Thursday, February 13, 2014

S.C. Sen. Mike Fair drops opposition to evolution teaching standards

Lawmaker had months to review standards, needed two more days to read the biology section

Posted by Paul Bowers on Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 5:08 PM

Sen. Mike Fair
  • Sen. Mike Fair

S.C. Sen. Mike Fair made national headlines this week when he put up a roadblock against new science education standards for the state, particularly as they dealt with the topics of natural selection and evolution. But now the Upstate Republican lawmaker says he has reviewed the standards and will not oppose their implementation.

"I support the scientific standards as they were given to our subcommittee," Fair said in a phone interview Wednesday evening. "I just needed a few days to look at the possible overreach of the terminology, and it's not there."

Fair is a member of the Statehouse-appointed Education Oversight Committee, which has to sign off on all changes to education standards. In the latest round of revisions, which updated previous standards that were written in 2005, Fair says he was caught off guard by some of the language on natural selection (specifically section HB5B, p. 78) and wanted time to review it before stamping his approval on it. Here is the section that gave him pause:

"Explain how scientists use data from a variety of sources to investigate and critically analyze aspects of the theory of biological evolution."

Fair's objections came fairly late in the process. The S.C. Department of Education's new standards have been in the works since January 2012, and Barbara Hairfield, vice chair of the EOC, says committee members were given copies of the new standards in late summer 2013. The same standards have come before the EOC twice before for approval.

"You know, the thing about Sen. Fair is he believes in what he believes in, and he stands up for it," says Hairfield, who is also the social studies curriculum specialist for Charleston County School District. "He does not always win, but he continues with his same message. But a belief system and academic standards are two totally different things."

Fair has developed a reputation for fighting the teaching of evolutionary theory in schools, including in 2005, when he argued to append the phrase "critically analyze" to standards involving man-made climate change and natural selection. He actually won that fight. The revised standards now being considered include the word "critically" only three times — once in reference to anthropogenic climate change, twice in reference to evolution.

Fair says he took the snow day Wednesday to review the standards, and he is now comfortable with how they were written.

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