What was in that evolution lesson?

The Tampa Tribune, specifically Hernando Today, has a story out this morning about an evolution lesson that had apparently gone awry. The story is a bit confusing, though. The problem didn’t actually involve evolution, but rather some mentions of religion. A sixth-grade student from  Explorer K-8 in Hernando County told mom about things she heard in science class that day concerning reincarnation and the Catholic Church. Mom got upset because the weird things the girl heard were inaccurate and certainly odd things to pick up during a lesson on evolution.

A further reading of the story reveals that the teacher, David Liptak, wasn’t trying to push any particular religion or even express an opinion on the matter. But the general classroom conversation just grew its own wings and took off. I can understand that.

But why did religion come up in the first place?

Explorer’s principal, Dominick Ferello, said the teacher stuck to the textbook lesson about creation, then went on to explain that there are other beliefs, as well.

“He told students there are other (beliefs), and everyone chooses what to believe,” Ferello said. “He mentioned the others, then told them to talk to their parents for anything further when the kids started asking questions.”

A textbook lesson about creation? That sounds familiar. In 2006 FCS had kept an eye on a biology textbook selection process in Brevard County. The school board was looking at Biology: The Dynamics of Life, which contains an out-of-context reference to divine origins and intelligent design in two paragraphs at the end of a chapter on the history of life. Here’s an old post of mine about it, and another one. Here’s a 2006 editorial in the St. Pete Times on the general subject. Brevard County eventually apopted an edited version of Biology: The Dynamics of Life. Take a look at page five of the March 2006 school board meeting minutes. Some of the wiser board members predicted there would be problems if the original text was approved:

Bea Fowler stated she is concerned that discussion will be held in science class led by science teachers and not by comparative religion teachers.  This subject should be taught by trained comparative religious teachers and not science teachers.

The questionable text in the book was two paragraphs:

“Common to human cultures throughout history is the belief that life on Earth did not arise spontaneously. Many of the world’s major religions teach that life was created on Earth by a supreme being. The followers of these religions believe that life could only have arisen through the direct action of a divine force.”

“A variation of this belief is that organisms are too complex to have developed only by evolution. Instead, some people believe that the complex structures and processes of life could not have formed without some guiding intelligence.”

My guess is that Hernando County took the opposite road of Brevard and adopted the original version of the textbook with those paragraphs intact, and now that decision has come back to haunt a poor science teacher.

If anyone is in or near Spring Hill, could you do a bit more digging and learn the facts that were left out of the newspaper story? It looks to me like the reporter or editor wasn’t clear on what the story should have focused on. Quite a few paragraphs detail evolution’s new role in the state science standards, but that has little, if anything, to do with what happened in the classroom. It looks to me like this was a case of a bad textbook tripping up an otherwise standard biology lesson. What did evolution have to do with anything?

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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2 Responses to What was in that evolution lesson?

  1. Jerry H. Jeffery says:

    Hi guys,

    I have been working on getting PZ Myers down to Florida in December and it looks like this is going to happe. He will be speaking Dec 5 at Rollins and Dec 6 at UCF. In other words he will be speaking where “Crackergate” began.

    I want to solicit your support, especially in promoting the event when it comes closer. It should be a good, if contentious, event.


  2. Chuck says:

    I so glad you guys exist! Keep up the good work.

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