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Schools Chief’s Viewpoint Evolves

Times Staff Writer

Georgia’s superintendent of schools said Thursday that she would restore the word “evolution” to the public schools’ proposed science curriculum.

Kathy Cox said she originally believed that including the word in the new teaching plan would be more controversial than eliminating it. But “I am here to tell you,” she said in a statement, “that I misjudged the situation, and I want to apologize for that.

“I want you to know today that I will recommend ... that the word ‘evolution’ be put back in the curriculum.”

When Cox announced the teaching plan in mid-January, it included most of the subject matter recommended by a respected national science organization -- but panels of educators had edited out the word “evolution,” along with the majority of the related subject matter. The superintendent’s proposal would not have prevented the teaching of the theory; it would have just required much less of it. It also would not have prevented teachers from using the word “evolution” if they chose to.

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Still, the proposal, first publicized last week in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, caused an uproar among parents, educators and scientists in Georgia.

On the day the article appeared, Cox held a news conference defending the decision -- in which she called evolution “a buzzword” that could cause Georgians to reject the entire curriculum plan. She said students should be introduced to alternative theories, such as “intelligent design,” which holds that the development of Earth’s species could not have been random.

Former President Carter then released a statement saying he was embarrassed by the attempt to “censor and distort the education of Georgia’s students” and warning that Cox was making Georgia the butt of “nationwide ridicule.”

Eleven thousand people signed an online petition protesting the change; some said they would leave the state or remove their children from public schools.

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Opponents of teaching evolution in public schools had their own complaints, saying the word change didn’t alter the material being taught, only masked it.

Gov. Sonny Perdue also questioned the curriculum proposal, telling the Journal-Constitution, “If you’re going to teach evolution, you’ve got to call it evolution.” He also called for a “balance” between evolution and other theories about the origins of life.

David Bechler, chairman of the biology department at Valdosta State University, said Thursday that the decision to keep the word pleased him but that the state still needed to restore the passages on evolution to the curriculum.

He said he doubted the controversy would hurt Georgia’s ability to attract scientists and highly educated workers.

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“I would assume that most people don’t find Georgia to be some backwater,” he said. “But they’re probably very intrigued with the politics that have taken place in this state.”


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