The Arizona Board of Education has voted to keep evolution in the state’s science standards, rejecting an attempt by Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas to water it down.
Educators in the state have been grappling with the issue for months. Douglas, an elected Republican official who lost a primary election earlier this year, had proposed replacing the word “evolution” in the standards with vague terms. She even appointed a creationist to a working group that drafted the standards.
During a meeting in late October, members of the state board voted to reject Douglas’ proposals. By a 6-4 vote, they agreed to restore references to evolution to the standards.
Douglas made a last-ditch effort to weaken the study of evolution during the meeting by proposing that the board adopt a series of science standards produced by Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian institution in Michigan. Douglas’ proposal died when no member of the board would second it.
Phoenix New Times reported that Douglas was distraught. She called the standards “vague and incomplete at best, indoctrination at worst.”
Members of the Arizona Science Teachers Association disagreed. While meeting in September, the group asked the board to reinstate references to evolution in the standards and keep out anything smacking of creationism.
During her time in office, Douglas made no secret of her disdain for evolution. “Personally, I absolutely believe that intelligent design ... should be taught alongside evolution,” she said. “But the courts have deemed that unconstitutional.”
She called on Arizona public schools “to clearly define the strengths and weaknesses of evolution theory” – a common tactic among creationists these days.
On other occasions, Douglas demonstrated that she has a shaky understanding of evolutionary theory.
“Show me where any scientist has proven or replicated that life came from non-living matter or that, if you would, in the example we see in the museums, that man evolved from an ape, there’s no proof to that,” Douglas told reporters after the October meeting. “And that’s all I’m saying to our teachers.”
The National Center for Science Education, an ally of Americans United, applauded the outcome.
“This is a tremendous victory for Arizona science education,” said Ann Reid, the group’s executive director. “Only with a scientifically accurate and pedagogically appropriate treatment of evolution and climate change in their state science standards – and in their textbooks and classrooms – will Arizona’s public school students be adequately prepared to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.”
Americans United also spoke up. On Oct. 18, Nikolas Nartowicz, AU’s state legislative counsel, wrote to board members and urged them to make sure evolution remained in the standards.
“Americans United is committed to protecting students’ and parents’ rights to have sound science, rather than religious belief, taught in public-school science classrooms,” Nartowicz observed. “Thus, we urge you to approve state standards on evolution that rely on the best available scientific evidence and do not undermine student education.”