Ignorance Excludes Evolution

It’s been one year exactly since my op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Ignorance Excludes Evolution“, first revealed to the public what our state school superintendent was doing with our science standards.

I originally tried to publish something in my college newspaper, The Red and Black, but the editor would never return my calls. I next sent my letter to the local paper, the Athens Banner-Herald, but got no response from them. (I had hoped to get a UGA faculty member to do something for the ABH.)

In the mean time, GCISE was in contact with the AJC about the standards and got them to run a story on it. After we knew that the story was being run, we sent letters to the AJC to accompany it. Although, it was rather long, I sent my failed letter to the AJC. To my surprise the AJC liked it and decided to run it as an op-ed the day before their story about the standards was scheduled to run, thus giving me the honor of being first. I had the settle for my third choice, being published in the largest paper in the southeast.

Ignorance excludes evolution

By REED A. CARTWRIGHT

Last month, Merck & Co. chose North Carolina over Georgia for the site of a new vaccine manufacturing facility.

In making its decision, the pharmaceutical giant cited the more highly skilled workers in our neighboring state.

This month, the Georgia Department of Education released drafts of the proposed science standards for k-12 public school education.

These standards are supposed to be “stronger” and the foundation of a “world-class curriculum.” Sadly they verge on being a joke.

The Georgia DOE has gutted biology education by removing the very basis of modern biology, more than likely for sectarian politics. Instead of enlightening opponents of modern science through education, DOE will perpetuate ignorance through silence. We do not compromise history education for those who deny the Holocaust; why should we compromise biology education for those who deny evolution?

As the foundation of our state’s draft standards, Georgia DOE utilized the Project 2061 benchmarks, which were formulated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Instead of strengthening these national benchmarks to create a truly world-class curriculum, the DOE has weakened them by removing sections concerning the history of life, common descent, human origins, the role we play in the ecosystem, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and other topics.

The pattern is clear, and the pseudoscientific sympathies our governor and state school superintendent expressed during their election campaigns now threaten our state’s educational and economic future.

Georgia DOE has even eliminated the mere mention of “evolution” in the biology standards and is sorely mistaken to think that entering college freshmen are not expected to know what evolution is.

The best biology teachers will still prepare their students properly for college. But most teachers will choose to teach only the state standards, which means the majority of Georgia’s high school students will graduate with a weak science education.

What students know when they get out of high school directly affects what they know when they get out of college. The more time spent in college learning things that should have been learned in high school, the less chance to succeed and the less time to prepare for employment after college. Thus, compromising k-12 science education directly compromises the economy of Georgia.

At a time when the state is desperately trying to court the biotech industry, these science standards encourage companies to look elsewhere. Merck was not the first company to bypass Georgia and surely will not be the last if we fail to adopt a truly world-class curriculum.

Complete adoption of the AAAS benchmarks, including the sections that ignorance finds controversial, is the best and easiest way for the state to proceed at this point. With such improved standards the high-tech companies will come to us instead of us going to them.

The Georgia Department of Education needs to hear from the people that these proposed standards are not world-class and that the complete adoption of the AAAS benchmarks is needed.

Reed A. Cartwright is a doctoral student in genetics at the University of Georgia.

The op-ed is changed slightly from what I had originally written. The AJC’s editor didn’t feel that some of my comments were well supported. However, my original letter appeared later in both the ABH and The Flagpole, Athens’ local liberal weekly. That of course was after Georgia’s standards had become big news around the world.

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