Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Florida gets evolution ... Delaware has progress!?

The Associated Press reports that Florida--in the early years of the 21st Century--is now intellectually entering the 19th at long last:

Florida's public school science standards for the first time will use the word "evolution," although the biological concept already was being taught under code words such as "change over time." The new standards, part of a set of overall science changes adopted by the State Board of Education Tuesday on a 4-3 vote, require schools to spend more class time on evolution and teach it in more detail.

The standards state that evolution is "the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence." That statement rankled opponents, some of whom had urged the board to add an academic freedom provision that would have allowed teachers to "engage students in a critical analysis of that evidence."

The good news: Delaware has had evolution in its Science standards for a long time.

The other news: you can hide a lot of simplistic assumptions in educational content standards if you try.

Take this example from the Delaware standards:

Science Curriculum Framework

Standard One
Nature and Application of Science and Technology

The practice of science and the development of technology are critical pursuits of our society. These pursuits have involved diverse people throughout history and have led to continuous improvement in the quality of life and in our understanding of nature. Students will study the processes of scientific inquiry and technology development and the history and context within which these have been carried out.

What's wrong with this?

The idea that "the practice of science and the development of technology . . . have led to continuous improvements in the quality of life" is a bit problematic.

The development of the cotton gin saved slavery in America from a slow, lingering death in the late 1700s, allowing the peculiar institution to spread across the Gulf States and play a major part in the social fissure that became the Civil War.

The development of powered flight led not only to dramatic economic changes in transportation, but also resulted in the development of a third dimension of warfare in large measure responsible for the evolution of total war.

There are more examples, but here's my point: the practice of science and the development of technology . . . have led to continuous social changes, the positive or negative aspects of which must be carefully analyzed.

The existing statement in the Delaware Science standards (admittedly mitigated when the standards are broken down grade-by-grade) indicates the difficulty in reducing any significant content to a series of pithy, positive statements.

But even given that caveat, I'll take the addition of evolution in Florida as a positive indicator, although I'll probably be holding my breath before they open the Darwin's Leap attraction at Disney World.

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