Tampa, Fla. — While Americans still simmer over California's creationist court crusade, there's a county in Florida which may give a clue to what lies ahead for schools which decide to teach both versions of man's origin.
The Hillsborough County School Board decided last April to require that scientific creationism be taught in the county's school system alongside the theory of evolution. The 4-to-3 vote was not evidence of an overwhelming consensus, and the school administration has had trouble devising curriculum that pleases the two community factions involved.
"Everyone's taking sides," said director of secondary education Sam Horton, who is responsible for coming up with the new curriculum. "We're just trying to find a middle ground that's academically sound."
Teaching creationism was supported by those who insist that belief in the power of a supreme being to create the Earth helps maintain social order and is just as scientifically sound as evolution.
Those who opposed teaching creationism in the classroom maintain that teaching it violates the constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state. They also hold that the theory has no basis in science.
To try to come up with a curriculum, the school board appointed a 38-member committee which includes teachers, ministers, school administrators, university faculty, and community representatives. The committee members include supporters of the two opposing views.
"It is obvious that we disagree deeply and on many points," began a statement the committee approved. "But in order to do something positive and constructive , we must find common ground, discover and define things we agree on. . . ."
Among the 21 points that followed that introduction were:
* Students should be made aware that the question of origins is a deep controversy which their elders have not resolved and on which they must make their own final judgment.
* Students should be made aware that there are people on both sides of the issue who are honest, intelligent, tolerant, competent, objective, and sincere -- and that some people, on both sides, unfortunately are not.
* Evolution and creationism should be taught in such a way that simply teaching about them should not contradict or support any religious beliefs.
* Teachers should agree and teach that it is at least conceivable to some that both creationism and evolution could have occurred.
But even on the points of common ground, the committee fought. One point originally read, "In an academic context, creation should be taught as a man-made concept to explain human observations to the human mind."
The creationists rebelled. "Man-made" should be stricken, they said, because creationism could be divinely inspired.
The compromise agreement left the point reading, "In an academic context, scientific creationism should be taught as a scientific concept to explain human observations to the human mind."
A minority of committee members fought the compromise. The term "man-made" should remain in the text, they said, because without it, creationism could be considered better than evolution because it was "divinely revealed."
"We ask only that if it [scientific creationism] is taught as a scientific theory, it be taught . . . as a product of the human mind --senters wrote in their minority position.
The committee appointed a group of teachers and administrators to come up with the actual curriculum for it to approve. Mr. Horton is chairman of that group, and he said it would keep its proposal as academic as possible.
"We will primarily be focusing on the process of how someone decides about origins of life, rather than on the context of what each side believes," he said. "Various persons who study origins use certain materials. They can take a rock or dating materials or skeletons or absence of skeletons and then, depending on your orientation, one can come up with one theory while another can look at the same evidence and come up with another theory. This is a scientific process. . . . We'll leave the theism to the churches."
The committee only has to come up with a short section to fit into a 10 th-grade biology class. But Horton said he's not sure it could meet the September 1981 deadline set by the school board.
"A lot of places have gotten into it [teaching creationism] without proper consideration," he said. "It takes 18 months to create a new curriculum. We should field test it and revise it."