It’s hitting the fan now

The issue of evolution in the state science standards, and the fate of those standards because of evolution, made the headlines today. Florida Citizens for Science members and the National Center for Science Education were very busy yesterday with interviews for these stories.

The main strategy being used here by the forces opposed to evolution is the “teach both sides” fallacy. Notice that many folks quoted aren’t saying to get rid of evolution, but want to “balance” that teaching with the creationist Trojan horse intelligent design. As you read through the below linked stories, notice how there are constant appeals to some form of fairness or people’s passions. I think the NCSE has a good response to such arguments: “A fair science curriculum is one that teaches children the most up-to-date, accurate information that is accepted in the scientific community — not one that is determined by pressure groups. A good curriculum also requires science teachers and students to use scientific standards of evidence and inference in classroom discussions, rather than dogma and unsupported opinions.”

The St. Petersburg Times does its best to learn what the state board of education members think of the standards with evolution featured. In some cases, the influence of public opinion, rather than scientific fact, is having an effect.

“I haven’t seen this level of passion” on any other education issue, said Akshay Desai, a Board of Education member from St. Petersburg.

Desai said he has received more than 100 e-mails in recent weeks, with the overwhelming majority pushing for inclusion of intelligent design. Desai, a medical doctor, said he believes in Darwin’s theory. But he also said he would not close the door on mention of creationism or intelligent design in the standards.

“There is a significant passion about this issue from a religious perspective,” he said. “That needs to be respected.”

Respected, sure. Acted on, no. If folks think the earth is flat or The Holocaust never happened, we don’t necessarily act on those passions in the public schools’ standards. Also, Desai needs to be careful when speaking about the “religious perspective.” That can get him in trouble in the public schools just like it got a school board in Dover, Pa. in trouble. There has to be a secular reason for including intelligent design in public school science classes. So far, no one seems to realize that.

“There’s where the public is, and then there’s where the scientific community and the educational community is,” said Josh Rosenau, a spokesman for the National Center for Science Education. “You want your science education to be accurate.”

Take note that yet another local school board member, this time from Hillsborough, is speaking up concerning her doubts about evolution.

Hillsborough School Board member Jennifer Faliero, who represents east Hillsborough, wants to see the state continue with its current approach, which is to teach “change over time” — a nod to Darwin’s theory that falls short of the “e word.”

“I’m not advocating intelligent design,” Faliero said. “What I do think is healthy is to not limit it to saying evolution only.”

Most of the state board of education members are keeping mum on the subject.

At this stage, it’s unclear how the seven-member state Board of Education will vote early next year.

Kathleen Shanahan of Tampa and Linda Taylor of Fort Myers could not be reached for comments. Board chairman T. Willard Fair of Miami said he would not comment until the issue comes before the board. Phoebe Raulerson of Okeechobee said she is still reviewing the draft and has not made a decision.

Besides Callaway, only one other board member, Roberto Martinez of Miami, has offered a clear position. He’s in favor.

“I respect the people who have beliefs in creationism and intelligent design, but I do not believe it should be included as part of the science standards,” he said.

Those ideas can be addressed in other parts of the curriculum, such as social studies, he said.

Thank you, Mr. Martinez. Can you perhaps share with your fellow board members the light of such reason?

The Florida Times Union reports that parents are getting active in their fight against evolution. Note that they’re recruiting the politicians to get involved.

Kim Kendall and Lynda Follenweider, parents in northern St. Johns County, are leading a charge to get the State Board of Education to “red flag” the new standards. They aren’t against teaching evolution but want the standards to leave open the possibility of discussing other theories. When they called to find out more about a November public hearing in Jacksonville, they found out it was canceled. It has since been rescheduled, along with another one in Tampa. Two meetings in other cities went on in November as scheduled.

The two say the department is trying to quietly pass the standards without widely publicizing opportunities for public comment because evolution is such a hot-button issue.

The two successfully lobbied state Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, to speak to the board at its meeting Tuesday, even though the science standards won’t be on the agenda.

Already, one of the board members Kendall contacted has said she’ll vote against the new standards as they are written: Donna Callaway believes teachers should have the leeway to acknowledge other theories, she told the Florida Baptist Witness.

That’s what Joe Wolf, president of Florida Citizens for Science, is afraid of. He said evolution has been tested over and over again, and stands up every time.

“I don’t know if I’m going to say I’m optimistic,” he said. “I have been told that the state board and DOE have been under tremendous pressure to essentially eliminate evolution.”

Wolf said he believed all sides have had the chance for input. He went to the public hearing held in Orlando and said that many sides were presented, although “there weren’t hundreds of people there.”

He said he’s fearful that the standards will be rejected based on the evolution issue even though they have been upgraded significantly in all of the areas.

“That would be really bad for the kids in Florida,” Wolf said.

And the Orlando Sentinel reports on what is going on as well.

Callaway’s comments in a church-based paper troubles Florida Citizens for Science, which supports the new proposals.

“She’s allowing her personal religious views to cloud her judgment on science education in Florida,” said Brandon Haught, the group’s spokesman and a Lake County resident. “We need to trust the subject-matter experts . . . these new standards were written by subject-matter experts.”

And radio station WMNF out of Tampa decided to stay focused on the Polk County School Board, which is still a concern.

Kay Fields is a School Board member who represents District 5, which has the largest population in the district and includes Kathleen High School. She was unavailable for an interview but told WMNF by email that, quote, “Intelligent design is not presently taught in Polk County schools. I believe that if evolution is mandated so should [sic] intelligent design.” But Brandon Haught, the Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science disagrees.

ACT Haught-NotScience (17 sec) “You wouldn’t teach Spanish Grammar in a Biology classroom because it’s not science. I mean that’s a very, very obvious statement to make. Well, the same thing can be said for this concept of intelligent design. It also has nothing to do with science, it really doesn’t.”

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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