Teaching evolutionary life science in Florida (NYTimes)

Daron Dean for The New York Times | STUDENTS Allie Farris, left, and Bryce Haas with their teacher David Campbell in sophomore biology class at Ridgeview High School in Orange Park, Fla.

Daron Dean for The New York Times | STUDENTS Allie Farris, left, and Bryce Haas with their teacher David Campbell in sophomore biology class at Ridgeview High School in Orange Park, Fla.

Amy Harom has a great piece in the August 23, 2008 New York Times on a Florida teacher engaged in teaching evolutionary life science to a high school class that includes religiously committed skeptical students. The article is unusual in looking at the issues as matters of curriculum, requiring knowledgeable responses by educators, and not just philosophical, legal, or even scientific matters. [For people interested in this as curriculum matter, it really is worth reading the article itself, and not just this blog post about it. Articles at nytimes.com are available for free, for at least a week, I think, although it does require a free on-time registration. After a week or so, articles may be archived and then available only for a fee.]

Note the precision of this language, in both the article and in the new Florida standards:

In February, the Florida Department of Education modified its standards to explicitly require, for the first time, the state’s public schools to teach evolution, calling it “the organizing principle of life science.” Spurred in part by legal rulings against school districts seeking to favor religious versions of natural history, over a dozen other states have also given more emphasis in recent years to what has long been the scientific consensus: that all of the diverse life forms on Earth descended from a common ancestor, through a process of mutation and natural selection, over billions of years.

More precise reference to “life science” denotes the naturalistic life science disciplines, as they are actually practiced, and not some kind of global “Science” such as the ID folks want to argue over with the lawyers and philosophers. The alternative is not some kind of dissenting views or versions of “Science” but, precisely, “religious versions of natural history.”

2 Comments

  1. Kevin Currie
    Posted September 8, 2008 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Good article!

    I particularly like the teacher’s attempts to correct some misimpressions that students might have of evolution.

    One thing I always have to correct in students is the idea that evolution is wholly random and “blind” chance. I do this by referring to Richard Dawkins phrase that goes something like: evolution is random mutation guided by non-random selection. That is one error that seems to be very prevelant amongst those who don’t accept evolution (like William Demski!).

    Of course, the teacher’s correction of the “man came from apes” example is another that I find myself having to correct with my students.

    I admire the way the teacher in the article seemed very candid with the kids, and at peace with the idea that not everything that you teach students will be believed or accepted by them. What matters is that they think about it.

  2. Val Pang
    Posted October 8, 2008 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Tony, thanks for sharing this article. It is a comprehensive one. I wish more teachers allowed for the opportunity to ask questions and really delve into the issue of evolution in a safe, caring learning environment.


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