Originally created 03/31/04

Recent evolution debate will create discussion at meeting



ATLANTA - The date and site were chosen seven years ago, long before Georgia considered removing the word "evolution" from the state curriculum. But the recent debate has made Atlanta an interesting setting for a meeting of the nation's science teachers.

The role of evolution in state science standards will be part of several panel discussions for the 15,000 science teachers attending the four-day conference that begins Thursday at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Gerry Wheeler, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, the event sponsor, said there are at least 10 U.S. cities wrestling with the evolution issue, so those at the conference will be anxious to hear what's going on in Georgia.

"The challenge is to know what good science is," Mr. Wheeler said.

During the past year, officials in Minnesota, Oklahoma, Montana and Ohio have all grappled with the issue of how to teach evolution in the classroom.

In those states, proposals have included allowing high school students to challenge accepted theories such as evolution and adding a disclaimer to textbooks saying that any statement about life's origins should be considered theory, not fact. Some have charged that such efforts are tantamount to allowing the teaching of creationism.

Georgia took the debate a step further earlier this year when a proposed new science curriculum, overseen by state Superintendent Kathy Cox, replaced the word "evolution" with "biological changes over time." After a storm of criticism, Ms. Cox backed down.

Georgia's state science program specialist, Stephen Pruitt, is among the panelists invited to the conference. Ms. Cox is out of town and will not be speaking at the gathering, spokesman Kirk Englehardt said.

"We've moved on to other issues, and we believe the public has, too," he said.

The controversy in Georgia is sure to add interest to the conference and raise awareness about teaching evolution, said Eugenie Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif.

"It is ironic that the largest science teacher conference in the country is going to be held in a state in which science education has recently been very controversial," she said.