Florida: Showdown in Tallahassee

In a few minutes, the Florida Board of Education will convene a meeting, and on the agenda is the question of the proposed science standards. Late last week, Commissioner Eric Smith was involved in developing a “compromise” set of changes to the proposed standards, where phrases like “the law of” would preface “gravity”, and “the scientific theory of” would preface “evolution” and some other concepts in the document.

The Orlando Sentinel has an editorial that doesn’t pussyfoot around.

Before the state Board of Education votes today on including evolution in school curriculum, its members should pause and think about their responsibility to the children of Florida.

Today’s vote is not about religion. It’s not about politics. Today’s vote is about science and ensuring Florida’s children get the best education possible.

And that’s why the board should adopt the science standards drafted by a committee of more than 60 scientists and science teachers without changes. It should reject an 11th-hour proposal by Department of Education staff members to add the words “the scientific theory of” before the word “evolution” in the standards.

It’s bad enough that this proposed change is a blatant attempt to inject politics into this decision by serving up this compromise to quiet the objections of Panhandle school boards. What’s worse is that this language would only deepen the general public’s misunderstanding of the word “theory” when applied to science.

In layman’s terms, a theory is just a guess, an unproved idea. In science, a theory is not a guess, but something that has been proved and is almost universally accepted as being true.

Inserting the word “theory” into these standards would be a surrender to ignorance. The purpose of education is not to confuse, but to enlighten.

Last week, the Department of Education also changed the format of the Board’s meeting. Originally, the Board was going to confer amongst themselves on the issues. Now, 20 three-minute first-come-first-served speaking slots for the public are planned, with 10 of those for those opposed to adoption of the proposed standards, and 10 for adoption. This means that despite the opportunities for the public to comment in writing and via a series of five public meetings (the last of which was videotaped for the Board’s convenience), the forces opposing adoption managed to get the Board to provide yet another special opportunity for comments.

Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science is live-blogging the event, so read up on the proceedings. Brandon says a webcast is available, too.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.