The forces of creationism scored a victory in Georgia last night. The school board of Cobb County, the state's second-largest, voted 7-0 to adopt a policy that, critics believe, opens the door to introducing creationist critiques of evolution into biology class.
Creationism ranges from biblical literalism to "intelligent design," which disputes natural selection theory. In 1987, the Supreme Court banned its teachings from science classes; since then, evolution foes have been trying to couch their arguments in scientific terms. Cobb County's latest policy replaces one from 1995 that asked elementary and high school curricula to show "respect" for the "family teachings" of Cobb County citizens. In March, the county decided to insert disclaimers into new elementary and high school biology textbooks warning that evolution is just a "theory."
The new policy, adopted at a packed meeting, asserts that "discussion of disputed views of academic subjects is a necessary element of providing a balanced education, including the study of the origin of the species." Responding to the uproar among scientists, educators, and some concerned parents that the proposal has created, the board added a paragraph saying that its purpose is to "foster critical thinking" and not to "promote ... creationism." Just how the new policy will affect classroom teaching is unclear.
Those who oppose the policy say that the school board's action signifies its eagerness to accommodate those parents sympathetic to creationism or intelligent design. High school science teacher Wes McCoy of North Cobb High School in Kennesau, Georgia, sees it as a "nod" to creationists that says, "even though we cannot teach [creationism], we kind of wish we could." Meanwhile, attention may shift to a lawsuit filed against Cobb County on 21 August in U.S. District Court by the American Civil Liberties Union, calling the March agreement on textbook inserts unconstitutional, says biologist Sarah Pallas of Georgia State University in Atlanta. The suit was filed by a Cobb County parent, Jeffrey Selman, who plans to add an additional challenge to the new policy.