Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Foxy Politicians

In the latest turn in the Florida science standards saga, Republican legislators are threatening to throw evolution into the briar patch.

In a story entitled "Evolution: Just a theory?," the Miami Herald is reporting that:

Rep. Marti Coley, future House Speaker Dean Cannon and state Sen. Stephen Wise, all Republicans, say they're considering filing legislation this spring that would specifically call evolution a ''theory'' if the state Board of Education approves the proposed science standards Feb. 19 as currently written.
I think we can safely say these legislators haven't read the proposed standards (or hope their constituents haven't). Starting in grade 3, students are supposed to be instructed as to:

BIG IDEA 3: The Role of Theories, Laws, Hypotheses, and Models The terms that describe examples of scientific knowledge, for example; "theory," "law," "hypothesis" and "model" have very specific meanings and functions within science.
By 6th grade:

Recognize and explain that a scientific theory is a well-supported and widely accepted explanation of nature and is not simply a claim posed by an individual. Thus, the use of the term theory in science is very different than how it is used in everyday life.

Identify that a scientific theory is an explanation of nature supported by evidence.
And, in 9th through 12th grades:

Explain that a scientific theory is the culmination of many scientific investigations drawing together all the current evidence concerning a substantial range of phenomena; thus, a scientific theory represents the most powerful explanation scientists have to offer.

Recognize that a scientific theory is developed by repeated investigations of many scientists and agreement on the likely explanation.
The politicians are pandering, naturally, to the vernacular use of "theory" as "wild-assed guess." To the extent that the standards are, in fact, well taught, the students should know better than their elders by the time they graduate high school.

And, of course, the motivations of these legislators are clear. Coley and Cannon both expressed belief in Intelligent Design Creationism, though Coley has enough sense to admit that it is too religious to teach in science classes.

But Wise, who is obviously oblivious of that thing called "the Constitution," said that creationism should be taught in schools.

'Put them side by side,'' he said of evolution and biblical teaching.
But the ultimate bottom line is not hard to find. Joseph Travis, the dean of Florida State University's Arts and Sciences College, who reviewed the state's science standards, wondered why the critics aren't pushing to have the word ''theory'' precede mentions of gravity in the standards.

Asked if it should be called the ''theory of gravity'' in the standards, Coley said: "Sure.''

But, she said, people aren't calling her about gravity.
Well, at least the legislature is in favor of political science.

Nice post. A hilarious put-down of some legislators who should go back to Grade 3 and work their way forward from there.
Thanks. It always helps to have good raw material to work with ... and the Florida legislature is one of the best comedy mines around.
I think, were I a Florida high school teacher, I'd start the semester with a demonstration of the theory of gravity... one involving something messy, such as dropping a 16 pound bowling ball from six or so feet into a tub of pudding. Nothing like messy fun to make a point...
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