Skip to comments.No big bang over teaching evolution (New rules in South Carolina acceptable to all sides)
Posted on 05/07/2007 6:52:03 PM PDT by Between the Lines
Students, teachers flexible over new rules to explore life-origin theories.
Camden High biology teacher Mitzi Snipes confronted this year’s controversial new rules about teaching evolution head-on.
Snipes, a fourth-year teacher, told her students “to be open to new ideas.”
“I also let them know that each of them would have a personal opinion based on their own upbringing and moral and ethical values,” she said.
Her students did research and built Web pages outlining “Darwin’s theory as well as creationism. We talked about scientific inquiry and the necessity for science to be based on fact rather than personal values and beliefs.”
Snipes found “many students concluded that both stances have merit and that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.”
Other teachers took a more measured approach when lecturing students about the origins of life this year — the first year since policymakers rewrote guidelines on how to teach evolution.
The new standards encourage teachers “to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.”
“I found myself hesitating a bit,” Gilbert High’s Valerie Waites said. “I try to watch what I say because I don’t want to offend anybody’s beliefs.”
Waites, who has taught for three decades, considers herself a religious person capable of separating personal beliefs from professional obligations.
“I have no problem balancing the two,” she said.
“I don’t say (to students), ‘What do you believe?’ God created the world and is all-powerful. I just believe evolution was His plan,” Waites said.
The phrase “critically analyze” sparks debate between scientists and those who believe life’s complexities cannot be explained by fossils, DNA, climate and the like.
High school biology teachers were caught in a crossfire last year when state Sen. Mike Fair campaigned to give educators flexibility in discussing theories that challenge “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest” credited to Charles Darwin.
Gilbert High students generally gave Waites high marks for how she handled the topic.
“She was very flexible,” sophomore Edward Bell said. “If someone had a question about something that conflicted with what she was teaching, we had a full discussion. She didn’t emphasize one (theory) over another.”
Cameron Burch, another Gilbert High sophomore, said, “At first, I didn’t believe in evolution. But it sort of caught on with me after seeing all the evidence. It changed my mind. I was surprised.”
Burch and Bell did not recall any heated discussion about alternatives to evolution during class.
Across the country, however, educators have clashed with people who embrace a theory known as “intelligent design,” an alternative view that credits a larger intelligence — perhaps a divine hand — with influencing the diversity of life.
Opponents caution that could open the door to lessons with religious themes or overtones.
Fair, a Greenville Republican, lobbied for revisions to S.C.’s biology standards, backing language that challenges students to scrutinize how scientists arrive at conclusions about life’s origins. Fair insisted he was not pushing intelligent design and declined to be interviewed for this article.
Nassim Lewis, a biology teacher at Blythewood High in Richland 2, said no students challenged her about Darwin’s theories that are the foundation of instruction about diversity of life.
“I’ve never had that happen,” the fourth-year teacher said. “They are smart enough, as young adults, to see the facts and understand them.
“They might not walk away from my class believing one side or the other, but they at least became educated about the scientific facts,” Lewis said.
Lewis’ district-level boss said he heard no criticism about the performance of Richland 2 teachers. Ed Emmer said he got no feedback from teachers relaying concerns or problems about student reaction to evolution lessons.
Matthew Pearce, a Blythewood High senior, was comfortable with how Lewis taught evolution.
“Some people do look at (evolution) differently because of their religion, but I don’t have a problem with what we’re learning. It’s all good,” Pearce said.
Kim Evans, a sophomore in the same class, found evolution lessons interesting but did not abandon what she learned about the origins of life in church and at home. “It’s OK to believe both sides, I guess,” she said.
‘AN OPEN MIND’
Dutch Fork High sophomore Amber Hutto said, “I was very apprehensive about studying evolution. It’s very controversial. I have my own religious beliefs, and they don’t match (what was taught).
“I tried to keep an open mind,” Hutto said, “because I know it’s something we have to study.”
Hilary Moore, also a sophomore at Dutch Fork High in Lexington-Richland 5, said her biology teacher told students “this is just an idea. It’s not something we’re trying to preach.” The teacher, Moore said, “let us debate (evolution), and there were people on both sides. That’s just part of the class.”
“I’m very religious,” Moore said. “I’m able to separate my ideas and beliefs.”
Dan Publicover, another Dutch Fork High sophomore, said students in his class “didn’t seem to make a big deal about (evolution). I believe God created everything. The scientific evidence is pretty strong, but my religion tells me differently. (The teacher) never forced evolution facts on us.”
A ‘UNIT OF SCIENCE’
Edna Jones of Hanahan High in Berkeley County said, “I teach evolution the way I understand evolution.
“I don’t go out of my way to make a big deal of it. It’s just another unit of science,” Jones said.
“A lot of students say, ‘God is responsible for everything.’ I don’t say, ‘That’s not right or wrong.’ I will tell them I don’t feel qualified to discuss theology. I’m not trained in that field,” said Jones, a teacher for 13 years.
