Board of Education votes Tuesday on evolution question

02/18/08 Seán Kinane
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Tomorrow the Florida Board of Education will vote on new Science Standards for kindergarten through 12th grade. Many scientists and educators say that the new standards are a vast improvement over the current criteria, but a vocal group of parents and activists are fighting the new standards because they include evolution.

On Friday an alternative version of the proposed standards was put forward that some consider a compromise to keep evolution in the standards. Evolution and other collections of scientific facts, such as the Cell Theory, would be called “Scientific Theories,” while scientific laws, such as gravity, will be labeled as such.

Brandon Haught, communications director for Florida Citizens for Science, said that adding the terms "theory" and "law" would soften the revised standards.

One hour of public comment will be allowed before the Board of Education votes on the new proposed science standards. Ten people speaking in favor, and 10 who are opposed, will be allowed three minutes each to address the Board.

Florida State University professor Harry Kroto, who won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, plans to speak in favor of the new standards.

Kroto brought up the $600-million Florida has spent to lure the Scripps Institute to the state. Bowing to the reactionary elements of religious conservatives at the expense of science, Kroto said, will hurt the state’s economy.

“If this [getting rid of evolution from proposed Science Standards] goes through, it will basically make Florida the laughingstock of the developed world. …”

Florida Board of Education members declined to be interviewed for this story, but in December, Board member Ashkai Desai told WMNF that he supports teaching evolution in science classes.

“Yes, we will obviously support the science standard. At the same time, I would be looking to listen to some of the other arguments and then see whether they are concrete based on some facts; and we would be open to review all other hypotheses if they are based on facts.”

Several school boards in North Florida have said they would oppose the standards if they include evolution. This is despite the fact that a federal judge barred a Pennsylvania public school district from teaching intelligent design in biology classrooms in 2005. Terry Kemple is president of Community Issues Council, a Christian group that is rallying its members to oppose the standards.

Kemple said he is not asking that alternate theories, like creationism or intelligent design, be taught alongside evolution, only that students be educated about the shortcomings of evolutionary biology.

But Kroto said evolution is solidly factual.

Kemple said the Florida Legislature might step in to “help the [Board of Education] make the right decision.”

But Speaker of the House Marco Rubio told WMNF last month that he did not expect lawmakers to get involved in the issue.

WMNF attempted to get comment from David C. Gibbs III, the attorney for the parents of Terry Schiavo, who wrote a letter to the education board opposing the standards, but he was out of town and not available for an interview.

The Florida Board of Education will meet at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in Tallahassee to hear public comment and vote on the state’s new science standards.

Learn more:

Proposed Science Standards

Alternate changes to standards including “Scientific Theory and Law”

Previous WMNF coverage of the new science standards

More coverage

More coverage

Community Issues Council

Florida Citizens for Science

Florida Baptist Witness article citing BoE member

Florida Standards

Harry Kroto

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