Georgia Schools Chief Erases Evolution, Then Restores It To Standards

Georgia's superintendent of schools announced in January that the word "evolution" would be dropped from state biology standards, but quickly reversed herself after public outcry.

Superintendent Kathy Cox came under fire after she released new proposed standards for middle and high school classes over the internet in January and solicited public comment. Critics immediately noticed that the word "evolution" did not appear in the biology standards. Instead, the standards referred to "biological changes over time."

Cox initially tried to defend the action. At a press conference, she told reporters that evolution is "a buzzword that causes a lot of negative reaction" because, she said, many people associate it with "that monkeys-to-man sort of thing."

Science educators in the state were appalled. "They've taken away a major component of biology and acted as if it doesn't exist," David Bechler, head of the Biology Department at Valdosta State University told The New York Times. "By doing this, we're leaving the public short-changed of the knowledge they should have."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that a committee of science teachers, college professors and curriculum experts helped draw up the standards. The committee based them on national standards that include evolution, but that material was later removed.

Terrie Kielborn, a middle school science teacher who served on the committee, told the newspaper the committee felt pressured to keep evolution out. "We were pretty much told not to put it in there," Kielborn said.

Cox, a Republican elected in 2002, has expressed sympathy for creationism in the past. During a campaign debate, she backed parents in Cobb County who tried to water down the teaching of evolution in public schools, remarking, "It was a good thing for parents and the community to stand up and say, 'We want our children exposed to this [creationism] idea as well....I'd leave the state out of it, and I would make sure teachers were well prepared to deal with competing theories."

Reaction to the attempted deletion of evolution was swift. Even President Jimmy Carter, a Georgia resident, weighed in. "As a Christian, a trained engineer and scientist and a professor at Emory University, I am embarrassed by Superintendent Kathy Cox's attempt to censor and distort the education of Georgia's students," Carter said in a statement.

Cox folded after Gov. Sonny Purdue, a conservative Republican, said he favored putting references to evolution back in the standards.

"I am here to tell you that I misjudged the situation, and I want to apologize for that," Cox said in a statement.

Evolution defenders, while happy to see the term back in the standards, said more work needs to be done. They have criticized other sections of the standards that, they say, distort the principle of natural selection and fail to discuss the age of the universe.