Jones said she tells her students, “This is a science class. Everything is based on data, accumulating evidence, drawing conclusions, making predictions.
“Every now and then I get a student with very strong issues about the subject, and some have said they would leave the class. I just tell them, ‘How are you going to argue (for) or against something if you don’t know anything about it?’” Jones said.
This is a start...critical thinking requires looking at the pros and cons each position.
Coming next semester —
Astrology 358 - Been around too long to be false
Alchemy 520 - Needs-based metallurgy (lab)
Phrenology 102 - Keep an open mind and bumpy head
Zoroastrianism 204 - A million Assyrians can’t be wrong
Flying Spaghetti Monster 100 - The Intelligent Designer?
Great! Now, how about teaching both students and teachers that the theory of evolution does not deal with origins. Origins come under other areas of biology.
We talked about scientific inquiry and the necessity for science to be based on fact rather than personal values and beliefs.
Science is based on facts and theories. Facts alone have little meaning. A theory organizes those facts. A powerful theory accounts for old facts and new facts, and allows accurate predictions to be made. The theory of evolution is one of the best-supported theories we have.
Snipes found many students concluded that both stances have merit and that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.
One is science, and the other is religion.
The new standards encourage teachers to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.
Do the standards allow critical analysis of the "alternatives" to the theory of evolution? I bet they don't.
I found myself hesitating a bit, Gilbert Highs Valerie Waites said. I try to watch what I say because I dont want to offend anybodys beliefs.
So science must self-censor so as not to offend anyone? That's pretty silly.
High school biology teachers were caught in a crossfire last year when state Sen. Mike Fair campaigned to give educators flexibility in discussing theories that challenge natural selection and survival of the fittest credited to Charles Darwin.
Darwin did not come up with "survival of the fittest." That came from another author some years later. And, as it is perceived by the layman, that phrase is inaccurate.
She was very flexible, sophomore Edward Bell said. If someone had a question about something that conflicted with what she was teaching, we had a full discussion. She didnt emphasize one (theory) over another.
There are not two competing theories. There is the theory of evolution, and it is being challenged on the basis of religious beliefs.
Burch and Bell did not recall any heated discussion about alternatives to evolution during class.
Not surprising. In the realm of science, there are currently no competing theories to the theory of evolution. There are claims made by believers in different religions, but there are no competing scientific theories.
Across the country, however, educators have clashed with people who embrace a theory known as intelligent design, an alternative view that credits a larger intelligence perhaps a divine hand with influencing the diversity of life.
Intelligent design is based on religion. It is not a scientific theory. It is at best a hypothesis, but the evidence which has been put forth in support of that hypothesis has been disproven. This does not come anywhere close to the definition within science of a theory (see my FR homepage for definitions of scientific terms).
Fair, a Greenville Republican, lobbied for revisions to S.C.s biology standards, backing language that challenges students to scrutinize how scientists arrive at conclusions about lifes origins.
Life's origins have nothing to do with the theory of evolution. That's another field entirely.
Hilary Moore, also a sophomore at Dutch Fork High in Lexington-Richland 5, said her biology teacher told students this is just an idea. Its not something were trying to preach.
That's a very bad mistake. The theory of evolution is not an "idea." It is a theory. In science, terms have specific meanings, and to alter them on a whim is dishonest. And you don't "preach" science, you "teach" it. You teach the facts behind the theories, and how the theories came to be accepted. If there are competing theories you teach those also. For the theory of evolution there are no competing theories.
Im very religious, Moore said. Im able to separate my ideas and beliefs.
Great! Can you separate facts, and well-supported theories from your beliefs?
Dan Publicover, another Dutch Fork High sophomore, said students in his class didnt seem to make a big deal about (evolution). I believe God created everything. The scientific evidence is pretty strong, but my religion tells me differently. (The teacher) never forced evolution facts on us.
Facts are facts! They don't go away if you don't believe in them, or if you close your eyes. Pesky little guys, they are. You can't wish them away!
Jones said she tells her students, This is a science class. Everything is based on data, accumulating evidence, drawing conclusions, making predictions.
Good. About time we hear this! Took until the end of the article.
Is Dyson contending that people ought not have any convictions?
Not really, science and scientists have had to censor themselves throughout history. It is a job that produces a product so the boss (powers that be) must be kept happy, otherwise no funding and no job. Just as often science has been skewed to favor the results that the employer wants.
Pure science for knowledge sake is a rare thing.
Do you prefer the old way of expelling them from class for their objections?
It seems that to some, critical thinking means silencing dissenters.
It seems that to some, critical thinking means silencing dissenters.
"Critical thinking" in science means doing science, not providing an affirmative action program for religious belief!
The rules of evidence are very different between these two fields. Revelation, belief, and scripture have no place in science. There is no scientific evidence behind them. Critical thinking, if done correctly, is a natural part of science.
