The state’s school superintendent has proposed striking the word evolution from Georgia’s science curriculum and replacing it with the phrase “biological changes over time.”
The change, which drew criticism from both liberals and conservatives, is included in more than 800 pages of draft revisions to Georgia’s curriculum that have been posted by the Department of Education on its Web site. The middle and high school standards are expected to be voted on by the state Board of Education in May, after public comments.
Superintendent Kathy Cox said the concept of evolution would still be taught under the proposal, but the word would not be used in the curriculum. The proposal would not require schools to buy new textbooks omitting the word evolution and would not prevent teachers from using it.
Cox, a Republican elected to the post in 2002, repeatedly referred to evolution as a “buzzword” Thursday and said the ban was proposed, in part, to alleviate pressure on teachers in socially conservative areas where parents object to its teaching.
“If teachers across this state, parents across this state say, ‘This is not what we want,’ then we’ll change it,” Cox said.
Educators and legislators criticized the proposal, saying science teachers understand the theories behind evolution and how to teach them.
“Here we are, saying we have to improve standards and improve education, and we’re just throwing a bone to the conservatives with total disregard to what scientists say,” said state Rep. Bob Holmes, a Democrat.
Former President Jimmy Carter had harsh words for the change on Friday, calling it an embarrassment and saying it exposes the state to nationwide ridicule.
“As a Christian, a trained engineer and scientist, and a professor at Emory University, I am embarrassed by Superintendent Kathy Cox’s attempt to censor and distort the education of Georgia’s students,” Carter said in a statement.
Cox spokesman Kirk Englehardt said the superintendent respects Carter’s opinion, “as we do the opinions of all citizens of Georgia.”
“We would also like to make sure that President Carter, as well as the rest of Georgia’s citizens, understands that we’re not imposing a ban on evolution from textbooks or the classroom,” he said.
Social conservatives who prefer religious creation to be taught instead of evolution criticized the proposal as well.
“If you’re teaching the concept without the word, what’s the point?” said Rep. Bobby Franklin, a Republican. “It’s stupid. It’s like teaching gravity without using the word gravity.”
Carter, a Baptist and Democrat who had served as Georgia governor before he was elected president in 1976, said that existing references to evolution in Georgia’s curriculum have done nothing to damage religious faith in the state.
Currently five states — Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi and Oklahoma — have no references to evolution in their state school curriculums, according to the National Center for Science Education.