The Georgia Department of Education proposed updates to its Science curriculum that will remove the word “evolution”. “Biological changes over time” is its replacement. My initial reaction was to scream and laugh at them. Just more religious crazies taking over the school system, I thought. I choose to think for myself, so I dove into the articles to get the real story. Headlines aren’t a good source of news.
I discovered that the change is misguided. On the surface, I don’t think it’s diabolical. In her response to the chaos, Georgia Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox had this to say:
Why, then, is the word itself not used in the draft of the curriculum, when the concepts are there? The unfortunate truth is that “evolution” has become a controversial buzzword that could prevent some from reading the proposed biology curriculum comprehensive document with multiple scientific models woven throughout. We don’t want the public or our students to get stuck on a word when the curriculum actually includes the most widely accepted theories for biology. Ironically, people have become upset about the exclusion of the word again, without having read the document.
That clarifies Georgia’s thought process, but it fails to address the fundamental flaw in this debate. These quotes from an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article explain what Superintendent Cox is fighting:
Terrie Kielborn, a middle school science teacher in Paulding County who was on the committee, recalled that Stephen Pruitt, the state’s curriculum specialist for science, told the panel not to include the word evolution.
“We were pretty much told not to put it in there,” Kielborn said. The rationale was community reaction, she said.
“When you say the word evolution, people automatically, whatever age they are, think of the man-monkey thing,” Kielborn said.
I don’t automatically think of “the man-monkey thing”. The purpose of education is to teach children to think. Teaching facts is just the foundation for that. When we take away the words because we fear the implication of those words, education suffers. I could say more, but this next quote shows my thoughts:
The word “evolution” itself is important because it is a scientific term, said Sarah Pallas, an associate professor of biology at Georgia State University. “Students need to know the language of science,” she said. “They don’t need to know euphemisms. It’s just silly.”
That’s the same point with any curriculum in education. Kids are smart. We should not dumb them down because we’re scared of the questions they might ask.
In my journey through this issue, I reviewed the Georgia Department of Education’s “Examples of Evolutionary Concepts in the Proposed Biology Curriculum”. Regardless of theology or issues with the word, pretending that the word “evolution” isn’t used by scientists puts the children of Georgia at an unnecessary disadvantage. The word “evolution” should be in the curriculum.
The English in the document did concern me, though. From the second Benchmark, I present this disaster (emphasis added):
There are historical scientific models of change, such as those of Lamarck, Malthus, Wallace, Buffon, and Darwin. Evidence from fossil, molecular biology, and anatomical structures suggest relationships among organisms. As climatic conditions change, organisms that do not adapt die off; those organisms suitably adapted survive. Over time, the proportion of individuals that have advantageous characteristics will increase. Heritable characteristics can be observed at molecular and whole-organism levels…
The sentence structure of the italicized sentence is awful. I had to read it several times to figure out its meaning. Also, the word “individual” is inappropriate in the paragraph. The paragraph is explaining the evolution of organisms, in any form. If it said “individual organisms”, that would be passable. Saying “organisms” instead of “individuals” would be correct.
That concludes my introduction to the debate. Discuss amongst yourselves.