Originally created 11/14/97

New state curriculum includes 'evolution' -- a Georgia first



ATLANTA - The Board of Education approved a mammoth rewrite of Georgia's public school curriculum Thursday - daring to use the word "evolution" for the first time.

The final product will soon be on its way to state teachers.

Supporters say the 1,400-page curriculum - the written guide to what children should learn - is more user-friendly and will give students a more concentrated, hands-on understanding of subjects.

"You will spend more time (on a subject), do more in-depth, rather than just doing bits and pieces," said Martha Cleveland, a fourthgrade Calhoun teacher who helped write the science curriculum for elementary school students.

"We felt like if students have more concentration in one area, more hands-on activities, more student-involvement activities, they're going to retain the knowledge."

Teachers should receive the new curriculum by January. It will be in place by next fall and used to design a new testing system administered beginning in 2000.

A team of 150 volunteers - many of them classroom teachers - spent nearly two years re-writing the state's curriculum, which hadn't been revised since 1988.

The board approved the proposal 10-1, with the only opposition coming from J.T. Williams, a member from Stockbridge, who wanted more public input.

The sole public complaint at Thursday's Board of Education meeting came from a parent who identified himself only as Michael H. He objected to schools teaching the theory of evolution.

Evolution has been taught in Georgia schools for years, but the word never appeared in curriculum, in deference to creationists. Instead, the curriculum described species evolution as "organic variations."

Michael H called evolution "a theory that is going to send their souls to hell, regardless of the God you believe in.

"If we care about our children, if we have their best interest at heart, why do we teach them a theory that has no moral authority?

"If there is no moral authority, then it's chaos, because everybody's opinion is their own rule. If you want to make a difference, take evolution out of our schools."

Board Chairman Johnny Isakson of Marietta said he doesn't adhere to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, but he thinks students should be exposed to a wide array of ideas.

"I hope when we are graduating children from Georgia public schools, we are graduating children who have been exposed to a content of knowledge and theories that allow them to make quality decisions for themselves," Isakson said. "I would worry about approaching education from a standpoint of excluding information."

Isakson, a longtime Atlantaarea business leader and president of Northside Realty, expects the new curriculum to do a better job of getting students ready for life after school.

"You will hear a lot less (from businesses) that they are not receiving graduates who are prepared for the work force," Isakson said.

Palmira Braswell, a board member from Macon, praised the decision to give teachers a major say in rewriting the curriculum. The 1988 curriculum, she said, "was a top-down kind of thing.

"Now, teachers can say, `I own this document,' " she said. "This is an exciting day in Georgia. I think, as an educator, it makes me just want to jump for joy."