For the first time ever evolution is to be taught clearly and explicitly in Florida classrooms. But, there is a catch: The subject will be taught as “the Scientific Theory of Evolution.”
As originally proposed by the State Board of Education , the science standards, updated for the first time since 1996, didn’t call evolution a “theory”. Following numerous public complaints, the State Department of Education suggested the wording change to clearly label every scientific law and theory as such, not just about evolution. The seven- member board adopted the alternate proposal and thus the standards by a 4 to 3 vote.
Religious advocates wanted more. They proposed an “Academic Freedom Amendment” to counter what they say is the “dogmatic” tone of the standards that call evolution “the fundamental concept underlying all of biology.” The amendment would have given teachers explicit permission “ to engage students in a critical analysis of that evidence.”
Board member Donna Calloway, of Tallahassee tried to get the “academic freedom” measure considered but couldn’t persuade any other member to go along. She said, “This is a point of debate, and we need to address it right here.” Board member Roberto Martinez of Miami replied: “Respectfully, Donna, it is not a form of debate, or controversy, in the mainstream scientific community.”
Martinez and Calloway had this in common: Both voted against the standards --Calloway because she wanted a less “dogmatic” tone on evolution, Martinez because he wanted the original standards as drafted and as praised by the National Academy of Sciences. He said evolution was really a fact and he was concerned that calling evolution a theory-- even a “Scientific Theory” would still confuse the two common definitions of the word: a simple guess, or a scientific and testable concept based on facts.
Local teachers took the Florida Board of Education’s narrow approval of the state’s new science standards, with the phrase “Scientific theory of” preceding evolution, in stride.
The change, in what a local school official calls a political maneuver, doesn’t bother veteran science teachers, one of whom said “All the textbooks I ever used in 21 years say that, anyway.” A local school board member said having the words “Scientific theory of” is embarrassing. “ the biggest concern I have is how will this place Florida in the scientific community nationally and internationally.
Mark Caputo, BRADENTON HERALD, MIAMI HERALD, PAGE 0NE.
Sylvia Lim, BRADENTON HERALD, PAGE ONE