Thursday, October 17, 2002

A waste of time


School board mentality is unevolved

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In school, education must go like clockwork.

There's only so much time for each subject, every class, each lesson, every idea.

That's why a decision by the Ohio Board of Education about how to teach where we came from has me nervously glancing at my watch.

The board decided Tuesday that Ohio's science teachers must teach the theory of evolution. What a surprise. Score one for Charles Darwin and scientific reason.

The same board also instructed science teachers to use critical analysis. In other words, tell students a debate rages over the origin of life. Teachers are on their own when it comes to mentioning the opposing ideas.

What a mistake.

Score one for creationists and the idea that life came from a higher power because it's so complex. That's the so-called theory of intelligent design.

The board's decision was by design. But, it wasn't intelligent.

Made in the spirit of compromise with certain board members, being open-minded, bowing to thousands of e-mails pushing intelligent design - take your pick - this decision sets a vile precedent. It opens the floodgates to every half-baked, crackpot notion about any subject taught in school.

Above all, it amounts to a waste of precious time.

I'm a believer

Before this goes any farther, let's get three things straight.

One: I'm all for critical analysis. That's how I make my living.

Two: I'm a believer in the Big Guy upstairs. I also believe in science. Including the findings of one of God's creatures, Charles Darwin.

Three: I hate to see time wasted.

Ditto for Piyush Swami. He's an education professor at the University of Cincinnati. He teaches students how to be middle-school science teachers.

He knows about the state board in Columbus. He worked there before coming to UC 22 years ago.

He also knows how the board reached its decision. He was part of the process.

In 2000 and 2001, he sat on an advisory group that urged the state not to endorse "in any way, shape or form" notions other than evolution.

Here's why: Scientific data support Darwin. And school time is of the essence.

Remember, this is about teaching science. To study the belief in a higher being, take a religion class.

Then, too, teaching opposing views takes time.

"Every time we put some of this stuff in, it has to detract from something that is germane and core to that education process," said Professor Swami.

"Time is of crucial importance in education," he added.

"Studies after studies show that whatever you spend your time on, the kids learn." Take time away from the core studies and "you are diluting the process."

Professor Swami recommends setting a time limit on classroom discussions of such notions as intelligent design.

"About 15 minutes."

Then move on.

Pliant educators

The professor suspects that someone, somewhere in the state, will demand equal class time for a particular point of view. It can be for intelligent design or the idea that the moon is made of green cheese.

All it takes is one pesky parent and one pliant school board.

Suddenly, the professor noted, school kids could be evenly dividing their time studying evolution, intelligent design, "the moon as a god." Or a globe of green cheese.

He urges schools, teachers, parents and students to watch for these time-wasters.

Just because a point of view is popular, he said, "doesn't make it science."

Now there's a design that's truly intelligent.

Call Cliff Radel at 768-8379; or e-mail: cradel@enquirer.com.



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