Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Editor's Page, A Lifeline for Administrators

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Editor's Page, A Lifeline for Administrators

Article excerpt

NOW THAT political cartoonists have moved on to new topics and the "great flood" of op-ed pieces about the Kansas State Board of Education's removal of evolution from that state's science standards has subsided, we can all take some time to reflect on what is at stake and how schoolpeople ought to respond.

As Mano Singham points out in this month's lead article, the debate on the proper roles for science and religion in the public schools will surely be coming to a school district near you. If you live in Oklahoma, it has already arrived. The November 24 issue of Education Week carried a brief note explaining that the Oklahoma State Textbook Committee had voted to insert in every textbook touching on the topic of evolution a statement to the effect that evolution is a "controversial theory which some scientists present as scientific explanation for the origin of living things." Oklahoma isn't the first state to take this tack, nor is it likely to be the last.

The news item goes on to paraphrase the rest of the statement, suggesting that, while evolution may describe why species change from one form to another, "some evidence casts doubt on whether living species emerged from those same organisms." I can't make a bit of sense of that final clause. What does "same" refer to? Are we to assume that explanations acceptable for today's natural phenomena are not also acceptable for the natural phenomena of the past? If so, out go all the historical sciences.

I don't necessarily hold the Oklahoma committee responsible for this last bit of confusion; it stems, after all, from a paraphrase. But the misguided effort to seek "fairness" that gave rise to the disclaimer in the first place represents a basic misunderstanding of how science works. There isn't space here to get deeply into that last matter, but it's very important that those charged with educating our children have a sound understanding of what science can and can't do. …

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