A spark

theoryAn interesting situation is percolating in Volusia County. A mother of an 8th grade student recently found a science assignment in her son’s binder that upset her. The part that really stood out to her is:

“Next time someone tries to tell you that evolution is just a theory, as a way of dismissing it, as if it’s just something someone guesses at, remember that they’re using the non-scientific meaning of the word. If that person is a teacher, or a minister, or some other figure of authority, they should know better. In fact, they probably do, and are trying to mislead you.”

I believe the mother felt that the passage undermined her authority as a parent and was derogatory toward her Christian faith. She posted a picture of the handout on her public Facebook page and said:

“I encourage you to call the school, call the school board. We need to rally together as parents and let them know this is UNACCEPTABLE. They can teach evolution as a theory, but to say that it is not just a theory and to tell students to question authority on this matter is CROSSING THE LINE! Please share and call the school. Call the schoolboard. Call the news! Stand up for what is right. Something needs to be done.”

Further comments and posts from her indicate that she has called the school. She said: “I was told that this assignment has since been removed from the curriculum. Too little too late. The school has no right to indoctrinate our children and to undermine the authority of other teachers, ministers, or any figure of authority that tells them evolution is not just a theory.”

Furthermore, she said she was contacted by the local Fox News station (WOFL 35) to find out if she would give an interview. She said yes but it doesn’t look like any appointment has been set yet.

The mother’s posts on this started Friday morning (September 18). She is attempting to get friends and supporters to share the information in an effort to get it to go viral. Based on the comments others have left on her posts, she is getting some support.

The teacher’s handout apparently was copied fully and directly from the website http://www.notjustatheory.com/.

Note that in accordance with the Florida Sunshine State Science Standards, 8th grade teachers are expected to instruct students on the meaning of the word theory in science (science standard SC.8.N.3: The role of theories, laws, hypotheses and models). However, evolution is not in the standards for 8th grade. It is in the standards for 7th grade, so it is covered to some extent in middle school but not in 8th grade. Additionally, Volusia County’s curriculum map has evolution being taught in 7th grade but not in 8th grade.

I don’t advocate attacking or debating the mother or her supporters in any way. The purpose of the “theory lesson” was obviously lost on her and I don’t think it would be worthwhile debating that aspect of this situation with her or her supporters.

As far as teaching about the scientific meaning of the word theory goes, the teacher is not only OK with teaching the meaning but the teacher is expected to teach it. Bringing evolution into the lesson might not have been the best decision, especially in light of evolution not being in the curriculum. But using evolution as an example in a theory lesson is acceptable, especially in light of the fact that 8th grade students were taught about evolution the previous year. Where the teacher might have gone too far is in using the Not Just a Theory website text word for word. The section that upset the mother in this situation should have been left out. The teacher should have been more sensitive to the possibility that the passage could be unnecessarily confrontational in nature.

I haven’t named the parties involved. But since the mother’s Facebook posts are public and are being shared, I’ll provide a link.

If anything more comes of this, I’ll keep you posted.

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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4 Responses to A spark

  1. Pierce R. Butler says:

    If that person is a teacher, or a minister, or some other figure of authority, they should know better.

    I enjoy that type of confrontational style myself – in blog commenting.

    It has no place in a lesson plan.

    In fact, they probably do, and are trying to mislead you.

    Let’s see, a non sequitur, a guess based on no data, and an out-of-the-blue accusation – all labelled as “fact”. At least 4 fallacies in 11 words – excellent fodder for a critical thinking class, otherwise worse than useless.

    All in all, this calls for a visit to the principal’s office.

  2. It seams to me that the organization that promote “Freethought “, non religious” ,ACLU”, spend far to much time and money on the sexual ” RIGHTS” of a limited amount of humanity. When something like this is at the Heart of all people we need to connect with in order to promote a “THINKING CLASS”. of human kind? thanks for your work.

  3. Valerie First says:

    I don’t know why that is even written in the school rules for teachers to copy. It is kind of paranoid to say the teacher or minister is purposely being misleading. It is more likely, as stated in first part of paragraph, that they do NOT understand the word “theory” as used in science.

    If the argument was purely about teaching the meaning of “theory”, using evolution as an example, then the teacher should be backed but now she has to be backed for quoting a school paragraph but that paragraph is wrong and should be changed and the parent thanked for finding the mistake.

  4. Mary Bahr says:

    I agree with Pierce that what you may discuss on the internet is sometimes very different from what as a teacher you would communicate with your students. Children are often caught between two world views, the one they learn at home and in their churches and the one in their science classrooms. They often form good relationships with both sets of adult role models and it is very difficult for them to find their way between them. As a teacher I was always very careful to maintain a respectful attitude towards other people’s beliefs and would never belittle families or their values. First of all it would go against my beliefs and against the constitutional rights of my students and second (or third) children do not learn from people they do not trust or who they perceive do not respect them. And the younger the child the more important this is. And I did this while teaching climate change and evolution and deep history in my middle school classroom for 20 years. The key for me was to teach what science is and is not first and then teach the content in a way that does not lecture but lets the student process it through activity based learning. It works!

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