Cox backpedals on evolution

By Greg Gelpi

Changing her stance, State Superintendent of Education Kathy Cox decided to push for the word "evolution" to be placed in the state's proposed curriculum.

A week after calling a press conference to defend her decision to remove the word "evolution" from the curriculum, Cox called another press conference Thursday to put the word back in. Minutes before the conference, she canceled and issued a statement instead.

"I made the decision to remove the word ?evolution' from the draft of the proposed biology curriculum in an effort to avoid controversy that would prevent people from reading the substance of the document itself," she said in her statement. "Instead, a greater controversy ensued."

Georgia attracted national and international attention for Cox's proposal to replace "evolution" with "biological changes over time" in the state's proposed curriculum.

"I am here to tell you that I misjudged the situation, and I want to apologize for that," Cox said. "I want you to know today (Thursday) that I will recommend to the teacher teams that the word ?evolution' be put back in the curriculum. Let us move forward with the work of ensuring that Georgia's schools, teachers, and schoolchildren have a world-class curriculum that will help us lead the nation in improving student achievement."

The decision to remove the word "evolution" from the curriculum brought criticism from all walks of life, State Department of Education Public Information Officer Kirk Englehardt, said. From media in Russia and Ireland to scientific experts and former President Jimmy Carter, the department received "hundreds upon hundreds" of e-mails.

Cox is recalling the "science teacher team" this month rather the April as had been planned to review the feedback, Englehardt said. Although Cox will "recommend" the word be put back in by the team, Englehardt assures that it will be in the final curriculum brought to the State Board of Education for approval.

"You're going to see the word is in there," he said. "She recognizes that she is not a science teacher and not a scientist."

Clayton College & State University biology professor Greg Hampikian had denounced Cox's decision to remove the word. The University System of Georgia Biology Academic Advisory Committee, of which Hampikian is the chairman, issued a statement in November endorsing the teaching of evolution and opposing the teaching of creationism in science classes.

According to the statement, "we expect that all students entering our colleges and universities from around the state have a clear and accurate understanding of the basic tenets of biological evolution so that they will be prepared for college-level biology classes."

In the proposed biology curriculum, Cox included the concepts of evolution and even Charles Darwin, a principle theorist of evolution, so as not to exclude any theories and in hopes of allowing all ideas to be taught.

The Rev. James Vaughn Jr., pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church in McDonough, said that evolution and creationism, science and religion can coexist.

"Though they are not antagonistic, it's important that we have perspective," Vaughn said.

He explained that many religions and schools of thought have beliefs about how life began, including two different versions in the book of Genesis alone.

"I'm not convinced it's the school's responsibility to teach the creation story," Vaughn said. "That is the responsibility of the church to teach that. I wouldn't want a school to teach my son the creation story."

He said the theory of evolution can go too far when it says that humans evolved from "lower beings."

"The theory of evolution stands whether you're religious or agnostic," Vaughn said. "We do have to realize there are limits."

The Rev. Dean Haun, senior pastor of Jonesboro First Baptist Church, opposes the theory of evolution, saying it's discredited by lack of fossil evidence.

"I still hold to the position that there have been ?biological changes over time,' but they have been within species groups," Haun said. "That has been my biggest difference with evolution."

He doesn't believe evolution caused animals to develop into humans.

Cox has caused most of the controversy related to the evolution issue, he said.

"Had she not brought it up it, it probably would have been a non-issue," Haun said. "It would probably have gotten no publicity at all."

Nancy Hutchinson, a Jonesboro resident, is hoping for more publicity, particularly for other parts of the curriculum.

Hutchinson is concerned about the history curriculum, saying it doesn't teach enough American or ancient history.

"I think maybe (Cox) has gotten some insight after Jimmy Carter, who is known worldwide, criticized her," Hutchinson said. "It gives me great hope that, if enough people inspire her, she'll change."

Englehardt said that Cox has no plans of recommending changes for the other content areas.

The proposed biology curriculum as well as the Georgia Department of Education's complete proposed curriculum overhaul, known as the Georgia Performance Standards, is in the public comment phase.

The public can access the proposed curriculum by visiting www.gadoe.org. Public comments will be accepted into March.