- The Washington Times - Monday, June 18, 2001

An amendment to the Senate education bill that advises biology teachers to alert students to disputes over biological evolution won overwhelming bipartisan support but may be derailed in conference committee between the House and Senate.
Supporters of the two-sentence amendment are emphasizing that it calls only for academic openness and is advisory to states. Critics of the amendment, which passed 91-8 on Wednesday, say it singles out evolution unfairly as a problematic science.
"Where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions," said the second sentence of the "sense of the Senate" amendment.
The amendment, offered by Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, opened by saying, "Good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science."
Law professor Phillip E. Johnson, who has written widely on evolution being taught dogmatically in public schools, helped frame the language earlier this month while visiting Washington for a public lecture.
"I offered some language to Senator Santorum, after he had decided to propose a resolution of this sort," Mr. Johnson said.
Wayne Carley, executive director of the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) in Reston, Va., said biologists concerned about the amendment will mount an opposition campaign.
"Well do our letter-writing to senators," he said. "Wed like to see it die in conference committee."
Mr. Carley said biology teachers agree in some ways with the common-sense statement, but know that it will be used politically by anti-evolutionists to say the U.S. Senate opposes a straightforward teaching of evolution.
He said the second sentence is "most troublesome" because it says teachers should raise evolution as a disputed theory in science. "Why single out evolution?" Mr. Carley said.
The eight opponents to the amendment were Republicans. Democrats gave it a glowing endorsement in floor debate.
"We want children to be able to speak and examine various scientific theories on the basis of all of the information that is available to them so they can talk about different concepts and do it intelligently," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.
Such advice to states would "lead to a more thoughtful treatment of this topic in the classroom," said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat.
Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, used the occasion "to clear the record" on a Kansas Board of Education vote in 1999, which drew international scorn because it let local districts decide how extensively to teach evolution.
"Their vote was cast based on the most basic scientific principle that science is about what we observe, not what we assume," Mr. Brownback said.
The requirement to teach all levels of evolution for state tests was reinstated in Kansas in January under a new school board.
Opponents of the amendment said it was federal intrusion.
Sen. Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island Republican, "didnt understand why the federal government should, in this particular instance, get involved in the local curriculum development," said Chafee spokesman Jeff Neal.
Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican, firmly backed local control.
"I do not believe that it is the appropriate role of the federal government to dictate the content of education curriculum to local communities," Mr. Thompson told The Washington Times in a statement.
"It is particularly in issues like the content of what our children are taught that input and control by the local community are so important," he said.
Mr. Carley said the NABT is not geared to grass-roots lobbying, but that the federally chartered American Institute of Biological Sciences has a massive e-mail list that may be used to galvanize biologists.

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