Design would join evolution in curriculum

A House bill proposes to add intelligent design theory to biology instruction.
Monday, February 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:51 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A bill introduced by a group of Republican legislators could change the way Missouri schoolchildren learn about science — in particular, the creation and development of life on Earth.

Missouri House Bill 911, dubbed the Missouri Standard Science Act, would in part require state science teachers to give as much class time to “intelligent design” as they do to evolution and natural selection.

Any teacher or school administrator who neglected to do so could be fired.

In the bill, intelligent design is defined as “a hypothesis that the complex form and function observed in biological structures are the result of intelligence and ... that the origin of biological life and the diversity of all original species on Earth are the result of intelligence.” This differs from creationism in that it doesn’t specifically state what sort of intelligence is responsible for the development of life.

In Columbia’s public schools, the bill would most affect 10th-grade biology classes, where students are taught a unit on evolution and natural selection, said Rebecca Litherland, science coordinator for the Columbia Public School District.

But the bill would also set strict guidelines on what sort of information could be taught as scientific law and would require teachers to identify a scientific theory as theory every time it’s taught.

This could affect Columbia students as early as fourth grade, Litherland said.

Although bills requiring that intelligent design be taught have been attempted in other state legislatures, HB 911 is unique, said Eric Meikle, a spokesman for the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif.

“The extent to which this bill seeks to micromanage the state’s schools and the things that it requires schools to do, such as firing teachers and posting a copy of the law on classroom walls, make the bill unusual,” Meikle said.

Litherland said she was concerned about the way the bill would force school districts to teach science in a certain way.

“It interferes with local control, which is a basic tenet of our education system,” she said.

But these measures are necessary because only one side of the evolution debate is being taught to children, said Rep. Susan Phillips, R-Kansas City, one of the bill’s cosponsors.

“The purpose of education is to teach our children how to debate and look at all sides of an issue before they form their own opinions,” Phillips said. “But for years, children have been taught evolution as the only scientific theory.”

The bill mandates that all textbooks purchased after Jan. 1, 2006, be in tune with the new requirements. All textbooks in use after Jan. 1, 2016, would have to meet those requirements. This long lapse exists so school districts can phase in the new books over time, rather than be forced to buy new ones, said Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O’Fallon, who also cosponsored the bill.

HB 911 was introduced Jan. 7. The next step for it is to be read and considered by a House committee, although it has yet to be sent to one.

Davis said that because the bill is being proposed at a time when the state legislature has a lot of other priorities, she is unsure of its chances.

“But if it doesn’t pass this year, it will be back next year,” she said.

No law of its kind has been passed by a U.S. state legislature, Meikle said.

In 1999, the Kansas Board of Education voted to stop teaching evolution in biology classes. The board reversed the decision in 2001.

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