Starting next year, students in Alabama will be required to learn about evolution and climate change—a move that upends the state’s decade-old science standards.

As reported in the Associated Press, public school students will be required to understand the theory of evolution, along with the rudiments of climate change, which wasn’t set as a science standard back in 2005 when the guidelines were last revised. The changes come as part of a larger set of reforms, which will see more experimentation and hands-on instruction, with a decreased emphasis on lecturing.

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Students won’t be required to actually believe in evolution or human-instigated climate change. But exposure to the science and the scientific method is undoubtedly the best way to get students to think critically and independently about such matters.

Surprisingly, the new standards, which were developed by a 40-member committee, were unanimously approved by the Republican-controlled Alabama State Board of Education this past Thursday. No one spoke against the reforms when they were debated this past August, the AP reports.

The old standard stated that students “should understand the nature of evolutionary theories,” but did not make it a requirement. The new measure goes a bit further:

The theory of evolution has a role in explaining unity and diversity of life on earth. This theory is substantiated with much direct and indirect evidence. Therefore, this course of study requires our students to understand the principles of the theory of evolution from the perspective of established scientific knowledge. The committee recognizes and appreciates the diverse views associated with the theory of evolution.

It’s an amazing step forward for Alabama, but there’s still room for improvement. Science textbooks used in Alabama classrooms still have a disclaimer sticker on them stating that evolution is a “controversial theory,” and not fact. The new measures don’t speak to these stickers, but a committee will be meeting in November to review science texts, at which time the sticker issue will be discussed.

[ AP ]


Email the author at george@io9.com and follow him at @dvorsky. Top image by Joseph Wilson Lowry/University of Wisconsin-Madison