06:56 PM CST on Friday, January 23, 2009
By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN – State Board of Education members tentatively approved new science curriculum standards Friday that scrap a longtime requirement that students be taught the "weaknesses" in the theory of evolution.
The action came after board members aligned with social conservatives were unable to muster enough support on the 15-member board to retain the rule in a preliminary vote Thursday. The decision was a major setback for the seven Republican board members, who argued vigorously for keeping the "weaknesses" requirement.
However, evolution critics scored a minor victory when a majority of board members agreed to an amendment that calls for students to discuss the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of Charles Darwin's tenet that humans and other living things have common ancestors.
The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based organization that sought to preserve the "weaknesses" rule, said the amendment and another similar change adopted by the board would make it easier for teachers and students to raise questions about the theory of evolution. The institute promotes an alternative explanation for the origin of man, one that says life on earth is the result of "intelligent design" by an unknown being or entity.
John West, an associate director of the institute, said the changes will let students analyze "some of the most important and controversial aspects of modern evolutionary theory such as the fossil record and universal common descent."
Representatives for the Texas Freedom Network, which fought to scuttle the "weaknesses" rule, said it will seek to rescind the amendments by social conservatives when the board has a final vote on the curriculum standards in March.
The changes "could provide a small foothold for teaching creationist ideas and dumbing down biology instruction in Texas," said TFN president Kathy Miller, adding that science teachers and college professors will review the changes and make recommendations before the March board meeting.
She also called the board decision against requiring weaknesses of evolution to be taught "a very important victory for sound science education."
All three Dallas-area board members opposed the "weaknesses" rule, citing the recommendations of a review committee of science teachers and academics who contended it would undermine teaching of Darwin's theory. Those board members were Republicans Geraldine Miller of Dallas and Pat Hardy of Weatherford, and Democrat Mavis Knight of Dallas.
Approved on a voice vote, the new curriculum standards spell out not only how evolution is to be covered, but also what is supposed to be taught in all science classes in elementary and secondary schools, as well as providing the material for state tests and textbooks over the next decade.