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Slowly, Slowly South Carolina Hammers Out a New Science Standard


As I previously reported, South Carolina’s Education Oversight Committee voted 7-4 to include new science standard H.B.5C.4 in the state’s 2014 Draft Academic Standards. In its current form, H.B.5C.4 reads as follows:

Construct scientific arguments that seem to support and scientific arguments that seem to discredit Darwinian natural selection.

The State Board of Education must also approve H.B.5C.4 before South Carolina teachers will be asked to teach students to do what H.B.5C.4 calls on students to do.

On behalf of the Education Oversight Committee, biologist Don Ewert and I addressed the State Board of Education at its June 11 meeting on the wording and wisdom of H.B.5C.4.

Although the Board voted against the standard as written, the Board and Education Oversight Committee may convene a special panel to amend H.B.5C.4 to better carry out the purpose of the standard, which is to increase opportunities for critical inquiry in K-12 science education.

During my address to the Board, which was recorded, I stated:

(1) that "the standard as written does encourage teachers to teach students how to argue both sides of a scientific proposition;" (2) that, according to Stanford’s Jonathan Osborne, "argument and debate are common in science yet are virtually absent in science education;" (3) that, contrary to statements uttered during the public comment period, "nowhere [in the text of the standard] is there an opportunity for [the insertion of religion into science class] however if an amendment were required to make that perfectly clear, that’s something Discovery Institute would be happy to help with;" and (4) that "the complaint that this [standard] would somehow hurt the state is out of step with what the evidence says."

Biologist Don Ewert then addressed the Board, stating:

(1) that "science is often used to persuade us on the validity of an issue, be it global warming, genetic engineering of foods or a weight loss program;" (2) that "the study of the origins of living organisms is an historical science that is of necessity based on indirect evidence open to interpretation;" (3) that "epigenetic control and modes of inheritance outside the gene undermines the role of genes alone as the central player in evolution and raises doubt that natural selection can explain the complexity of living organisms;" (4) and that "the Miller and Levine textbook, published in 2009, does not even reference the term epigenetics."

During the question and answer period that followed our address, Board member Willis asked, "How do we grow in knowledge without scrutinizing a theory?" He then stated: "I agree we’ll probably end up looking at how this [standard] could be worded differently." Board member Edwards similarly stated: "The wording needs to be changed" because "the intent is to get students to know how to do proper research and ask questions so you can come up with new ideas."

An amended H.B.5C.4 may be put to another vote in the near term.

Photo: South Carolina State House/Wikipedia.

Joshua Youngkin

An attorney, and previously, Discovery Institute Program Officer in Public Policy and Legal Affairs.



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