards it adopted in 2002, stripped
the language from the curriculum partly out of fear of a lawsuit in the wake
of a December ruling by a federal judge that teaching intelligent design in
the Dover, Pa., public schools was unconstitutional.
While the Ohio lesson plan does not mention intelligent design, which posits
that life is too complex to be explained by evolution alone, critics contend
that the critical analysis language is simply design in disguise.
"This lesson is bad news, the 'critically analyze' wording is bad news,"
Martha W. Wise, the board member who offered the emergency motion, told her
colleagues during 90 minutes of contentious debate here Tuesday afternoon.
"It is deeply unfair to the children of this state to mislead them about the
nature of science."
Darwin's defenders celebrated the reversal as a sign of a backlash against
the inroads made last year by critics of evolution. But leaders of the
Discovery Institute, the intellectual home of intelligent design, warned
that Ohio's move would create a backlash of its own.
"It's an outrageous slap in the face to the citizens of Ohio," said John G.
West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at the
institute, referring to several polls that show public support for criticism
of evolution in science classes.
"The effort to try to suppress ideas that you dislike, to use the government
to suppress ideas you dislike, has a failed history," Mr. West said. "Do
they really want to be on the side of the people who didn't want to let John
Scopes talk or who tried to censor Galileo?"
But Eugenie C. Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education,
called the Ohio vote "a significant victory" and said it should give pause
to school districts and states considering changes in how evolution is
The Discovery Institute had offered Ohio as a national model for its "teach
the controversy" approach on evolution. Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico and
Pennsylvania have adopted similar "critical analysis" standards, and the
South Carolina Board of Education is scheduled to vote next month on whether
to add a similar phrase to its curriculum guidelines.
"This language from Ohio, the critically-analyze-evolution type language, is
sprouting up all over, in both the local level, as well as with other state
standards," Ms. Scott said. "The Ohio board has recognized its error, and
other school districts should not make that same error."
The model lesson plan is voluntary, and it is unclear how many of Ohio's 613
local school districts use it. At Tuesday's meeting, Robin C. Hovis, a board
member who urged its deletion, said that "we allow a Dover risk to remain if
we leave this lesson plan on the shelf."
The vote followed Mrs. Wise's failed effort last month to kill the lesson
plan, after which Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, called for a legal review of
the lesson in light of the Dover ruling. On Tuesday, a board member who
supports the critical-analysis approach tried to pre-empt Mrs. Wise's motion
by asking the attorney general to take a formal look, but defenders of
evolution prevailed in a parliamentary maneuver.
Michael Cochran, one of three lawyers on the 19-member board, criticized
Mrs. Wise's supporters as undoing a lengthy process that had led to adoption
of the standards with an emergency motion on an afternoon that four members,
three of whom support the lesson, were absent.
"It is absolutely disgraceful that we've had this for three years, and we
can't wait another month," Mr. Cochran said. "I think that's by design. Not
intelligent design, but by design."
Deborah Owens Fink, who along with Mr. Cochran voted against eliminating the
critical-analysis language, said after the meeting that the vote was just
another round in the culture war, not a knockout.
"There are no permanent victories in politics," Ms. Fink said. "You do not
get paradigm shifts overnight. Whether the ultimate victory is today or it's
tomorrow or it's two years from now, people demand that they get open
discussion of this issue."