Friday, October 22, 1999
Teachers of evolution fight back
New assault on Darwinism has Metro Detroit roots
Robin Buckson / The Detroit News
Books critical of and challenging Darwin's evolution theory share the science shelves at Melvindale's high school and middle school libraries. By George Bullard and Kevin Lynch / The Detroit News DETROIT -- Melvindale started the new assault on evolution.
Kansas followed up.
Kentucky chimed in.
And today, some 3,000 science teachers are at Cobo Center, seven miles from Melvindale, to fight back.
They can't believe that evolution is on defense like it was during the Scopes Monkey trial of 1925. Evolution critics are asking teachers to defend the theory and to incorporate recent science that questions it. In short, evolution is no longer gospel.
"It's with utter amazement that I watched what they did," teacher Kathy Higgins-Luthman said of recent attacks on the science pegged to Charles Darwin's 1859 Origin of Species.
"Evolution is the basis of biology," said Higgins-Luthman, who teaches biology at Divine Child High School in Dearborn and is attending this week's convention of the National Science Teachers Association at Cobo.
But Rachel Lee, 15, a 10th-grader at Melvindale High School, favors de-emphasizing evolution in the public school curriculum.
"Evolution contradicts what other people believe. If they don't believe it, why should they have to learn about it?" she said. "If they say that creationism is just a theory, and so is evolution, then they should teach them both."
In February, Melvindale pioneered a way around the problem. The school board ordered that pro-creationism books be placed on school library shelves and made available to students.
Among them are Darwin's Black Box, a book in which biochemist Michael Behe says molecular science, developed since Darwin, shows some biological systems hard to explain under Darwinism. Behe, a professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, lifted the debate to science vs. science, rather than science vs. religion.
After the Melvindale action, the Kansas Board of Education passed new student testing standards, minimizing the importance of evolution.
And this month, Kentucky's Education Department deleted the word "evolution" from its curriculum standards, replacing it with "change over time."
Science teachers worried
That, say people who favor such changes, describes a process rather than a theory they say has become a "religion" among scientists.
The attacks amaze science teachers. "One of my students gave a presentation about evolution last week," Higgins-Luthman said. "He started it off by saying, 'Now, I know this is just a theory.'
"I wanted to bang my head against a wall."
Higgins-Luthman said even though she teaches at a private school, votes like the ones taken in Kansas still could affect her and her students.
The Kansas State Board of Education recently voted 6-4 in favor of removing all questions about evolution from its standardized testing, which is similar to the Michigan Education Assessment Test, or MEAP.
MEAP scores are important to teachers because they are looked to by many as a way of evaluating the performance of individual schools. They recently became more important to students because they are a criterion for getting $2,500 scholarships available from the state.
Critics of the Kansas decisions fear that removing evolution questions from standard tests will remove any incentive for teachers to cover the subject in class, which they are still allowed to do.
"I'm a little bit privileged, because I teach in a Catholic school system," Higgins-Luthman said. "But we have a MEAP test that our students can take to get those $2,500 scholarships."
Organizers at the science teachers convention are hoping to offer their ranks practical advice on what they can do to prevent a repeat of the Kansas votes that have drawn so much controversy.
To that end, Grand Rapids Community College Biology professor Greg Forbes will talk about what teachers can do locally to keep evolution strong in their classrooms. Forbes is also the director of a new state-funded program called the Michigan Scientific Evolution Education Initiative.
The initiative just received a $60,000 grant from the state to retrain high school biology teachers in evolution teaching. Many teachers want to teach evolution, Forbes said, but don't know how because it's such a controversial topic.
"This is a statewide initiative," Forbes said. "Here in Michigan, we're saying we don't want a Kansas here. We're trying to nip it in the bud here. It may already be happening here, but let's rectify this.
"There's nothing wrong with religion. But it's a separate form of human inquiry that's separate from science. Just do it across the hall in religion department or the philosophy department. It has its place, but it's not in the science classroom."
Detroit News Staff Writer Nicole Bondi contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1999, The Detroit News