February 23, 2008

Donna Callaway: I Knew She Was Lying Because Her Lips Were Moving

One of the funniest monologues from Tuesday's hearings on the Florida science education standard was delivered by state board of education member and Florida Christian Coalition mouthpiece Donna Callaway when she attempted to draw a parallel between how she thought biology should be taught and how students are educated about illegal drugs. Callaway insisted that proper teaching allows students to "find out for themselves," and further maintained that students aren't just taught that using illegal drugs is bad. In Callaway's strange universe, students are supposed to find out for themselves that they shouldn't use them, and schools should be doing the same thing when it comes to science education. What I want to know is which schools are passing out the free trial packs of China white so that students can find out for themselves that it's a bad idea to shoot smack?

That wasn't Callaway's only funny bit, though. She also insisted that she wasn't motivated by her religion to oppose teaching students the underlying principle of biology in almost the same breath as explaining that she had a "religious identity." That should be a potent enough indicator of ongoing deception; if you're not motivated to take a stand on an issue based on some belief, you don't go on to explain that your identity is tied up in that belief. Still, Callaway felt it necessary to clarify to the True Believers that she was just kidding when she said this, and so she's written a column for the Florida Baptist Witness explaining her motivations clearly enough so that even someone with their head stuffed up their bible-hole can understand where she's coming from.

Students ‘biggest losers’ in evolution debate

Screen shot Callaway's Florida Baptist Witness column shown here for comparison under Fair UseOn Nov. 19, a battle took place in Tallahassee. Those of us involved in that skirmish walked away with different versions of what had taken place. Even members of the news media had conflicting views of what had actually been decided. As to who won and who lost this battle – everyone lost something, but the biggest losers were the students in Florida’s public schools. They lost some privileges and they lost some rights...
Ummmmm... Callaway's strange universe apparently has a different calendar than ours. The meeting took place this month, February, not November 19. Apparently the editors at FBW aren't too concerned with little details like editing or fact checking. Big surprise that religious fundamentalists don't concern themselves with facts. The only "losers" in the "battle" are Donna Callaway and Dennis Baxley. No students lost any rights or privileges; they won vastly improved science standards — not just in biology, but in all of the sciences. All Callaway has done is start right off by tipping her hand. She doesn't care about the science standards overall, just about whether her religion was given a place in science classrooms. At the hearing, she said that she thought the science standards were good overall and there was only one small area of disagreement; she's saying something very different here. Donna Callaway either lied when she said what she said at the hearing or else she's lying now. Take your pick; she couldn't have been honest about her position in both instances.
Drawing my attention and setting off alarms were several references to evolution, but none were as alarming as Standard 15: “Diversity and Evolution of Living Organisms. A. Evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology.”

I contacted the executive editor of this publication because I felt that this standard needed to get out to Christian parents, children and churches throughout the state. I further agreed to make a statement regarding my concerns which was published in December and now has been credited with opening the “floodgate” causing the controversy, creating the tension that has since occurred.

Interestingly, the battle lines were drawn, not between religion and evolution, but between those who wanted fairness for our children and those whose single goal was to keep “religion” out of the standards...
Wait... Callaway wasn't motivated by religion, but she felt that she had to get word out to Christians? Huh? The battle lines weren't drawn between religion and evolution, but some people wanted to keep religion out of the standards while Callaway pretended to be Paul Revere and road off to warn churches about them? Is this for real? Callaway's mouth must be Florida's best example of non-Euclidean geometry; it seems to have far too many sides she can talk out of at the same time to explain it otherwise.
The proponents exhibited the “closed mind” status that we try to teach our children not to have. How many of us learn much, if anything, from those who agree with us? So much more is learned, especially by children, when there is a fair and open debate, when controversy and conflict occur over ideas. This is what was advocated so carefully and kindly by those who wanted this one Standard to just include wording that allowed an open, fair, and transparent debate over an issue that is not settled when many do not agree, including scientists and teachers. The vote was taken. Evolution won....
A moment of lucidity; even though she insists earlier that the battle lines weren't drawn between evolution and religion, in this statement she acknowledges that evolution won the vote. Still, she clings to a few alternate realities. For example, there's nothing in the standards that says that students can't ask questions or raise contrary points; the standards cover how teachers are to teach science. When last I checked, nobody had included any penalty phase for students raising questions or initiating debate. What has changed is that such debate is to be based on science education; if a student asks a question or raises an objection, it's incumbent upon a teacher now to explain how evolutionary biology tackles the issue being raised. Students aren't supposed to be experts debating an issue; they're not the ones in authority in a classroom. A 40 year old teacher with a college degree can't have a "fair debate" with a student; the teacher is an authority figure and should be an authority figure. The teacher should know more about the subject by far than the student because the teacher should have had more education on the matter. Classrooms aren't designed to be settings in which students debate instructors in the first place; question, yes, debate, no.
If there is a victory for those who oppose the evolution standard as written or amended, it is that they stood shoulder to shoulder, not in a fanatical, demanding way as many may have expected. Rather, they stood kindly with a sense of calm assurance, with open and transparent reasoning that confused their opponents who expected a religious battle. This was never that battle; it was a battle over student rights. Those rights were not recognized....
That's odd; nobody at the hearing seemed to be confused, and I haven't seen anyone talk about the hearing who expressed a sense of confusion, and I listened to the hearing and I wasn't confused. I did hear religious arguments from both sides, though... arguments against literalism and thinly-cloaked religious arguments for including unspecified "alternative theories." The only people who might have been confused were the ones waiting to hear about specifics of those alternative theories; no such explanations were forthcoming. Perhaps those who aren't familiar from past experience with what that two-word phrase means were confused by this point. Those of us who have been following this issue for a good, long stretch of time weren't confused in the least.
...And, speaking of identity, I began my comments to the SBOE with an acknowledgement that I have a religious identity. That identity urges me to use the Master Teacher as my example.

