The Wake County school system has told a middle school science teacher to stop giving assignments about creationism as part of the study of the theory of evolution.
School officials say the assignment, in which the teacher gave his students the option of doing an extra-credit project on evolution or creationism, was inappropriate because the state curriculum doesn’t include creationism. The situation at Wakefield Middle School in North Raleigh highlights the challenge public schools face when discussing how life began.
“The courts have been pretty clear that public schools can’t teach about creationism in science classes,” said Ann Majestic, an attorney whose law firm represents more than 20 North Carolina school districts, including Wake County. “We have a standard course of study. There’s not a lot of freelancing that’s permissible.”
At Wakefield, eighth-grade science teacher Adam Dembrow gave students an extra-credit opportunity last month to do a poster and paper either on “your interpretation of a religions (sic) Creation” or on “any evidence on the theory of evolution, which can be used to support the theory of evolution.”
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Dembrow suggested three websites that students could go to: Answers in Genesis, the Creation Research Society and the Institute for Creation Research.
Georgia Purdom, a research scientist and speaker with Answers in Genesis, said, “I think students should be allowed to learn about evolution but also to learn about the weaknesses of it.”
According to mainline scientific thought, life forms on Earth experienced changes for millions of years, as species adapted, or evolved, based on myriad factors. Cincinnati-based Answers in Genesis and its Creation Museum in Kentucky advance the view that the Bible’s account of God’s creation of the world in six days is the true one.
The Wakefield incident came within a month of Tennessee’s adoption of a state law allowing teachers to discuss the scientific weaknesses of the theory of biological evolution. Critics of the new law, similar to one adopted in Louisiana, argue it’s a backdoor way for teachers to discuss creationism or intelligent design, which contends that life systems are so enormously complex and ingenious that they could not have been created spontaneously, but required a guiding intelligence.
The assignment drew at least one parental complaint, causing the Wake County school system to investigate.
“We follow the standard curriculum, which focuses on evolution,” said Wakefield Middle Principal Jimmy Sposato in a written statement. “In this case, I talked with the teacher and reminded him to only give assignments aligned with the core curriculum moving forward.”
The school system said Dembrow did not receive any disciplinary action. Repeated efforts to reach Dembrow were unsuccessful.
Former state Rep. Russell Capps defended Dembrow’s right to give the assignment. In 1997, the North Raleigh Republican legislator introduced a bill calling for evolution to be taught as a theory and not as fact.
“Evolution is certainly something that students can be taught,” said Capps, who is running for a state House seat this year. “But it’s not the only theory. Students should also have the right to learn about creationism. Where’s their academic freedom?”
Since the famed 1925 “Monkey Trial,” at which a Tennessee teacher was prosecuted for teaching about evolution, mainstream scientists and evangelical Christians have been at odds over what public schools should teach about the origins of man.
Groups of scientists and educators have issued statements through the years to bolster the teaching of evolution, saying that creationism and intelligent design represent religious, rather than scientific beliefs.
In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a Louisiana law requiring public schools to give equal time to teaching creationism and evolution.
In 2005, a federal district court judge ruled unconstitutional a requirement in a Pennsylvania school district that students learn about intelligent design. The judge called intelligent design “a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory.”
Working within the framework of these cases, school districts have discouraged science teachers from discussing creationism.