For months, proponents of teaching intelligent design in Ohio classrooms have been told the topic doesn't belong in the science curriculum, but rather in a comparative religion or social studies class.
But yesterday, when some members of the State Board of Education suggested that, the response from some of their colleagues and Department of Education officials was not enthusiastic.
The tension became palpable when Virgil E. Brown, a board member from Cleveland, said during a committee hearing that alternatives to Darwinism could be included in grade-by-grade guidelines for social studies.
"Where could you insert intelligent design? In comparative religion studies?'' he asked a department consultant, who had been reviewing some minor changes recently made to the proposal.
"I'm not prepared to answer that today,'' said Donna Nesbitt, after a few moments of uneasy silence.
Deborah Owens Fink, a board member from Richfield, reminded her colleagues that the suggestion to include intelligent design in social studies classes has been made by many evolutionists who argue that intelligent design is untested, making it inappropriate material to mandate in science classes.
"But polls show that many Ohioans believe in intelligent design and that other ideas should be taught,'' she said. "Social studies seems like a good fit.''
"Do we know how other states have handled this?'' asked Thomas E. McClain, a Columbus member and committee co-chairman.
"They're looking to us,'' Fink quipped.
Nesbitt responded, "No other states have intelligent design in their social studies standards.''
As Ohio revamps its student testing system, the state board is adopting curriculum models designed to let teachers, students and their parents know what a child is expected to learn in each grade for every subject included in the assessments.
Last year, the board approved guidelines for English and mathematics. State law requires that social studies and science standards be in place by the end of this year. The board plans to vote on the proposals in December.
The science standards became embroiled in controversy earlier this year when evolution critics on the committee writing the standards asked that students be taught about intelligent design and other alternatives to evolution.
The debate has drawn international attention because Ohio would become the first state to require such instruction.
Yesterday, Michael Cochran, a board member from Blacklick, noted that 12,000 of the 17,000 responses the Education Department has received on the science standards are from people who support teaching evolution, intelligent design, creationism and any other competing concept.
"That's 3-to-1. How are we to react to that beside what we are doing -- ignoring it?'' Cochran said, looking to his colleagues for a response.
"I guess your silence is the answer.''
But evolution supporters said polls can be deceiving based on how questions are posed and that local school districts still can opt to provide instruction on topics not covered in the standards.
Afterward, Fink said she and other supporters of alternative views will propose at the committee's October meeting adding such instruction in the social studies standards, likely under comparative religion instruction to be given in the seventh grade. In contrast, science standards call for students to learn about evolution in the 10th grade.
But based on comments and a straw vote taken in the committee yesterday, intelligent design proponents appear to be one vote shy of the five they need. They also would have the option of bringing up such an amendment when the standards reach the full board later this year.
"It's clear there is a concerted effort to keep this completely out of the standards, not just science,'' Cochran said. "But as long as the standards deal directly or indirectly with the origins of life, then we need to include all themes and if not, then we ought to take it out.''
File Date: 09.14.02