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Evolution in the Science Standards

Table of contents
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7

Part 7: And the final vote is ...

After a short break, the Office of Math and Science gave a presentation about the standards writing process. Toward the end of that presentation, Martinez seized an opportunity to go on the offensive. He grilled Education Commissioner Eric Smith about the timing and reason for the creation of an alternate version of the standards, the one that adds "scientific theory of" throughout the document. This version was referred to as Option B. Martinez made it clear that he knew exactly why the changes were made: to placate those people who have concerns about evolution in the standards. He asked if the writers and framers of the original draft had been asked about Option B. He was told that an e-mail had been sent out to the group Friday afternoon before the three-day holiday weekend. About 38 of them responded, with 29 opposing Option B, two grudgingly accepting Option B if it was the only way to get the standards approved, and seven saying they were fine with Option B.

Martinez was relentless, going on to question if Option B had been vetted by any scientific organizations in the same way the original draft had. The answer was no. "Then why are we even considering them, commissioner?" Martinez asked.

He had managed to make this first move attempting to throw out Option B, but then Board member Phoebe Raulerson stepped in to state her observation that the word theory was used in conjunction with some subjects in the original draft, but not in other places. So, Option B would simply make the document consistent throughout.

Callaway derailed the developing debate, pointing out that no motion had been made by the Board yet to approve the standards. This discussion should not be taking place. So, the presentation that Martinez had interrupted was then allowed to finish.

The motion to approve Option B was eventually made and seconded. Discussion was officially launched and Martinez once again took the lead. He hammered home his point that efforts to undermine evolution have a long history. "No matter how much the current strategy may have evolved over the last 20 years, the DNA is the same with its common ancestor: creationism," he said.

Finally, Callaway couldn't take any more. She asserted that despite her strong religious identity that her stance had nothing to do with religion, but was based on her extensive research. She lamented that the way that evolution is presented in the standards makes it too dogmatic, denying students their right to explore the issue for themselves. Her position was that Option B didn't address her concerns, but that the "Academic Freedom Proposal" given to the Board that morning was a simple and perfect solution. We better not try to hide the controversy that is out there, she said. Thousands of people don't agree with evolution, and kids need to be made aware of that.

As other Board members then stated their opinions, the shape of the debate finally took form before the emotionally charged audience. Kathleen Shanahan, Raulerson and Taylor either ignored Callaway's academic freedom tactic or brushed it aside as not needed. They favored Option B. Desai didn't like Option B, but was receptive to academic freedom. Fair was the only person to completely stay out of the debate.

Callaway's academic freedom push never gained traction. But the debate did feature her and Martinez coming to verbal blows toward the end. Martinez insisted that Option B's whole intent was to single out evolution. "Scientific theory of evolution as opposed to what other theory?" he asked. "No matter how the issue is cloaked, we know what this is really about."

Callaway responded: "I take issue with the fact that you say you know where that's all coming from. I have not heard from a single person who is advocating creationism or intelligent design at all."

Martinez wouldn't be swayed, though; pressing the question of what alternative theory was out there. Callaway answered by trying once again to sell academic freedom. Kids need to explore the issue because there are such great differences of opinion about evolution in the world. "If they come up with another theory, so be it. So be it." She then seized on Martinez's insistence that there were no other theories, trying hang him with his own words, which she seemed to think would show him to be dogmatic and against critical thinking. She failed.

"Respectfully, Donna, it is not a point of debate or controversy in the mainstream scientific community," Martinez said, getting in the final jab of the duel as his supporters in the crowd erupted in loud applause, drowning out whatever Callaway tried to say in response. Fair then stepped in to scold the audience for its outburst.

While Martinez and Callaway cooled off, Raulerson restated some of her previous comments, which Fair wisely saw as a waste of time. He called for a vote. Fair, Taylor Shanahan and Raulerson voted yes to Option B. Ironically, Martinez voted no along with Callaway and Desai. Florida now had a new set of science standards. A break was quickly called for and the reporters lunged forward to grab interviews.

Martinez and Desai had voted no as a protest against Option B. They both believed that the original version, written and vetted by experts, was better. Option B watered down the standards for no valid scientific or educational reason. FCS and many educators and scientists agreed. But it's worth keeping in mind that the new science standards overall were a huge improvement over the 1996 version, making the evolution brouhaha small in comparison. Florida schools and students had won the day.

Callaway voted no because her whole mission had been to get the "Academic Freedom Proposal" on the table. But her efforts floundered, with Desai being the only one taken in by her sales pitch. Why had her efforts fizzled? No one can say for sure. It could be because academic freedom arrived too late on the stage. Given more time, especially in the hands of a tenacious Kendall, maybe more Board members could have been swayed. Perhaps other Board members found the proposal distasteful because it was so obviously focused on just evolution. Whatever the reason, it can be said with a sigh of relief that Florida dodged a bullet. Sound science would be taught in the Sunshine State.

Unfortunately, Tallahassee was right back in the crosshairs a month later.

Picking up where Callaway had left off, state lawmakers took up the call of "academic freedom," with two proposed bills aimed boldly and squarely at evolution. FCS's was forced to get right back to work.

To be continued.

Story by Brandon Haught

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