Evolution or Intelligent Design In the Classroom?

November 21, 2005 -- Posted at 10:00 a.m. CST

JONESBORO -- The beginning of human life, and how it's taught to our children is an issue which has caused controversy for years.

Two landmark cases about how life began are grabbing headlines, and students are caught in the middle.

Intelligent Design is the belief that life is so complex, it must have been created by an intelligent being.

Opponents say it's a form of creationism, and are fighting to keep it out of the classroom.

Supporters say it's not because they never name the designer.

In Kansas, the Board of Education approved standards dealing with evolution in the classroom.

In Pennsylvania, the United States Federal Court just heard a case about whether or not intelligent design is an infringement on the separation of church and state.

So what are the guidelines for teaching things like evolution and Intelligent Design here in Arkansas?

What do your children read when they open their science books?

Saundra Lamberson teaches Life Science and Biology at Bay High School.

Among pages of notes, and books are lessons about the study of life, and the complex workings of the earth.

A very small piece of this huge puzzle, many say raises one of the biggest questions of all.

Evolution is a fundamental concept in biology.

It's a small but essential part biology books and biology classes across the United States, but many people still ask the question what role does evolution play in your child's classroom?

"Evolution just means things changing to adapt to their environment over time. It is a valid theory and to be an educated person, and to go on to a higher level of education. If I don't teach them that theory then I haven't done my job," said Lamberson.

In Lamberson's classroom, the Theory of Evolution is introduced beginning in seventh grade, she says human evolution is introduced to students in the tenth grade.

"Maybe an hour or an hour and a half is spent on it the entire year. Just to explain the theory, explain some of the evidences, and of course, explain the gaps in the evidences. There's not proof, and there is space in between that. So they have come up with a conclusion based on some theory but with gaps in that theory," said Lamberson.

Julie Johnson Thompson, with the Arkansas Department of Education, in Little Rock, says a group of educators from around the state assemble these frameworks for teachers to follow.

"There are frameworks for each content area for each subject that is taught in school.  There are a set of science frameworks that specify which science lessons at which grade level," said Thompson.

"Evolution fits all of those scientific rigor points that need to be met to be taught. There is the hypothesis, knowledge can be observed, and it's replicable, and it's been reviewed and be accepted by scientist as our best explanation for what's going on in our natural world," Thompson adds.

While the Theory of Evolution is being taught in the classroom, Thompson says Intelligent Design is not a part of the framework.

"Intelligent Design, while it is a theory, it is not a scientific theory and it's not one that has been accepted in the science community. We don't teach just theory's, we want to teach a true scientific theory," said Thompson.

"We go by the book, and we go by the frameworks so that's not a requirement for me to teach," said Lamberson.

Parents we spoke with say if the theory of evolution is taught, other theories should be taught as well.

"We were taught it. It didn't hurt us. It's going to educate them more. What we were taught is going to prepare us for today," said one parent.

The Director of Instruction and Curriculum at Paragould High School, Karla Blackwood says, "Paragould School District follows the statewide science framework that has been approved by the Arkansas Department of Education."

The fight over Intelligent Design's place in the classroom in other schools around the country is raising heated debates. The Kansas School Board, for example, is now accepting explanations like Intelligent Design as a part of their Science curriculum.

Now, Kansas Public Schools will teach that evolution is controversial along with Intelligent Design.

Thompson says in Arkansas' Public School's science classrooms, Intelligent Design is not in the curriculum.

"We are a public school system and we follow the law, and at this point we teach facts in our science classes," said Thompson.

Saundra Lamberson says her job is to educate not to influence, and to teach the facts not force beliefs upon her students.

"It's just our job to teach science, and to make them a well educated student. That's our goal, and that's my goal," said Lamberson.

Empowering her students with the knowledge to make educated decisions on their own.