A weekend interview with ...
... Joe Wolf, president of Florida Citizens for Science. Wolf, who lives in Polk County, is a retired researcher who served 14 years on a school board in Ohio before moving to Florida. He spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about the state's newly proposed science education standards.
Your group is called Florida Citizens for Science. What does it mean to be "for science"?
It means that we believe that science is very very important for our state, and it's very important for our kids to learn good science, what science is, and to learn various major concepts within science. We're a group of citizens. We pulled ourselves together from all around the state. And that's what we want to do because we feel in a lot of cases it's under challenge.
So we've kind of gotten together. You ask the question, Why focus on the standards? Because these new standards are what is going to be taught in Florida classrooms in public schools for the next 10-15 years.
So tell me, are these proposed standards then "for science" in the way you have ...
Oh, very much so. They're good science. ... Obviously it depends on what grade level you're looking at. If you take the high school level, where the more complex stuff is, that section on understanding science, what science is, how science works, is really pretty good. It's rather excellent.
I've looked at the ideas, they call them the big ideas. I'm wondering what you think are the biggest ideas that are in there.
Ooh, that's tough. I guess I'd go with what they've got. It depends on what area you're talking about. If you're talking about physics, they've put the universe and earth and earth systems and the integration of all these things, motion. If you're talking about biology and all the related fields ... pretty much anything that deals with biologic systems including conservation, evolution is the big idea. It is the idea that holds it all together.
So you feel that they took the best ideas in science and actually put them into our big ideas?
I think they did. Yeah. I think it's important to remember, scientists and science educators wrote this. The Department of Education called together a lot of folks who are in education ... and these are the guys who said, Here are the big ideas.
A lot of people, and you mentioned it, too, have focused on evolution. I know that it's something that gathers a lot of public attention because of all the debate over intelligent design and all that. But is it a good idea to be focusing on that idea as opposed to the whole body of work?
Probably not. It's probably much better to focus on the entire body of work. The issue around evolution tends to be religious. And there are religious folks who don't agree with it. And there have been for a couple of hundred years, if not longer. And they're the ones that are making it a big deal. In the scientific community it's not.
So what would be the way that you think people should generally focus on the standards?
I think they should focus on the big ideas and how they explain the world. I think they ought to look below the big ideas to understand how science explains the natural world in terms of the natural world. It's a different issue to say it explains it in terms of a supernatural world. They're different explanations, they're different kinds of explanations, they answer different questions. ...
So many of us for so many years have thought of science as facts to learn. I don't know why. But maybe it's a whole lot easier for people to say, Well, we just learn a bunch of facts ... and then we understand science. Well, you don't. You've just learned a bunch of facts. That's not how science works. ...
We hear a lot of people people talk about the importance of science education and how we're falling behind. Is that the important issue here?
That's a philosophical question. Because I believe in learning just for the sake of learning. I want to understand. ... But I suppose from the standpoint of society, and business and all the rest of it, people will say, Yeah, it is important. I mean, our whole lifestyle is built around science. Everything we do is built around science, everything we have. We use electricity. We go to the doctor and get drugs. We go to the doctor and have surgery. All of these things in the modern world are built around science. ...
Now that all these science standards are out there, and people can go and look at them, what do you suggest they do? Or, let me put it another way. How do you get more Floridians to be "for science"?
That is a tough question I struggle with all of the time. I think one of the things they have to do is go into the standards, read through them and not just say, 'Oh, I don't like this,' or 'I like this.'But if you don't understand what this is saying, learn about it. Get in there and understand what this science is, which means you've got to learn a lot of science. And that's not easy because that's not the way we've been taught, most of us. Then I think after you've got that you can start making some judgements. ... And then, make comments. Those comments will go to the Department of Education, and the Department of Education has said they will read all of those comments. They will react according to that....
For too many years, science has been taught as cut and dried, as, These are the answers. Go look it up in a book. Well, that's not the way science works.