Unfortunately, "critical thinking" has now become a talking point of creationists, which freely translated means "we can pass off our religious belief as science and you can't challenge it, but we can use our belief to challenge the most well-established science and you have to accept our belief as scientific evidence."
Further, there are not "two competing theories" as apologists would have us believe. Within science, there is no competing theory to the theory of evolution.
What I am seeing here seems to stem from the Wedge Strategy, which promotes a scheme to battle the facts and theory of science with PR and misinformation, while claiming that both sides are scientific theories and deserve an equal hearing.
The Dover decision put that lie where it belongs.
“We talked about scientific inquiry and the necessity for science to be based on fact rather than personal values and beliefs.
Does that go for Global Warming as well?
I’m waiting for them to critically analyze chemistry.
Sorry, I did not know that I was using creationistspeak, how very un-PC of me.
I think he is saying that people should respect each others views and not push them on others.
As a Christian who believes in theistic evolution (as well as acknowledging the realities of geology, biology, plate tectonics, astronomy, and all the other scientific disciplines that prove the earth is a heck of a lot older than 5,000 years!) I applaud your excellent post and encourage you to keep up the fight.
Ask Galileo. He’ll tell you. It sucks when we’re able to prove the Bible is wrong.
Just imagine how the Mormon’s must feel.
“Im waiting for them to critically analyze chemistry.”
“I think he is saying that people should respect each others views and not push them on others.”
I had a girlfriend who tried to convince her 3rd year Astronomy professor to respect her views about Astrology. What do you think? Did she have a point?
I just listened because she was hot and wanted to sleep with me.
I myself hold zero supernatural or religious beliefs, I really don't care if somebody chooses something else. Just as long as it is a choice. Science class should be about science. Philosophy or theology classes, church or whatever people choose, all those places are for specific things as well. put them in the appropriate class is all I ask. IF someone gets bent because they teach about evolution in a science class. Well? I don't have much pity on them. If someone gets bent because they teach about Islam, Buddhism or Christianity in a theology class. Too bad. I have seen people here fight like cats and dogs over evolution and creation. It is generally merely an excercise in debate at best as either the heart or the mind were won long ago. As long as she was not arguing for democrats. If you overlook and sleep with something like that, I've no mercy on you. ;)
Actually, science IS philosophy. The modern term "science" apparently obscures that connection for some people. The old term was "natural philosophy", signifying the love of knowledge about nature.
Holding "zero supernatural beliefs", whatever that means, is a philosophical position.
“Actually, science IS philosophy. The modern term ‘science’ apparently obscures that connection for some people. The old term was ‘natural philosophy’”
Google: “etymological fallacy”
“As long as she was not arguing for democrats. If you overlook and sleep with something like that, I’ve no mercy on you.”
Heh. The way I figured it, better to plunder the virtue of hot young female democrats and wait to marry a conservative virgin with a lot latent kink still waiting to be discovered and enjoyed ;-)
Besides, there are ... umm ... certain “things” I’d have a hot young female democrat do and knowing that they’re democrats while I’m having them do those “things” somehow makes them all the more pleasurable :=))
This has nothing to do with etymology. Word usage is what rules.
I know. I was thinking more on the lines of IDers wanting to ‘give alchemy a chance.’
“Word usage is what rules”
In that case we can delete your reference to ‘natural philosophy’, seeing as historical use isn’t relevant.
And your claim is a complete howler because people don’t use the words ‘science’ and ‘philosophy’ interchangeably.
Nobody describes Maxwell’s equations, for example, as an example of philosophy. Further examples are left as an (easy) exercise for the reader.
Meaning, history isn't relevant, either?
You’re finally catching on.
In that case, nothing is relevant. After all, eventually everything is history. Ask James Clerk Maxwell.
“In that case, nothing is relevant”
As you pointed out, current meaning is a function of current use, and it’s been about 200 years since it was common for people to use the words “science” and “natural philosophy” interchangeably.
“Holding “zero supernatural beliefs”, whatever that means, is a philosophical position.”
Call it what you wish.
I think it is pretty clear the meaning.
I will not debate it. That is not my point.
Respect of differing views in the appropriate venues, allowing people to be exposed to all that they wish to be exposed to, and excercising free choice to choose those views without being berated for it is my point.
Too bad high schoolers are ill equipped to critically analyze evolution. They don't have the scientific background. Anything puportedly supporting 'creationism' isn't science and should not be in that class. It is doing a disservice to the students and dumbing down their education.
Well 200 years predates Darwin so it isn't surprising there are people that want to turn science back to those days. Pesky facts and the modern scientific method just get in the way of evangelism.
I do science for a living and fequently have to tell the powers to be that they are wrong. But it's done with facts, not hyperbole.
That comment certainly demonstrates "critical thinking" or the lack thereof!