The nonprofit Institute for Creation Research in Dallas wants to train future science teachers in Texas and elsewhere using an online curriculum. A state advisory group gave its approval Friday; now the final say rests with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which will consider the request next month.
The institute’s proposal comes amid a fierce debate over how to teach evolution – the theory that humans and other species evolved from lower forms of life – in Texas public schools.
Some advocacy groups are attacking the creation institute’s plan, saying it’s an attempt to undermine the teaching of science in public schools.
“They teach distorted science,” said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the California-based National Center for Science Education, which opposes teaching creationism in public schools. “Any student coming out from the ICR with a degree in science would not be competent to teach in Texas public schools.”
The institute was created in 1970 by the late Henry M. Morris, a Dallas native known as the father of “creation science,” the view that science – not just religion – indicates that a divine being created the Earth and all living things.
Patricia Nason, chairwoman of the institute’s science education department, said that, despite the institute’s name, students learn evolution along with creationism.
“Our students are given both sides,” said Dr. Nason, who has a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Texas A&M University. “They need to know both sides, and they can draw their own conclusion.”
The institute, through its graduate school, wants to offer an online master’s degree in science education.
According to the school’s Web site, it offers typical education classes, teaching such fundamentals as how to use lab equipment, the Internet and PowerPoint in the classroom. But it also offers a class called “Advanced studies in creationism.”
And the course Web page for “Curriculum design in science” gives this scenario: “The school board has asked you to serve on a committee that is examining grades 6-12 science goals. … Both evolutionist and creationist teachers serve on the curriculum committee. How will you convince them to include creation science as well as evolution in the new scope and sequence?”
The school has offered science degrees in California for years. It offered its first graduate courses in 1981, and its first online courses about two years ago.
The institute began moving its headquarters from the San Diego area to Dallas last year, making it necessary to get approval from the state of Texas to offer degrees here.
The school now has more than 50 students taking online classes all over the world, school officials say.
Most graduates have gone on to teach in private schools, Dr. Nason said, though some may want to teach in public schools.
That’s what scares people like Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network, which also opposes teaching creationism in public schools.
“It just seems odd to license an organization to offer a degree in science when they’re not teaching science,” Mr. Quinn said.
“What we’re seeing here is another example of how Texas is becoming the central state in efforts by creationists to undermine science education, especially the teaching of evolution.”
A group of educators and officials from the state Coordinating Board visited the campus in November and met with faculty members. The group found that the institute offered a standard science education curriculum that would prepare them to take state licensure exams, said Glenda Barron, an associate commissioner of the board.
Dr. Barron said the program was held to the same standards that any other college would have to meet.
“The master’s in science education, we see those frequently,” she said. “What’s different – and what’s got everybody’s attention – is the name of the institution.”
The advisory group that approved the plan Friday includes professors and administrators from six colleges – two public and four affiliated with religious institutions.
One member of the team that visited the school has a background in math and science education. But no one on the team or the panel that gave approval Friday has a background in pure science, records show.
That’s a problem, said Dr. Scott of the National Center for Science Education.
“It sounds like the committee may have just taken at face value what the ICR claims,” she said.
In California, the institute is recognized by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, a group that Dr. Morris helped form.
But Texas doesn’t recognize that accrediting agency. So the institute needs state approval to offer degrees while it pursues accreditation from a recognized agency, most likely the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Dr. Scott predicts that won’t be easy.
“There’s a huge gulf between what the ICR is doing and what they’re doing at legitimate institutions like … [the University of Texas] or Baylor,” she said.
The institute says the purpose of its graduate school is to prepare science teachers “to understand the universe within the integrating framework of Biblical creationism using proven scientific data.”
In 1988, California education officials tried to remove the institute’s authority to grant master’s of science degrees, arguing that the program didn’t pass academic muster. The institute sued the state, arguing that the decision violated its constitutional rights. The school received $225,000 in a 1992 settlement. By then, a new state panel was in charge of evaluating such private schools.
Time zone considered
The institute’s founder, Dr. Morris, who was an engineer by training, died last year. His son Henry Morris III is the institute’s chief executive officer. He told The Dallas Morning News last year that the institute moved to Dallas because “it’s in the Central time zone, with a good airport.” But he also noted that Dallas is a “strong Christian center” that would support teaching from a creationist perspective.
The institute’s search for approval in Texas comes just weeks after the science director of the Texas Education Agency resigned under pressure over allegations that she had inappropriately endorsed evolution. She had forwarded an e-mail about a talk in Austin by a professor and author who opposes teaching creationism in public schools.
The state Board of Education is set to revise its science curriculum in the coming year. Current regulations require the teaching of evolution, but many conservatives in Texas want teachers to address what they see as weaknesses of evolution. Some scientists say, for instance, that cells are so complicated they can’t be fully explained by evolution.
Dr. Nason said the institute wants to help schoolchildren perform better in science, and to encourage them to go into math and science fields.
Dr. Scott sees other motives. Institute officials, she said, “very much want to get these views in the public schools. They believe that evolution is an evil idea that students should reject because they believe if students learn and accept evolution, they’ll give up their faith.”
THE SCHOOL AND ITS BELIEFS
INSTITUTE FOR CREATION RESEARCH
Offices: In Dallas and Santee, Calif.
Annual budget: $7 million
Faculty members: four full time
Students: more than 50
Degrees: master of science degree in science education with minors in astro/geophysics, biology, geology and general science.
School: The institute runs its own graduate school that offers master’s of science education degrees. Its stated mission: to “research, educate and communicate Truth involving the study and promotion of scientific creationism, Biblical creationism, and related fields.”
The Institute for Creation Research Graduate School sets out its educational philosophy and beliefs on its Web site, www.icr.org.
On its philosophy: The institute says its administration and faculty are “committed to the tenets of both scientific creationism and Biblical creationism.” It says the two “are compatible … and all genuine facts of science support the Bible.”
On public schools: The institute “maintains that scientific creationism should be taught along with the scientific aspects of evolutionism in tax-supported institutions.”
SOME TENETS OF SCIENTIFIC CREATIONISM
The physical universe “was supernaturally created by a transcendent personal Creator who alone has existed from eternity.”
Life “was specially and supernaturally created by the Creator.”
All plants and animals were “created functionally complete from the beginning and did not evolve from some other kind of organism.”
Evolution since creation is “limited to ‘horizontal’ changes (variations) within the kinds, or ‘downward’ changes (e.g., harmful mutations, extinctions).
Humans “were specially created in fully human form from the start.”
SOME TENETS OF BIBLICAL CREATIONISM
The creator of the universe is a triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The universe was created “in the six literal days of the Creation Week” described in Genesis.
All human beings descended from Adam and Eve.
Original title: Creation college seeks state’s OK to train teachers
Dallas school plans master’s in science education, fueling debate over teaching evolution
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