October 9, 1999
New Mexico Bars Creationism From State Curriculum
School Districts in Kansas Split on Evolution Ruling (Aug. 25, 1999)
Kansas Votes to Delete Evolution From State's Science Curriculum (Aug. 12, 1999)
By MICHAEL JANOFSKY
ANTA FE, N.M. -- Bucking recent changes in Kansas and other
states that allow public schools to teach alternative views of
human development, the New Mexico Board of Education voted
overwhelmingly on Friday to limit the statewide science curriculum
to the teaching of evolution.
The vote effectively made New Mexico the first state in recent
years to take a firm stand against the teaching of creationism,
which generally recognizes the Bible as the ultimate authority on
how the world was formed.
Creationism holds that a divine being created humans and other
species a mere 10,000 years ago, while evolutionists say scientific
evidence shows that life began almost 4 billion years ago with
simple organisms, from which humans and all other forms of life
Until now, teachers had been required to give equal weight to
alternative theories -- which in practical terms meant creationism --
in their science classroom discussions.
"This gives teachers the political cover they need to teach
evolution," said Marshall Berman, the board member who led a
three-year campaign to change the policy.
The board voted 14-1 in favor of the change, which will affect
the 100,000 children who attend New Mexico's 725 public schools.
The lone dissenter, Van W. Witt, objected by arguing that students
should be allowed to consider all sides of the debate and then
"make up their minds with their parents."
In the brief debate among board members that preceded the vote,
Berman refuted that position, insisting that creationism -- or
"intelligent design," as some evolution opponents call it -- is
not a comparable theory for teaching in public schools.
"If the assumption is there are two sides, I question the
assumption," Berman told Witt. "The sense is of creationism as a
scientific theory, that it exists as a reliable principle. But it
is not based on science."
While the often emotional debate between proponents of
creationism and evolution is not new, it was rekindled this summer
when the Kansas Board of Education voted to delete almost any
mention of evolution from the state's science curriculum.
In a similar action, the Education Department of Kentucky
deleted the word "evolution" from the state science curriculum,
replacing it with the phrase "change over time," which some state
teachers interpreted as an attack on widely-accepted scientific
Other states, including Alabama and Nebraska, have made other
changes that allow for discussion of theories that challenge
Creationists hailed each of those changes as major victories
during a time when the teaching of evolution has enjoyed
pre-eminence in most public school districts as a result of a 1987
Supreme Court decision that said states could not compel the
teaching of creationism in public schools.
In their battles to chip away at the dominance of evolution as
the unchallenged explanation of life, creationists have run
headstrong into teachers and scientists who have effectively
lobbied their state and local school boards, as they have here in
New Mexico, to keep evolution at the forefront of classroom
Flora M. Sanchez, the president of the New Mexico Board, said
that since the Kansas decision she had received "a lot of negative
input" from scientists and teachers around the state who were
uncomfortable with performance standards that required teachers to
entertain alternative theories to evolution. Many of the board
members felt uneasy with comparisons with Kansas, she said, adding,
"So we decided we had to clarify our standards."
Some of that pressure was evident on Friday, during the public
comment period that preceded the vote. Eight proponents of the
changes, most of them scientists and teachers, urged the board to
vote in favor, while three people appeared to raise objections.
Bruce Miller, a high school biology teacher who testified before
the board, said that he feels more comfortable with a regulation
that narrows teaching to theories based on science.
"I need it spelled out that I don't have to address a string of
silly alternative theories," he said. "With 175 class room days,
I don't have time for that."
Another proponent of the change, David E. Thomas, editor of the
Newsletter of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason, said that if
public schools allowed unscientific theories to be taught, "pretty
soon we'll have Holocaust deniers insisting there were no gas
Cindy Chapman, who teaches first- and second-graders, said the
new regulations would even help teachers of the youngest children
in public schools whose early knowledge of human development is
often shaped by religion and is learned at home.
She said she was recently approached by a little boy in class
who told her why dinosaurs no longer roam the earth.
"He said, 'Because there was no room in the ark,"' Ms. Chapman
said. "I don't think he made that up himself."
Among those protesting the new standards was Paul Gammill, a
retired engineer and the father of three children who attended
Albuquerque public schools. He echoed the concerns of many
creationists, telling the board that evolution is "arbitrary and
dogmatic." He insisted that his view has nothing to do with
religion, but in an interview before his testimony he said a belief
in God is not compatible with acceptance of evolution.
While it appeared that most board members had their minds made
up before the vote, they listened with rapt attention to Tom
Manaster, a retired cab driver from Chicago now living in New
Mexico who urged the board to reject any teaching standards beyond
what can be proven.
"I wouldn't be here if it weren't for good science," he said.
"Five years ago I survived a brain tumor. Those doctors had all
kinds of religions and beliefs, but they also had some pretty good