Here’s the Evolution-Questioning ‘Sticker’ Alabama Puts on Its Biology Textbooks

Textbooks
Since 2005, biology textbooks in Alabama have carried a disclaimer asking students to consider "unanswered questions" about the origin of life and reminding them that evolution is a "theory, not fact." Danny Nicholson/Flickr/Creative Commons

Updated | This week, Alabama made headlines for revising its state science education standards. For the first time, teachers in the state will be required to teach evolution and the fact that humans contribute to climate change. But buried in that news was acknowledgement of a “sticker” that the state requires be placed on its biology textbooks, telling students that evolution is a “controversial theory,” not a fact.

That sticker is actually a one-page insert placed in the front or back cover of every biology textbook a child reads in public schools in the state, according to Steve Ricks of the Alabama State Department of Education. “It encourages students to question the theory [of evolution] and ask questions about it.” The insert was advocated for by conservative Christians, according to the Associated Press.

Below is a copy of the insert, which has appeared in Alabama textbooks since 2001, according to Ricks. It reminds students that “no one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life’s origins should be considered as theory, not fact.” It also suggests students “keep an open mind,” and remember that “[t]here are many unanswered questions about the origin of life not mentioned in your textbook.”

  Alabama's Textbooks Include This Evolution Insert Sticker

The state superintendent and state board of education is currently in the process of reviewing Alabama’s science textbooks to decide how they might change according to the new standards. The committee will also evaluate whether or not the insert will survive as-is in the new books, or whether it will be altered. A public hearing on the textbooks is scheduled for November 9.

In the meantime, Ricks says the new science standards are a major step forward for the state. In addition to including one mention of evolution, and a section about human influence on climate change, the standards will promote a more hands-on approach to learning science, he says. “It’s a major change for us. We feel like this course of study is really going to push Alabama forward.”

Ricks is the director of the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative, a program that provides teachers with materials and professional training to teach research-based lessons in the classroom. According to Ricks, it’s the largest initiative of its kind in the nation. “A lot of people have no clue something like that is going on in Alabama.”

Below is a compilation of excerpts from the new science standards that mention evolution and natural selection. In the list of lessons that must be taught, “evolution” is mentioned only once in the 70-page document:

Evolution in Alabama's New Science Education Standards

State education frameworks have long been subject to shifts that reflect their political climate in the state. Last year, Texas found itself at the center of its own science textbook controversy while it was in the process of reviewing old textbooks and adopting new ones. Several textbooks for students from kindergarten through grade 12 contained false information regarding climate change and ozone depletion, and one of the textbooks was written to include the sentiments of the Heartland Institute, a conservative advocacy group funded in part by the Koch brothers, which denies the existence of human-driven climate change.

This story has been updated to reflect the correct year when the "stickers" began to be placed in biology textbooks. The year was 2001, not 2005. It has also been updated to reflect the parties responsible for deciding the fate of the "stickers." It is the state superintendent and state board of education, not a committee.