February 18, 2008

Florida Science Education Standards: Info About Tomorrow's Vote

Today's Orlando Sentinel contains a piece by Leslie Postal detailing key points about tomorrow's vote on the new Florida science education standards. Ironically, the article is entitled What you should know about Tuesday's vote on evolution. I say this is ironic because the vote isn't really about evolution, it's about how all scientific curricula will be taught in the state's public schools. Thanks to the ceaseless efforts of religious activists, however, the whole issue has been framed in terms of evolutionary biology even though that's just one small piece of the new standards.

Nonetheless, the vote will occur tomorrow and it appears that it will be a referendum on whether Florida's students will get an education including good science as opposed to watering down real science by cramming arguments from ignorance about "holes" in biological theory into class time. Here are a few useful points from Leslie Postal's article. The boldface items are those of particular interest to those who are thinking of attending the meeting or at least want to watch a live stream over the internet as I intend to do.

Q. Why is Florida revamping its science standards ?

A. Experts say current standards are weak and do not prepare students well for college or careers in technology. Florida got an F on a national review of science standards in 2005, and students lag on national and state science tests...

Q. Isn't evolution taught in public schools already?

A. Yes, but how it is taught varies. In Orange County, teachers described the evolution debate as a "nonissue" because the subject already is taught fully, particularly in advanced high-school classes. But in Taylor County in North Florida, the superintendent said evolution is viewed as a "theory," so other ideas about how life evolved also are discussed...

Q. Who is opposed?

A. Many people, including school board members in a number of North Florida counties, parents, the Christian Coalition of Florida and the Florida Family Policy Council.

Q. Who is in favor?

A. Also many people, including parents, public-school science teachers, science professors at Florida universities and the Florida Academy of Sciences...

Q. If they are adopted, how will that change my child's education?

A. School districts will rewrite lesson plans to conform to the new standards, textbooks will be updated and the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test will be revised so students are tested on the new requirements. Students take science FCAT exams in fifth, eighth and 11th grades...

Q. When is the vote on Florida's new science standards?

A. The meeting starts at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee.

Q. Can I attend?

A. Yes, it's a public meeting.

Q. Can I tell board members my views?

A. Possibly. The board will take an hour of public comment before its vote, with speakers signed up starting at 8 a.m. The board plans to balance the speakers, with a maximum of 10 people speaking for the new standards and 10 people speaking against.

Q. Can I watch the meeting from Central Florida?

A. Yes. The meeting will be streamed live at OrlandoSentinel.com.

Q. Who are the board members?

A. The seven appointed board members include retired educators, an attorney, a physician and a business executive. Some were appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush, others by Gov. Charlie Crist.

Q. Have they made their views on this issue public?

A. Two board members have said they are in favor, a third has said she is opposed and the others have not said.
Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science is planning to be in attendance at the meeting and will be liveblogging the event as well.

The religious lobby, spearheaded by the Florida Baptist Convention, will also be present in force at the meeting. The executive director of that organization has just sent a letter and email to the entire state board which reads, in part:
...Specifically, we are concerned about the narrative found in the Life ‘Science body of Knowledge’ section which starts with the statement: “Evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence.”

It is not the desire or goal of Florida Baptists to advocate the removal of the theory of evolution from the curriculum. Nor are we suggesting the inclusion of any other theory on the origin of life. Although we firmly believe there is credible evidence supporting a Creator-initiated origin of life.

What we are advocating at this time is an accurate and thorough presentation of the scientific evidence currently available regarding the theory of evolution. To that end, we respectfully request that you at least require the curriculum to fairly reflect the scientific strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolution. Additionally, the Science Standards should honor and encourage the academic freedom of teachers and students on an issue of fundamental importance and ongoing scientific controversy.
A few things to note about this letter.

Firstly, it's a load of mealy-mouthed crap, to be blunt about it. There is no scientific controversy about evolutionary theory. None. Zero. Some of the mechanisms are under investigation, of course, and they always will be because that's how science works. The principles of the theory itself are undisputed and in fact are what scientists use when they do these investigations. The only dispute is between those who understand science (including some religious people) and those who dwell in a deep, dark well of ignorance (including John Sullivan).

The second paragraph isn't even grammatically correct; the last "sentence" isn't actually a sentence. Sullivan can't even squeeze out proper knowledge when it comes to writing a brief paragraph in a formal letter. That he thinks he should have a say in education is ridiculous, but he just knows that he's got God's ear on this stuff.

The letter itself is a lot less threatening than the one sent by fundamentalist lawyer and general whack-job David Gibbs in which lawsuits were threatened over religious freedom if Old Testament mythology weren't included in science classes. Of course, Sullivan hasn't disavowed that approach, either. Nonetheless, saying that the Florida Baptist Convention isn't "suggesting the inclusion of any other theory" is an outright lie. That's exactly what they're doing. Donna Callaway, a member of the FBC and the state board of education, has said outrightly:
I agree completely that evolution should be taught with all of the research and study that has occurred. However, I believe it should not be taught to the exclusion of other theories of origin of life.
How is that not advocating the inclusion of other theories? Look, too, at page five of David Gibbs letter, particularly at the second paragraph:

How exactly is this not advocating "other theories for the origin of life?"

Perhaps a better question might be, how stupid does the Florida Baptist Convention think people really are? They must have a pretty low opinion of the intellect of we human beings if they don't think Sullivan's statement is a transparent bunch of dishonesty in the face of what Callaway, Gibbs and others have been saying all along.

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