18 February 2005

Let's Get It On

Now, before you go cuing Marvin Gaye, I was thinking of "getting it on" as in "fisticuffs," not as in something else I'd rather be doing on a Friday afternoon. Sigh.

Today, I had a brief meeting with our Ass't. Superintendent in charge of Curriculum. She is my "boss" in terms of the district portion of my contract. The topic of the moment: the "e" word. Come closer and I'll whisper it in your ear.


My gosh. Do we teach it? I assumed that she wasn't using the royal we, but rather just a plain old plural pronoun. Do science teachers in this district teach evolution? All of the ones teaching life sciences? Do we have teachers who refuse to teach it? Do we have staff who also bring in elements of Creationism and/or Intelligent Design (which are the same, as far as I'm concerned)? What about origins of life, as opposed to change over time?

I didn't know the answers to all of these questions. It does appear that our junior high teachers are afraid of the topic, although I have helped one school obtain curriculum materials. High school teachers don't shy away from evolution. Yes, I do know one teacher who is adamantly opposed to the theory of evolution...but he doesn't teach biology anymore.

The standards for Washington state are pretty basic in terms of evolution---and there is nothing about the origins of life. And while I know that we are bound to have some objections from members of the public at some point, there really isn't a lot for them to fuss about. I have been tasked with surveying what is happening at various schools and then drafting a statement that all teachers can use if they are prodded about this issue. I think that this is a very wise idea. I'd much rather be proactive...be prepared in case members of the public come with their questions and objections.

The other thing I had to clarify for my boss is what it means for something to be a scientific theory. I have all too often heard people toss off evolution as being "just a theory." You know, so is gravity. And the Earth orbiting the Sun? It's only a theory. Atomic bonding? Same thing. Just a little ole theory about what holds things together. Now, all of these concepts are built upon repeated observations and valid experimentation---some even have mathematical formulas used to describe and support them. In other words, they are based upon facts. A common interpretation of a collection of facts becomes a theory. No one has ever sat at a fixed point out in space to watch and see if the Earth really does orbit the Sun. We're pretty sure that it works this way, but no one has seen it...only evidence for it.

Here are some other facts for you to consider. They are taken from an article entitled "How Well Do Biology Teachers Understand the Legal Issues Associated with the Teaching of Evolution?" by Randy Moore. It is from the September 2004 issue of Bioscience.
  • Teachers are not required or permitted to give equal time to creationism if they teach evolution.
  • They do not have to modify their teaching of evolution to appease students who claim that evolution offends and is incompatible with their religious views. In other words, if a kid refuses to participate in an assignment for such a unit, then s/he doesn't get a grade.
  • The government can use tax money to promote the teaching of evolution but cannot use tax money to promote creationism, creationism-based books, or creationism-based exhibits.
  • The First Amendment does not entitle a science teacher to teach creationism.
  • A school can force a teacher to teach evolution and to stop teaching creationism.

The other thing that has to be considered in all of this is that it is not the school board, the Curriculum office/director for the district, and not even the teacher who determines the "what" that occurs within a classroom. The state has set the curriculum. In our state, it includes evolution.

Should be interesting to see what happens, don't you think?


Pursuit said...

Very interesting. I'd suggest there is more solid evidence on the earth goin 'round the sun than there is on evolution, but it doesn't matter because in either case its the state of the art in scientific theory and as such should be taught.

The ID development does, in my view, highlight the problems with public education. People are afraid and resistant to open discussion. On the one hand, scientists are in denial about the finality of the Theory of evolution, and on the other hand creationists are clearly trying to end run the constitution.

This sad, because for believers these are likely to be viewed as complimentarty threories, and for others, the discussion that they prompt is ultimately something that education has tried to avoid. Over at my little blog, we had a decent discussion about these theories that led to another about the meaning of faith. What a shame that school kids can't have exposure to real intellectual discourse.

For this reason, I believe that school curiculums should include a study of comparative religions.

John(classic) said...

I wonder what the state's definition of "evolution" is?

The original Darwin concept that all life is descended from a single organism, or very few organisms, by a series of gradual changes is getting very shaky. Darwin himself recognized that there was a serious problem in the fossil record caused by the Cambrian explosion. He assumed this was because of a lack of discovered record--a reasonable assumption over a century ago.

We have a much better idea of the fossil record now and it shows more and greater discontinuities (relatively few forms of life followed, geologically "suddenly" by many new forms of life not obviously related to the old).

Darwin's theory appears less likely, not more.

If what is meant by evolution is that organisms evolve, the support is much more solid -- though everyone would feel better if we had an unequivocal example of observing one species becoming a new species.

Anonymous said...

Realistically it doesn't matter. Since the courts have repeatedly sided with the teaching of evolution and the active (and mandatory) supression of all contrary evidence and theory. That means that this topic is no longer really in the realm of scientific discussion but rather that of politics and the law.

Public Schools can and (as I read recent court decisions) must teach evolution and must similarly teach that anyone who does not believe this theory is wrong. The public, aside from a small minority of very loud people, just does not care enough about this issue to make it worth anyone's time fighting over.

I say that because otherwise the parents would pull their children from public education and put them in a private school setting more amenable to their particular point of view. If this has been happening in any widespread fashion I must have missed it.