Creationism debated in school race Board candidates differ over content of biology classes

Sensitive issue raised

System's policy calls for teaching of evolution theory

September 30, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Howard County school board candidate Jane Schuchardt says Howard biology teachers ought to make students aware of creationism as an alternative theory to evolution -- a position at odds with what school officials say is the system's curriculum.

While Schuchardt is not advocating that creationism be given more than a cursory explanation in the context of in-depth lessons on the theory of evolution, her views still have prompted concerns among some parents and others about the inclusion of religion in Howard science classrooms.

Creationism is the belief that life and the world were created by God out of nothing. Evolution is the scientific theory that holds that animals and plants have their origins in pre-existing species and that differences are due to changes over successive generations.

The creationism question was raised in surveys distributed by two community groups to Schuchardt and her opponent, community activist Francine Wishnick.

In her answers to the surveys, Wishnick said she opposes creationism being brought up by science teachers as part of the instruction on evolution, writing that "such teaching would violate principles of the separation of church and state."

Schuchardt and Wishnick are running in the election Nov. 5 for the school board seat held by Chairwoman Susan Cook, who is not seeking re-election.

Both Wishnick and Schuchardt, a retired Howard elementary and middle school teacher, have said repeatedly they hope creationism doesn't become a defining issue in the campaign.

But Schuchardt's answers have fueled a continuing discussion of the subject within the county's education community.

"A teacher should be allowed to present all generally accepted theories or knowledge of a subject," Schuchardt wrote in a response to a question from the Columbia Democratic Club about creationism being taught in public schools. "Creationism falls within this definition."

But, she added: "A public school teacher must not inject personal opinion or bias into a subject matter in an attempt to influence by way of crediting or discrediting the subject."

Questioned about creationism in a recent debate at Oakland Mills Middle School, Schuchardt said: "I have no problem with evolution being taught in the schools as long as we teach it as a theory, as long as the teacher of the children [teaches them] that there are other theories available, of which creationism is one."

While "I don't want a teacher teaching a child creationism," Schuchardt said, "I want to make them aware there is something else, that there is another theory that is also taught along with the idea of evolution."

Evolution theory taught

Schuchardt says her statements are consistent with how evolution is taught in Howard's high school biology classes -- as a scientific theory that is one of several theories on the beginning of the world.

And in a textbook used for advanced placement biology classes, an introduction to the origins of life section lists three possible explanations: evolution, extraterrestrial origins and "special 3f creation" of life by supernatural or divine force. The book goes on to say that only evolution will be discussed in the textbook.

School officials say creationism is not part of Howard's science textbooks and curriculum, which only deal with the scientific theory of evolution.

"We teach the theory of evolution. All of the books refer to it as a theory," said Lee Summerville, the school system's science coordinator. "We do not teach creationism.

"Teachers are allowed to discuss it if students bring it up, but it is not part of the curriculum for teachers," she said.

Schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan said: "There is no mention of creationism, being that it is a religious belief."

Caplan said the appropriate place for creationism to be taught likely would be in the high schools' "World Religions" course.

Teachers' group position

That's also the view taken by the National Association of Biology Teachers, which strongly recommends against the inclusion of creationism in lessons on the beginning of the world.

"Whether called 'creation science,' 'scientific creationism,' 'intelligent-design theory,' 'youth-earth theory' or some other synonym, creation beliefs have no place in the science classroom," says the group's position statement.

"Explanations employing nonnaturalistic or supernatural events, whether or not explicit reference is made to a supernatural being, are outside the realm of science and not part of a valid science curriculum.

"Evolutionary theory, indeed all of science, is necessarily silent on religion and neither refutes nor supports the existence of a deity or deities," the statement says.

Some who have heard Schuchardt answer questions on creationism or have read her responses to the recent surveys say they're troubled by the possibility of bringing religion into the classroom.

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