Last Wednesday, the South Carolina State Board of Education decided that science teachers will continue to teach evolution in high school biology classes without being forced to discuss alternative theories regarding the origins of mankind.
For those out of the loop, what's been fought over for the last couple of years is whether or not "intelligent design" (a.k.a. creationism) has a place in high school biology classes.
The proposed curriculum change is designated Standard B-5 and reads as follows: "The student will demonstrate an understanding of biological evolution and the diversity of life [by using data from a variety of scientific sources to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.]"
On paper, B-5 looks innocuous enough, but following close examination, The Eye will point out a couple of things.
First off, "critically analyze" is an important phrase in the buzzword lexicon of the religious right's campaign to insert religion into the public school system.
Secondly, and more dangerously, the standard sets out a responsibility for the S.C. Statehouse membership to determine what qualifies as science and what does not.
The BOE voted 11-6 in favor of rejecting critical analysis of evolutionary theory from the state biology teaching curriculum. Absent new standards, the BOE mandated that teachers would continue to employ the 2002 standards.
Every five years, the state BOE and the Education Oversight Committee must agree upon curriculum standards for South Carolina schools. Since last December, the two bodies have approved everything except B-5.
Leading the charge to insert "intelligent design" into the standards is state Sen. Mike Fair (R-Greenville) and Rep. Bob Walker (R-Landrum). Both are members of the EOC and are behind the insertion of "...by using data from a variety of scientific sources to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory..." into B-5.
Without a new biology standard in place, the state Department of Education has ordered that biology teachers continue to use the 2002 standard (which makes no mention of the language of Fair and Walker).
Last Tuesday, Walker circulated a letter he wrote to BOE chairman Joe Isaac that was signed by 68 fellow legislators asking to address the Wednesday meeting of the BOE.
In the letter Walker urged passage of the amended B-5, saying, "Currently, we teach only the science that supports evolution. Much of this science has unanimously been considered outdated, false, and even fabricated to show evolutionary strengths, while actually leaving out the science that exposes weaknesses in the theory."
Unanimously by whom, wondered The Eye, everybody in Walker's church?
He continued: "This proposed language in B-5 accomplishes the comprehensive discussion of evolution in a way that encourages and teaches critical thinking skills. Those critical skills are lacking in our science curriculum today as is reflected by our low performance on the PACT test."
Huh? South Carolina public schools are subpar because evolution is taught in biology classes?
The Eye has long been under the impression that inadequate state funding, poor nutrition, lousy prenatal care, lack of economic opportunity, crappy teacher salaries, and generational illiteracy were the foundations for underperforming public schools and students.
What is likely to happen is that Walker and his like-minded progressives will press either the state Attorney General's Office for an opinion or push for a showdown on the Statehouse floor in order to get his way.
Regardless of the scenario, it will still be South Carolina's largest under-represented constituency that loses ... those not old enough to vote.