This week the Alabama State Board of Education unanimously voted to replace old science standards, including a warning sticker that described evolution as “a controversial theory.” In future school years, Alabama science textbooks will no longer urge students to “wrestle with the unresolved problems still faced” by evolution.
For decades, public school science teachers have complained about Alabama’s science curriculum, which many said incorrectly presented evolution as an unproven, speculative theory.
“You might not accept it, but that doesn’t change the fact,” says Alabama science teacher Ryan Reardon. “Talking about evolution in a classroom is controversial, but there is no controversy about how all the organisms on the planet are related to each other.”
From now on, a preface to new science textbooks will read:
“The theory of evolution has a role in explaining unity and diversity of life on earth. This theory is substantiated with much direct and indirect evidence. Therefore, this course of study requires our students to understand the principles of the theory of evolution from the perspective of established scientific knowledge.”
The unanimous vote comes at a time when the federal government is increasing its focus on preparing students for careers in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and math. The federal government spends $5 billion a year on the National Science Foundation, but just $250 million for arts and humanities.
Because of the influence of creationists on school boards in southern states, many districts have implemented science curricula that disparage the concept of evolution. However, the Supreme Court has held that teaching creationism in public school science classrooms violates the Establishment Clause in the U.S. Constitution. Even so, evolution has always been a very emotional topic in the past.
So why the lack of controversy now? First, the Alabama Science Teachers Association publicly backed the updated standards. Then, the state required citizens to limit comments at public hearings to concerns regarding specific standards, rather than voicing general opposition to evolution. But most importantly, the new science standards dodged the latest hot-button science issue — climate change. While the new standards do discuss global warming, they stop short of claiming humans have caused temperatures to rise.
Still, supporters of the standards say the new textbooks are “a great starting point.”