Plan to teach evolution approved with caveat

02/19/08 Seán Kinane
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Florida’s Board of Education today approved new standards for teaching science in kindergarten through 12th grade. The Board voted 4-3 to approve the science standards that for the first time include the word "evolution."

Late Friday, an alternative to the proposed standards was suggested that added the term “Scientific Theory of” throughout the standards before the word “evolution” and “Scientific Theory of” or “Law of” before other scientific concepts. This was to appease some members of the public who want to create the appearance of a debate within the scientific community regarding evolution, said Board member Roberto Martinez. in an exchange with fellow board member Donna Callaway.

Ultimately, both voted in the minority against the new standards with the addition of ‘Scientific Theory of’ before evolution and other concepts. Callaway told a newspaper in November she would vote against the standards. Today she tried unsuccessfully to include a so-called “Academic Freedom Proposal.”

Martinez felt the addition of the word “theory” was just creationism “cloaked” in the language of academic exploration.

“We know where all this criticism is coming from. And the idea here is to dilute and single out evolution, the teaching of evolution. … For us to try to tinker with the wording of it here, at the podium, I think is a mistake.”

Most of the experts who wrote the standards said the option adding “Scientific Theory of” should not be included, according to Mary Jane Tappen, the executive director for the Office of Math and Science.

Tappen said new standards were written because of low science performance by Florida’s students and a large gap between the state’s different demographic groups. The current science standards had received an F rating, but according to Tappen, the originally proposed standards were an immense improvement.

Yet, the Board still voted to modify the standards to include “Scientific Theory of” before evolution and other concepts, a move that Roberto Martinez said is “watering down” the standards. There was one hour of public comment before the Board of Education decided to accept the new standards with revisions.

Ten people were allowed to speak in favor, and 10 in opposition.

John Stemberger, who led the effort to put the marriage restriction amendment on the ballot this November, is president of the Florida Family Policy Council. Stemberger promoted the “Academic Freedom Proposal” rejected by the Board. It proposed changing one of the science standards that reads, “Evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence.” The proposal changed the beginning of the statement to read, “Evolution is a fundamental concept…” and added “… and teachers should be permitted to engage students in a critical analysis of that evidence.”

Stemberger predicted that many students would leave the state’s public schools because of the new science standards.

Florida resident Jonathan Smith said that the ignorance of the opponents of evolution is the best argument for including evolution in the science standards. Smith said despite their claims that religion is not the issue, there has been a concerted effort to disguise “theocratic ideology,” as outlined in the "wedge strategy" by Philip E. Johnson of the Discovery Institute.

Before the public comment, three Florida Legislators addressed the board. North Florida Republican Marti Coley spoke in favor of the addition of the words “Scientific Theory of” that was adopted by the board. Democratic Minority leader Dan Gelber spoke in favor of the original standards, as did Tampa Republican Rep. Ed Homan.

"This is not a scientific theory; this is the way things happen. And how did our creator make this happen? Evolution is his method of making this happen. So the conflict, I don’t understand, personally as a scientist, and as an educator, and as a Christian, why we’re having the debate. There is the science of evolution, but the explanation as to how our creator made this happen, this is his method of doing it,” Homan said.

Stemberger of the Florida Family Policy Council said because the proposal to inject a debate about evolution into the state’s science classrooms failed, going to the Legislature might be their next option.

“I think it is, it has to be, yeah. We don’t do our science by public opinion polls, but this is really good science and it’s good policy as well and it’s something that parents support in Florida, by overwhelming majorities, so.”

The board members who voted for the new standards including the addition of the phrase “Scientific Theory of” before evolution were Phoebe Raulerson, Kathleen Shanahan, Linda Taylor and Board Chair Willard Fair; in addition to Roberto Martinez and Donna Callaway, Akshay Desai voted against.

The new Sunshine State Standards for Florida’s science classes will go into effect in the fall. They will replace the current standards that do not directly refer to evolution, only “biological change through time.”

Learn more:

Proposed Science Standards

Alternate changes to standards including “Scientific Theory of” and “Law of”

Previous WMNF coverage of the new science standards

More coverage

More coverage

More coverage

Florida Family Policy Council

Callaway says she’ll vote against standards

Rep. Ed Homan

Rep. Marti Coley

Rep. Dan Gelber

Florida Citizens for Science

Florida Standards

Community Issues Council

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