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Evolving education

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By Stephen Lega

 

A group of Kentucky legislators are questioning proposed education standards for Kentucky students. Apparently, in order to meet national education standards, students should be taught about evolution.


For a few legislators, this is too much, or it’s maybe not enough.
“I would hope that creationism is presented as a theory in the classroom, in a science classroom, alongside evolution,” Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, told the Lexington Herald-Leader last week.
It’s probably not a surprise that in the state that is home to the Creation Museum some legislators doubt the value of teaching evolution.
It’s not a new issue, but in a way, this most recent controversy was created by the legislators themselves. In the same Herald-Leader article, Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, the House Education Committee chairman, pointed out that the push in Kentucky’s educational requirements to meet national standards came about because legislators approved those changes three years ago.
“Republicans did want the end-of-course tests tied to national norms; now they’re upset because when ACT surveyed biology professors across the nation, they said students have to have a thorough knowledge of evolution to do well in college biology courses,” Rollins told the Herald-Leader.
Evolution isn’t taught in college biology classes just because it sounds interesting. It’s taught because it’s the operating “theory” among biologists around the world.
We all know and understand that a sizable percent of the U.S. population believes the Biblical account of creation. Many of these people will argue that evolution is “just a theory” and therefore competing theories (usually creationism) should be taught alongside evolution. (For the record, this would be the same way that Einstein’s theory of relativity is “just a theory” in physics.)
The “just a theory” argument ignores how that word is used by scientists. Theories are not just ideas. In science, theories are concepts that have proven themselves valid because of repeated tests or observations. Charles Darwin came up with a hypothesis that natural selection allowed for members of a species best adapted to their environment to survive. It was not immediately accepted just because he published “The Origin of Species” in 1859.
As other scientists made their own observations and evaluated the available data, evolution gradually gained wider acceptance.
As our technology has improved, even more scientists examined what evidence exists either to support or refute the notion that the various life forms on our planet have come be as a result of gradual mutations. Evidence big (fossils) and small (genetics) has added further support in favor of the theory of evolution, and today, it is the operating theory for how biologists understand life on Earth.
Obviously, I am not a scientist, but I do tend to trust the consensus of the scientific community on those matters. That means I accept concepts such as evolution, gravity, and plate tectonics.
That said, learning about evolution does not require students to believe it.
What is clear, however, is that a basic understanding of the theory of evolution should be considered essential for the sake of students who want to continue their education.
Hopefully, Givens and his colleague can understand that, too.