Intelligent design may resurface in Ohio talks


The controversy over teaching intelligent design in Ohio's public schools likely will re-emerge Monday before the state board of education.

A proposal under consideration by a board committee is a Trojan horse carrying religion into the science curriculum, a group claimed in a news teleconference yesterday.

Members of the group, Campaign to Defend the Constitution, spoke against a proposal to the board's achievement committee which they said names evolution, global warming, stem-cell research, and cloning as "controversial" ideas that need to be handled in a special framework.

The timing of the group's announcement was puzzling to Sue Westendorf, chairman of the state board of education.

"What I am picking up from the media is that there is concern about an agenda item that is in our achievement committee," Ms. Westendorf said. "That has been there since February."

Ms. Westendorf said the committee asked the board's staff to come up with a framework for teaching "controversial topics."

J.C. Benton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said a draft form of the document could be used to cover subjects ranging from stem-cell research and abortion issues to religious tolerance. But the document does not list any of those topics, or evolution or intelligent design, he said.

"It was to be a template or guide for teachers when they teach controversial subjects," Ms. Westendorf said. "Apparently a lot is being read into this."

The Ohio Board of Education voted 11-4 in February to send back to the drawing board language in its science curriculum that critics charged set up a debate between evolution and creationism in the classroom.

Intelligent design generally holds that the creation of life on Earth was too complex to have occurred by happenstance.

Critics have said intelligent design is creationism in disguise and has no place in science classes next to Charles Darwin's theory that life evolved over a long period of time from a single-cell organism.

The board voted to remove the language from both the broad standards spelling out what students are expected to learn as well as the specific, optional lesson plan spelling out how it could work in the classroom.

The board approved broader science standards in 2002 that, for the first time, mentioned the word "evolution."

The standards also mentioned the words "intelligent design" for the first time in a parenthetical phrase stating that a requirement that students "critically analyze" evolutionary theory does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.

In January, the board voted 9-8 to keep the language. The vote in February was a reversal of that - partially prompted by threats of litigation.

The motion in February to remove the language was made by Martha Wise, an elected board member from Avon whose district includes Toledo. She was joined from northwest Ohio by Lou Ann Harold, of Ada.

Ms. Westendorf, of Bowling Green, opposed the motion. At-large member Emerson J. Ross, Jr., of Toledo, who supported the curriculum in February, left the meeting before the vote was taken because of an apparent timing conflict.

Patricia Princehouse, a lecturer in philosophy and evolutionary biology at Case Western Reserve University, who joined the Campaign to Defend the Constitution group, said treating evolution and other topics as though they are somehow different from the rest of science is a way to sneak creationism back into the science curriculum.

"Creationists in Ohio seem to be trying to outdo Kansas right now for extremism," she said.

In 2005, Kansas introduced criticism of evolution into teaching standards.

Ms. Westendorf said the debate over teaching intelligent design versus evolution is likely to become a political issue in this fall's election races for the Ohio Board of Education.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

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