The model He set for us 2,000 years ago is so appropriate for today. He allowed Himself to be questioned. He never thrust his belief on anyone. He allowed both Nicodemus and the Samaritan Woman to question Him, each from an opposite end of the human spectrum. It was as if He said, “Ask me questions. I will answer. It may not be what you want to hear, but there is more. I invite you to come and see. Decide for yourself.” Learning took place under those circumstances...
Nope, no religious motivation there. Why would anyone think that a desire to pattern science education after Bible stories revealed a religious basis for one's thinking on the subject? How silly of us to have thought that Callaway was trying to model modern education after religious belief! The "Master Teacher?" Considering how much conflict there is between Christian sects in today's world, how many different ways there are in which True Believers have divided themselves and how many times these divisions result in animosity, I don't see much basis for calling Jesus a Master Teacher. A teacher should at least be able to make things clear to his students; religion is a great muddle. There's a second misdirection here as well; modern students can still find out for themselves. They will do experiments and make observations. The thing is, to continue Callaway's assertion, Christ told people to find out for themselves. The people who weren't in his immediate proximity and never heard him say this certainly didn't find out until someone else came and told them sometime later. Someone living in Japan in 20 CE didn't find out for himself because he'd never heard of this one prophet among the many living in the Near East at the time. In just the same way, students who aren't educated about evolutionary theory don't get the opportunity to find out for themselves, and students put in settings in which an instructor only brings up the word "evolution" as a strawman to knock down aren't getting that opportunity, either. That's what the standards address, in part. To use Callaway's own analogy again, how successful would Christianity have been if early missionaries had told those to whom they were supposedly teaching that one of the tenets of Christianity was that all believers had to murder their parents while they slept? This would have been a misrepresentation, of course, and one would be inclined to think that such a message were being spread as an effort to undermine the religion. That's exactly what many opponents of evolutionary education do, though. They misrepresent the lines of evidence, often dismissing their existence outright. They make claims that evolutionary biology should contain moral precepts and then fault it for not doing so.
We very much want that kind of learning experience to occur for our children. When they are not just allowed, but encouraged to debate issues, they explore them, search for evidence, think critically, and then have an ownership of the knowledge they gain. Adults have a right to do this. How can we deny that to our children?
There are plenty of rights extended to adults in our society that aren't extended to children. Adults have the right to vote; children do not, yet children are citizens. Adults have the right to purchase and consume alcohol; children do not. Adults have the right to associate freely with whomever they please; children do not. Callaway's closing argument is almost as bizarre as the rest of her assertions here.

That Callaway is saying that the new science standards discourage inquiry is ludicrously dishonest. That she claims they don't allow students to look for evidence themselves is equally ridiculous; if anything, many of them will be presented with evidence for the first time as well as being given some tools with which to interpret it, because evidence is meaningless if you don't know what is and isn't evidence in the first place.

Most to the point, Florida was until recently one of only three states in the USA that didn't include evolutionary theory as part of the science curriculum in an explicit sense. 46 other states, then, have included it for some time. I am unaware of anything that indicates that students have been unable to question teachers about the subjects to which the theory properly applies and I know of nothing that demonstrates that these students have lost any rights whatsoever. Callaway is doing with this column what she's done all along; she's conjuring up political and religious boogeymen to frighten the faithful to some sort of action. When she's preaching to the choir, as it were, she feels no need to disguise her twisting of both fact and logical inference and to remove both herself and Florida Baptist Witness' readers from consensual reality completely if that's what suits her agenda.

But really, how much stock should anyone who hasn't already drunk the Key Lime Kool-Aid put into this? Neither Callaway or FBW even bothers enough with facts to make sure that they've gotten a date correct when it's in the first three words of something they publish.

I have a hypothesis, though, about why Callaway made this slip about dates. She's thinking about November because she's getting ready to run for something. Who knows, Donna Callaway may well turn out to be the next Katherine Harris! Let's not forget that a mere year and a half ago, the same screwball religious fundamentalist publication that's now giving us Donna Callaway's weird take on reality also published an interview with equally wacko Harris in which she stated,
...not just in the church and not just as a teacher or as a pastor or a banker or a lawyer, but in government and we have to have elected officials in government and we have to have the faithful in government and over time, that lie we have been told, the separation of church and state, people have internalized, thinking that they needed to avoid politics and that is so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers. And if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women and if people aren’t involved in helping godly men in getting elected than we’re going to have a nation of secular laws...

If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you’re not electing Christians then in essence you are going to legislate sin...
Callaway is certainly keeping the right company for someone who is so unmotivated by religion, no?

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