Raise the bar: approve new standards, evolution and all

Raise the bar: approve new standards, evolution and all
Tallahassee Democrat - Feb 17, 2008 - original
On Tuesday, the Florida Board of Education will meet to consider approving new Sunshine State Standards for our public schools.

This would hardly be news except for one recurring and electrifying word that's taken center stage in the last few months: evolution. The teaching of evolution isn't now required in Florida public schools, but it certainly should be and the new standards move in that direction for the first time.

The intensely heated and divisive discussion over the veracity of evolution elevates the updating of standards that were adopted in 1996 a review of what our students are learning or ought to be learning to a level of, well, craziness.

We hear lots of talk about world-class education, about our state's children keeping up with other states and other nations, and preparing them for a future in which science and technology play key roles. The new standards in math and science will be critical to our progressing in that direction.

Suddenly, though, some school districts including Jackson, Madison and Taylor counties here in the Big Bend are passing formal resolutions against the inclusion of evolution in the standards. Suddenly, there is grave concern over holes in the fossil record. Suddenly regular citizens are experts in entropy and in what constitutes scientific "theory."

Curiously, these same opponents aren't demanding that we not teach atomic theory, even though Einstein attacked one of the philosophical problems of quantum mechanics by saying, "God does not play dice with the universe." Nor are the critics too worried about gravity, despite incomplete knowledge of how that works.

Evolution, though, is a line in the sand for those who see in science a challenge to the Bible. That's why, more than 80 years after the Scopes "monkey trial," the skeptics are still fighting this battle. And it's why those challenges must not affect the science curriculum in our public schools.

Again and again, the courts have rejected this injection of religion into the science classroom, whether it was by laws to ban evolution teaching altogether or through attempts to slip religion in the back door in the guise of creation science or intelligent design.

"Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, at a local Darwin Day event last Saturday, quoting a 1973 essay by evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky. In fact, it spreads beyond that, with implications in geology, biochemistry, epidemiology and more.

Darwin published The Origin of Species nearly 150 years ago. If we want our children to be ready for the 21st century, we might want to bring our education standards at least into the 20th century.

Educators and scientists have done their part, working hard to update the state standards. These standards will challenge our students and teachers. They will improve education in Florida.

The state board now needs to do its part and approve them.