Diane Douglas seeks removal of evolution from Arizona high school curriculum

Diane Douglas (Capitol Media Services 2016 file photo by Howard Fischer)

Diane Douglas (Capitol Media Services 2016 file photo by Howard Fischer)

PHOENIX -- The state’s top school official is trying to downplay -- and in some cases remove entirely -- references to evolution in the standards of what students are supposed to be taught in Arizona high schools.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas is proposing to eliminate requirements that students be able to evaluate how inherited traits in a population can lead to evolution. Replacing that last word would be “biological diversity.’’

Elsewhere, Douglas seeks to repeal language that student develop the understanding of how “adaptations contribute to the process of biological evolution.’’ Instead, that verbiage would read “how traits within populations change over time.’’

And a reference to the “mechanism of biological evolution’’ would be supplanted with “change in genetic composition of a population over successive generations.’’

The word “evolution’’ would remain in some other places, though it would specifically be referred to as a theory.

But It isn’t just the idea of evolution that’s on Douglas’ hit list.

The standards crafted by the committee had said students should be able to analyze and interpret “supporting evidence for the Big Bang theory and the scale of the universe.’’ That verbiage is gone, replace with the more generic “theories related to the scale and expansion of the universe.’’

But Douglas told Capitol Media Services this isn’t her attempt to replace the teaching of evolution with “intelligent design.’’ That essentially is a theory that life is too complex to have evolved at random and must be the product of some specific design, presumably by a higher power.

“We have absolutely nothing in these standards in reference to intelligent design,’’ she said.

The changes have drawn particular concern after KPNX-TV in Phoenix unearthed an audio recording of Douglas from last November where she was speaking at an event for Republican candidates.

“Should the theory of intelligent design be taught along with the theory of evolution?’’ she said in response to a question. “Absolutely,’’ Douglas said.

Douglas said Monday she was simply giving her personal beliefs on the issue. And she called reports that she is trying to put intelligent design into the curriculum “fake news.’’

But in those November comments, the school superintendent did not separate out her own beliefs from those of what she thinks should be taught in public schools.

“I had a discussion with my staff because we’re currently working on science standards, to make sure this issue was addressed in the standards we’re working on,’’ Douglas said at the time.

Douglas stressed Monday that the word “evolution’’ does remain in the standards, at least in several places.

“But we need to look at it from all sides,’’ she said.

“The point of education is really to be seekers of the truth, whatever the truth may be,’’ Douglas said. “And that’s what all standards should work towards.’’

She acknowledged that the wording changes she wants made does open the door to teachers providing students with alternate theories of how life on earth got to where it is..

“Evolution is a theory in many ways,’’ Douglas said. “That’s what our children should understand.’’

She said there are parts of evolution that are proven science, other elements are “very theoretical.’’

“And if we’re going to educate our children instead of just indoctrinate them to one way of thinking, we have to be able to allow them to explore all types of areas,’’ she said.

So does Douglas believe there’s any scientific basis behind intelligent design?

“Maybe there will be someday,’’ she responded.

“Once up a time people said the earth was flat and it couldn’t possibly be round,’’ Douglas said. “I don’t know.’’

Tory Roberg, lobbyist for the Secular Coalition for Arizona, said her concerns are not assuaged by the fact that Douglas is not proposing to add intelligent design to the standards. She said Douglas clearly realizes she can’t do that, citing federal court rulings which have slapped down schools that have attempted to require the teaching of intelligent design as an unconstitutional effort to put a religious belief into a classroom.

Still, Roberg, who has children in the Washington Elementary School District, said what Douglas is proposing is still wrong.

“It’s a disservice to our kids, a disservice to our teachers,’’ she said.

But Ed Reitz had a different take on it when he spoke at a hearing last month.

“The teaching of evolution is something that concerns me because it’s a theory and it’s not science,’’ he said. Reitz said his new book, “America’s Last Chance: Where Hope Lives,’’ with a picture of a boy on the cover praying next to a cross and U.S. flag, devotes an entire chapter to the issue of evolution and humans descending from previously existing vertebrates.

“In the first place, it is illogical,’’ Reitz testified. “When we observe nature, our natural instincts tell us there was design and planning somewhere.’’

