EDITORIAL: Sub-standard science standards, still

EDITORIAL: Sub-standard science standards, still
By JAMES A. SMITH SR. - Florida Baptist Witness - Executive Editor - 1/4/2008 - original
In spite of growing concern and opposition, Florida education leaders are on the brink of requiring an evolution-as-dogma approach to teaching origins in public schools in the Sunshine State. Fortunately, there’s still time to change the outcome on this critical matter.

In October, a 45-member committee appointed by the Florida Department of Education released proposed new standards for teaching science, requiring evolution and diversity knowledge as one of the “big ideas” for elementary students and “bodies of knowledge” for high school students. The standards require doctrinaire acceptance of Darwin’s theory, without any acknowledgment of evidence to the contrary. A “refreshed” version of the standards released Feb. 1 – supposedly taking into account thousands of persons who offered critiques of the language – includes no consequential changes relating to how evolution will be taught if these proposed standards become reality.

For example, standards for grades 9-12 continue to require students learn: “Evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence. Organisms are classified based on their evolutionary history. Natural selection is the primary mechanism leading to evolutionary change.”

One “benchmark” continues to stipulate students: “Explain how evolution is supported [rather than “demonstrated”] by the fossil record, comparative anatomy, comparative embryology, biogeography, molecular biology, and observed evolutionary change.”

The word “extinction” was removed from this benchmark, while other benchmarks include minor word changes and reordering of the benchmarks.

Like the first draft, what is missing from the revised standards is any recognition that there is controversy about Darwinian evolution and that students should learn about that controversy. Whatever happened to academic freedom and exposing students to all sides of a debate? For the evolution-as-dogma crowd, there is only one side when it comes to Darwin.

This arrogant approach, however, has prompted a growing backlash from parents, teachers, interested citizens and at least a dozen school districts in Florida that have passed resolutions urging the State Board of Education to not impose the evolution-as-dogma model on their school districts.

Contrary to claims of Darwin’s defenders in the education and science establishments, few opponents of the proposed science standards are requesting the addition of creationism or Intelligent Design in the standards. Exposing students to serious, scholarly critiques of Darwinian evolution is all that is asked for from most critics of the standards. Such an approach to teaching evolution is hardly unique or unprecedented.

The Discovery Institute – admittedly, a pro-Intelligent Design group – has helpfully summarized science standards from other states and local school districts which in fact do require the inclusion of scientific criticisms of Darwinian evolution.

To cite three examples, Minnesota students must “be able to explain how scientific and technological innovations as well as new evidence can challenge portions of or entire accepted theories and models including … [the] theory of evolution.” In New Mexico, students will “critically analyze the data and observations supporting the conclusion that the species living on Earth today are related by descent from the ancestral one-celled organisms.” In South Carolina, students must “summarize ways that scientists use data from a variety of sources to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.”

What is so radical about these approaches to teaching evolution in Minnesota, New Mexico and South Carolina that something similar could not be included in Florida’s proposed science standards?

No doubt, a large majority of scientists continue to tenaciously hold to Darwinian evolution, at times, with religious faith-like fervor. But more than 700 highly credentialed scientists agree with the approach taken by these states affirming the statement, “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged” (Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture Web site, “Dissent from Darwin” (www.dissentfromdarwin.org). The Institute notes, “The list is growing and includes scientists from the US National Academy of Sciences, Russian, Hungarian and Czech National Academies, as well as from universities such as Yale, Princeton, Stanford, MIT, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and others.”

The seven-member Florida Board of Education will have the deciding vote on the new standards at a Feb. 19 meeting in Tallahassee. Citizens interested in expressing their views to the Board will find a listing of the members, along with contact information at the Florida Department of Education Web site: www.fldoe.org/board.

Concerned citizens may also express their views at a final public hearing to be chaired by Education Commissioner Eric Smith scheduled for Feb. 11, 10 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport.

“A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.” This is the view of one leading scientist open to free inquiry on the matter of evolution. His name is Charles Darwin. Yes, that Darwin, in his groundbreaking book, The Origin of Species, that got this debate started nearly 150 years ago.

It’s ironic indeed that Darwin’s own approach is rejected by the evolution-as-dogma advocates who have given us Florida’s proposed science standards.