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Georgia students may learn how not to say "evolution'

A proposed set of guidelines for middle and high school science classes in Georgia has caused a furor here after state education officials removed the word "evolution" and scaled back ideas about the age of the Earth and the natural selection of species.

Educators across the state reacted angrily to the document, which was released on the Internet this month: Many said it was a veiled attempt to bolster creationism and would leave the state's public school graduates at a disadvantage.

"They've taken away a major component of biology and acted as if it doesn't exist," said David Belcher, who heads the biology department at Valdosta State University. "By doing this, we're leaving the public shortchanged of the knowledge they should have."

Although education officials said the final version would not be binding on teachers, its contents will ultimately help shape achievement exams. And in a state where religion-based concepts of creation are widely held, many teachers said a curriculum without any mention of evolution would make it harder to broach the subject in the classroom.

Georgia's schools superintendent, Kathy Cox, conducted a news conference near the state capitol on Thursday, a day after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an article on the proposed changes.

Evolution is "a buzz word that causes a lot of negative reaction," Cox said, adding that people often associated evolution with "that monkeys-to-man sort of thing."

Still, she said the idea of evolution would be taught, as well as "emerging models of change" that challenge Darwin's theories.

"Galileo was not considered reputable when he came out with his theory," she said.

Much of the state's 800-page curriculum was adopted verbatim from the "Standards for Excellence in Education," an academic framework produced by the Council for Basic Education, a nonprofit group in Washington. But when it came to science, Georgia's state education department omitted large chunks of material, including references to the planet's age and the concept that all organisms on Earth are related through common ancestry. The word "evolution" was replaced with the words "changes over time," and in another phrase that referred to the "long history of the Earth," the authors removed the word "long."

Many proponents of creationism say the Earth is at most 6,000 years old, based on a literal reading of the Bible.