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Published: Friday, 9/22/2006

It's Michigan's turn to tussle over intelligent design

DETROIT - Tennessee became a national laughingstock in 1925 for outlawing the teaching of the theory of evolution and then prosecuting a young teacher for doing so.

Since then, man has walked on the moon, cloned animals, and discovered the secrets of the genetic code.

But teaching evolution still is a hot-button political issue, not in Tennessee, but in Michigan. Eighty-one years after the Scopes trial, Michigan's state board of education has voted to hold up badly needed new standards for science teaching.

That's because a few state legislators want science teachers to tell students that evolution may or may not be an accurate explanation for the fossil record.

A majority of the state board is believed to think that is nonsense - but they held up approving the standards anyway.

"No, that language is not acceptable to me," said Kathleen Strauss, a Detroit Democrat who is the board's longtime president. "But we are required to get input from the legislature."

The input that caused the problem has mainly come from Republican state Reps. Jack Hoogendyk of Kalamazoo and John Moolenaar of Midland, who want to clear the way for the "intelligent design" theory to be taught as an alternative to evolution.

The board's decision to hold up the new standard was scathingly attacked by the educated and professional community, which noted that evolution had long ago been universally accepted by the mainstream scientific establishment.

"This is really about injecting faith and beliefs into science," the Detroit Free Press thundered. "Michigan's new curriculum is supposed to set tough guidelines, not to try to spoon-feed an ideology," the normally cautious paper continued.

That was echoed in many places. "Throwing a bone to legislative leaders may be good politics. But opening the door to teaching wacky science is the worst possible thing Michigan could do at this moment in our economic crisis," said Phil Power.

A former publisher, he now heads The Center for Michigan, a "think and do" tank that promotes moderate and common-sense policies. "My main concern is attracting the jobs of the future. High-tech employers aren't going to come here if they think we are politicizing science education. Maybe we could also revise the teaching standards for math to indicate that two plus two may or may not equal four," Mr. Power snorted contemptuously.

New standards for other subjects were easily approved by the eight-member elected board, on which Democrats have a 5-3 majority. Only science ran into a problem.

The state board of education announced it would reconvene Oct. 10 to reconsider the standards. Insiders said it appeared certain that the board would then vote decisively in favor of not opening the door to teaching intelligent design.

That will come too late, however, for an Oct. 3 statewide conference for science teachers. And so some issues never seem to die.

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ONE thing that may die off pretty dramatically, beginning Dec. 31, 2007, is a lot of business generated by tourist and day-tripper dollars in both Michigan and Ontario.

That's because of a new law - still widely unknown - that will require everyone crossing the border to have a passport by that date, even to go to Windsor for a quick lunch or visit to the casino. This is part of the Bush Administration's Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, passed as part of a flood of security legislation in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

The bill is expected to have bad economic consequences for both countries, especially Canada. Paul Koring, who covers security issues in Washington for the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper, noted "the vast majority of Canadians live within 100 miles of the U.S. border. However, only about 12 million Americans live that close to Canada."

More than half that total, however, live in Michigan and northwest Ohio. Currently, estimates are that only about 23 percent of American citizens have passports; 40 percent of Canadians do.

The new rule is likely to mean that many Americans of modest means may just give up crossing the border, since the fee for a new passport is $97, plus whatever one is charged for the photos. (Children under 16 pay a bargain rate of $82.)

Canadian officials, including new Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have reportedly asked President Bush to change or delay the new rules, thus far without success.



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