Alabama is requiring its students to learn about evolution and global warming for the first time in decades. The marks a sharp departure from a previously conservative education doctrine heavy on religion. The controversial move has sparked debate in the largely Christian state on whether students should be taught the theory of evolution that wholly dismisses the Christian account of creation.
Alabama educators on Thursday, through the Alabama State Board of Education, set new rules to take effect in 2016 after conducting the first review of the state’s science syllabus since 2005.
The educators also said the new rules included a lot more hands-on instructions and less lecturing than what was involved in the previous system.
The current standards only allow the understanding of evolution and global warming. However, they do not specifically provide for them meaning some religious-based theories were instead taught in a science classroom. The new system expressly mandates that the two be taught to students in science class.
During the initial discussions on the new standards, no objections were raised. Reports indicate that a 40-member committee had developed the standards and included people who had "very strong religious beliefs.”
According to science specialist Michael Robinson, the panel was careful to consider the state’s deep religious faith. Robinson said, "We still have to teach what the science is. If students want to go into a science field in college or beyond, they have to have a foundation."
The previous standards, in reference to evolution, only said, students "should understand the nature of evolutionary theories.” The soon-to-be-launched standards are more stringent in their requirements, even adding the preface, "The theory of evolution has a role in explaining unity and diversity of life on earth. This theory is substantiated with much direct and indirect evidence. Therefore, this course of study requires our students to understand the principles of the theory of evolution from the perspective of established scientific knowledge. The committee recognizes and appreciates the diverse views associated with the theory of evolution.”
Conservatives in the state have voiced their concerns challenging the new standards saying they would erode the Christian faith of the students at worst and chip away at it in the very least. However, proponents have argued that the panel only set guidelines. The schools themselves set the curriculum.
Currently in Alabama, science text books come with a sticker stating evolution is a "controversial theory," not a fact. In line with the new standards, a committee will review the science texts and will debate on whether to remove the warnings or not. A public hearing has been set for Nov. 9 in Montgomery.
Alabama has long been considered the Bible belt of the U.S. with religious conservatism being at the forefront of the nation’s soul. The new standards threaten to chip away at the students’ beliefs and in the end, may change the course of the state forever.