Proposed science standards debated in Fla.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)--Controversy surrounds proposed science standards that would be implemented in Florida's public schools for the next decade. As in other states, the debate involves whether evolution should be presented as a fact or a theory.
"We are not advocating creationism," said Kim Kendall, a member of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville. "We are not asking for religion to be taught in science.
"We are asking for evolution to continue to be taught, but to be taught with both its supports and its faults."
Kendall, a leading activist opposing the standards, was among 45 people, among 200 in attendance, who spoke at a state-sponsored public hearing in Jacksonville in early January.
The language in the proposed standards, Kendall said, is dogmatic when it asserts that "evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all biology."
Referring to the discovery that Pluto no longer is considered a planet by scientists today, Kendall said scientific opinions can change as scientists explore new information.
Meanwhile, David Campbell, one of the writers of the proposed standards, said they are a vast improvement over current standards and that, "Evolution is not presented as dogma.
The proposed standards ask students to examine the evidence for evolution and to think critically, said Campbell, one of 20 people who spoke in support of the proposed standards and who teaches advanced placement biology in Clay County.
"Did we eliminate other concepts? Yes, we did," said Campbell, who identified himself as a lifelong Christian. "We did not include Intelligent Design based on legal work and on decisions made earlier. I would also point out that we eliminated dogmatic ideas like flat earth, astrology, geocentrism and the prospect that canals on Mars were actually constructed by intelligent life."
Within the scientific community, Campbell asserted, there is no argument about the specifics of evolution. "The standards we prepared are designed to prepare students for the real world -- advanced high school courses, college courses and ultimately the real world in life," he said.
Campbell also stated, "Biology without evolution is like physics without movement, like chemistry without the periodic table. It's the glue that holds our subject together."
Mary Jane Tappen, executive director of Florida's Office of Math and Science, said the state intends for people to be better informed about proposed academic standards and what takes place in developing them, regardless of their viewpoint.
"[We hope] their view is based on facts about the process and about the standards themselves," Tappen said.
In October, a 45-member committee appointed by the Florida Department of Education released proposed new standards for teaching science and other subjects. The standards for grades 9-12 require students to 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 for those grades stipulates that students be able to "Explain how evolution is demonstrated by the fossil record, extinction, comparative anatomy, comparative embryology, biogeography, molecular biology (crosscuts with earth/space), and observed evolutionary change."
Another speaker at the Feb. 3 hearing, Beverly Slough, a member of the St. Johns County school board and president-elect of the Florida School Boards Association, said opponents of the proposed science standards aren't advocating the teaching of creationism or Intelligent Design but instead are advocating open-mindedness.
"I think to limit our children and to teach evolution as dogma, not allowing them even open discussion, is not intellectually honest," said Slough, who has a degree in biology.
Terry Kemple, president of the Tampa Bay Christian public policy group Community Issues Council, said leaving the standards unchanged regarding the origin of species would be better for teaching children how to think.
"The issue really goes to the basic question of whether our schools are places of learning or indoctrination ...," Kemple said. The proposed standards, she noted, come from people who have a set of beliefs and want children's education to be based on those beliefs, he said.
"My objection to their proposal is that, at its core, the suggested science standard relative to evolution is a set of beliefs unproven. They believe that millions of years ago there was nothing and then suddenly there was something. They have no proof. It's not replicable. It's clearly a belief," Kemple said. "You can give it a name and call it evolution, but it is nonetheless a set of beliefs."
Kemple noted that a set of beliefs is typically considered a religion or non-religion. A large number of educated people believe evolution is not correct, he noted, and thus, as a set of beliefs, it should not be taught without stating its shortcomings.
Robin Brown, a retired middle school science teacher from Polk County, quoted from a number of well-educated people who disagree with the theory of evolution. Drawing from philosopher Karl Popper, astronomer Fred Hoyle, law professor and author Phillip E. Johnson and quantum physicist Paul Davies, Brown discussed ideas promoted by these men that argue against evolution and/or develop the idea of Intelligent Design.
Quoting Janice Shaw Crouse, a senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the think tank for Concerned Women for America, Brown said many scholars aren't willing to break ranks and publish their questions and doubts.
"In fact there is so much heat about the debate, it's no longer academic," Crouse said, according to Brown.
A few school districts have adopted resolutions opposing the proposed approach to teaching evolution, Kendall told the Florida Baptist Witness in a subsequent e-mail.
Copies of the resolutions are being sent to other districts, Kendall said. "We believe with the backing of several school districts this will help encourage the SBOE to vote in a manner that is best for the state of Florida."
Kendall said "we feel hopeful with our 7-member SBOE [State Board of Education] which will be making the final decision."
A final decision on the standards is expected at the board's Feb. 19 meeting in Tallahassee.
Eva Wolever is assistant editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.