On Monday, the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee sent a proposal to the State Board of Education that would compel high school biology instructors to “teach the controversy” when addressing the subject of evolution.
The phrase “teach the controversy” was coined by former Modern Language Association president Gerald Graff to describe how college instructors should teach complex literary works like Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The point of “teaching the controversies” was to demonstrate for students how knowledge is debated before it becomes accepted by the academic community.
The phrase was later hijacked by creationist and Discovery Institute advisor Phillip Johnson, who contended before the Kansas State Board of Education that “[w]hat educators in Kansas and elsewhere should be doing is to ‘teach the controversy.’” Graff noted that his phrase doesn’t properly apply because “[f]rom a strictly scientific standpoint, there seems to be no real ‘controversy’ here that’s worth teaching, just a bogus one that the IDers have fabricated to paper over the absence of evidence in their critique of evolutionary science.”
South Carolina State Senator Mike Fair (R-Greenville) disagrees, and in February voiced opposition to a proposal that would limit discussion of biological evolution in high school classrooms to scientific theories.
“We must teach the controversy,” Fair said. “There’s another side. I’m not afraid of the controversy. That’s the way most of us learn best.”
Earlier this month, Senator Fair demonstrated how his “side” should be argued:
Barbara Hairfield, a Social Studies Curriculum Learning Specialist in the Charleston County School District, toldThe Post and Courier that she was in favor of teachers using multiple sources to teach, but was concerned that the perspective being pushed by Sen. Fair would lead them to be based in Christian theological accounts of creation.
“I’m not opposed to them talking about it, but what does that say to our students that are Hindu or Jewish or Buddhist,” Hairfield said. “It’s a fine line when academic standards could possibly be interpreted as promoting a religion.”
The president of South Carolinians for Science Education, Rob Dillion, was more adamant about his opposition. “There are no scientific arguments that discredit natural selection,” he said. “There are exactly zero scientific arguments that discredit natural selection. What there are is about 10,000 religious arguments that seek to weaken natural selection.”
Despite his vehement objection, the measure passed 7-4 and will be sent back to the State Board of Education for further consideration.
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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