Teachers and Students encouraged to use critical thinking skills in New Mexico
Although the New Mexico Board of Education voted to keep evolution in the science curriculum, Education Department manager Sharon Dogruel assured concerned citizens that it was not the State’s intention to indoctrinate students in the theory. Teachers will be free to present research evidence that poses problems for macroevolutionary theory and students may ask questions.

Evolution Science Staying in Schools

By Diana Heil | The New Mexican
August 29, 2003

Ken Whiton, a retired science teacher, stood guard Thursday as the state Board of Education discussed its final vote on what students should know about the sciences before they graduate.

He remembers co-workers harping on him for teaching Charles Darwin's theory of biological evolution. And he knew teachers who wouldn't broach the topic for fear of criticism from parents.

Whiton applauds the latest version of science-content standards, which keep evolution firmly planted in New Mexico's public schools. But to make sure the science standards didn't get watered down at the last minute, he sat through Thursday's meeting.

"We need to fit in with what is generally accepted around the world as good, solid science," Whiton said.

On Wednesday, the board's Instructional Services Committee wavered on the standards -- with a 4-2 vote in favor. But Thursday, the full Board of Education approved the science-content standards unanimously.

Joe Renick, a mechanical engineer who heads New Mexico's branch of Intelligent Design Network Inc., posed a couple of questions to the board. Yet, he encouraged members to approve the standards, despite reservations his group raised during the review.

Renick wanted to know: What will children be taught about where they come from? Will macroevolution be presented as an undisputed fact?

Sharon Dogruel, the state Education Department's manager for this project, answered his questions, saying teachers should present evolution as the best scientific explanation we have at this time, not as an absolute. The aim is "not to present a particular belief system or indoctrinate students," who should be encouraged to use their critical thinking and inquiry skills, she said.

Dogruel also reassured Renick that teachers may present research that poses problems for macroevolutionary theory and students may ask questions.

"Once again, the basis of science is inquiry," Dogruel said.

Board member Flora Sanchez put a stop to mixed messages, though. She clarified this point: The state is not asking teachers to present all the alternatives to evolution and "put them on an equal footing."

The final debate seemed to quell the worries of the two dissenting board members from Wednesday.

Millie Pogna, who represents Albuquerque, had 100 calls from parents to consider. "My concern has always been that students have the opportunity to question," she said, explaining her change of heart before Thursday's vote.

John Lankford, who represents Roswell, got emotional about it. He had more than 300 letters, from New Mexico and beyond, to consider. Days of thoughtful debate proved helpful, he said.

"I've heard both sides. And both sides are not that far apart," he said.

He was pleased to hear people say that science is evolving.

Lankford is confident he can tell Roswell residents their children's rights won't be denied: Everyone has the right to question.

In 1997, New Mexico science standards downplayed biological evolution. But two years later, evolution's place was restored to the public-school curriculum through another set of revisions.

The standards approved Thursday create a more organized approach to the sciences, proponents say. Simple concepts in elementary school are built upon in middle school and prepare students for the complex theories they'll encounter in high school.

Before the vote, Rebecca Keller endorsed the standards as a scientist, a parent and a Christian who believes the world is the result of intelligent design. The University of New Mexico research assistant professor in chemistry also served on the team that wrote the standards.

Students should understand what science can and cannot answer, she said.

"A student's belief in God remains intact," she said. "These are a good set of standards for Christian students and for all students regardless of their backgrounds."

Half the room was packed with scientists Thursday.

And board member Eleanor Ortiz of Santa Fe gave them special note: "I just want to commend the scientists in the audience. They have evolved into very nice people."

File Date: 11.24.03