And Reitz said if schools would teach creationism there would not be the need for vouchers which let parents use taxpayer dollars to send their children to private and parochial schools which do not have to follow the standards for teaching science that govern public schools.

“We want creation taught in schools and God brought back in,’’ he said.

The proposed changes drew opposition from Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association.

“We support the teaching of the scientific theory of evolution in the schools,’’ he said. “Scientific standards should be based on scientific research and nothing else.’’

And Thomas said this is more than a question of standards.

“It risks Arizona students falling behind the rest of the nation and world if we start watering down our education standards,’’ he said.

Thomas also said he was skeptical about Douglas’ claim that there are other valid theories that should be taught in schools.

“If there are other theories that exist, the science that has escaped the science community, the superintendent should bring those to the forefront.’’

Public comments on the proposal are being accepted through May 28.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia


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cmalla3261 11 months ago

Ignorant people should not be in charge of educating our children. Also, in the United States of America, we separate church from state. Vote this woman OUT in November! Vote for David Shapira for Superintendent of Public Instruction. He's an educator (unlike Diane Douglas) he has great ideas and he will fight for the children of Arizona!


KippyD 11 months ago

Well said and your 100% correct!! We got to vote those who refuses to follow the Constitution out!


Lonnie 11 months ago

Actually, the Constitution says the opposite of what you stated about "separation of church and state". That is NOT in the constitution; check it out yourself and show where separation of church and state is to be found.

The First Amendment states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The church has TWO rights ignored today: sbould be nothing to "prohibit the FREE exercise thereof AND freedom of speech". Interesting that Congress, the only agency that DOES make law, has a taxpaid chaplain on staff and they open with prayer. Public schools cannot write "laws" and even if they could, they are not to prohibit the free exercise of religion. Evolution is faith based - people "believe" the earth is millions of years old, but of course that cannot be proven scientifically - cannot be observed.


cmalla3261 11 months ago

Thomas Jefferson clarifies the first amendment:

The phrase "separation between church & state" is generally traced to a January 1, 1802 letter by Thomas Jefferson, addressed to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut, and published in a Massachusetts newspaper. Jefferson wrote,

"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."[1]

This is the interpretation of the First Amendment that the Supreme Court has upheld.

Public schools are funded by and administered by, the state, and are therefore part of the state. They are secular, not religious institutions and have no business teaching intelligent design- a religious concept unsupported by scientific fact.

Also, your statement that the age of the earth is faith based and cannot be proven is complete nonsense. The fact that there are people that cling to this dogma, and worse, try to inculcate it into our educational institutions, is holding us back as a nation and a people.


BillBassett 11 months ago

Sounds a whole lot like 1920s Tennessee and a possible replay of the "Scopes Monkee Trial". How is this even possible a hundred years later? Oh...wait...don't bother to answer. I think I know. See you at the poles come November.


rgohman 11 months ago

Religious texts were written long before the writers had the knowledge of life or the earth. Using religious text to support changes in public school teaching will set us back to the dark ages. Yes, I know that they claim God told them these facts, but that is like a child saying that it is true because Mom or Dad told hem there was a Santa Claus.


rgohman 11 months ago

Religion as a means to support changes to school text will put us back in the dark ages. The writers of religious documents had no knowledge of the facts about life or the earth. I know that they believe it is true because GOD told them, that that is like a child claiming Santa Claus is real because his father told him so. We don need these people in our government.


Doogster 11 months ago

Did this woman even make it out of high school?


Doogster 11 months ago

Did this woman even get through junior high school? AZ politicians are so utterly lost.


IzzatSo 11 months ago

Note to cmalla3261: Vote her out? Do you remember when she was elected over David Garcia, a super-qualified educator (unfortunately also a Democrat). Douglas campaigned practically not at all, but was solidly elected due to one single fact. She had an "R" after her name on the ballot. That sealed it; a done deal. Why would you think things will be different this time?


4voters 10 months, 4 weeks ago

Along with voting this woman out in November, we can also vote the current governor and vote out the voucher system. All tax dollars for the Public School System must be used for the Public School System. Period. Private schools do not qualify for tax dollars. It is the sole reason our Public Schools are suffering today.


centurion75 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Heck even the stodgy ol' Catholic Church accepts evolution. Who are these creationist Barnies? Guess they weren't much for that book learnin'