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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

What they're saying in Pinellas

18

December

As we reported yesterday, a majority of the Pinellas School Board supports offering alternative theories of origin in schools. You can see today's story in the Times here.

We promised you more in-depth looks at all the board members' views. So here it is. Reporters Donna Winchester and Ron Matus conducted the interviews.

Gallucci_3_3 Jane Gallucci is the only one with just a single comment: "I think that students should be given the opportunity to view all theories on how man evolved and let their science background and their religious background take over as to which one they believe in. If you have a strong faith belief, then I think you would believe that god made us. If you want to think in a scientific way, then you believe we evolved. But I believe both theories should be presented to children. I think especially in a scientific world both theories should be presented to children."

Carol Cook: "I don’t think we need to be afraid of any of it. Evolution is a popular belief out there. Many people will tell you it’s science. It’s something that as a society and as a world we need to discuss. It’s worth talking about." Read more here.

Linda Lerner: "I don’t think there has to be a conflict. I think creationism is a philosophy. It should be taught in synagogues, in mosques, and in churches." Read more here.

Mary Brown: "I’m not going to jump in the middle of that. Under Florida law . . . what we have been teaching has been called 'changes over time,' which really is the same thing in my mind as evolution. So therefore what has created the controversy is the word 'evolution.'" Read more here.

Peggy O'Shea: "I’d want to look at what’s being taught and how it’s being taught. What are they saying about evolution? Are they posing it as a theory or as a fact? I’d have to see how it would play out in the classroom." Read more here.

Nancy Bostock: "I would agree with the folks that would say we need to teach the theory of evolution, that it’s a big idea and that it has greatly shaped our world. Whether that’s a good thing or not is a whole other subject." Read more here.

Janet Clark: "I stand on evolution. I’m glad it’s in the standards." Read more here.

The above links are Word document downloads. Sorry. For those who prefer to just click once, read on for the entirety of each board members' remarks.


Bostock_3 NANCY BOSTOCK

Do we need to include creationism or intelligent design in the new science standards?

I would agree with the folks that would say we need to teach the theory of evolution, that it’s a big idea and that it has greatly shaped our world. Whether that’s a good thing or not is a whole other subject. I would very much like to see, probably not at the Sunshine State Standard level, but at some level in our education system, for just the right folks to come together to put together some guidelines for our teachers . . . who are caught up in the culture wars.”

So you think teachers should teach intelligent design?

I think there is room there to teach intelligent design. We can call it a different name if that makes a difference to critics. I think the big idea is the clash of these two big ideas. I think it’s good to put it in front of our kids.

I don’t have a problem with (evolution) being in the Sunshine State Standards . . . I honestly don’t know what’s going on in the classrooms. I think our teachers could use further guidance, not at the 30,000-foot level. Whichever way the science standards go, I think there’s room to go ahead and clarify more for our teachers.

I think the concept of a divine Creator is not a scientific theory. But it does, for some people, explain either an alternate theory for evolution . . . or it can explain some of the gaps or holes in the theory of evolution. There are people who reconcile both believing in a divine creator or all or most of the theory of evolution. I think it’s important information to supplement the scientific theory of evolution or just to balance it out . . . the entire theory of evolution is not scientific fact. So intelligent design balances it out. I think there’s a lot of room to address both theories of the origin of life without necessarily offending the other camp.

Oshea_4 PEGGY O’SHEA

What do you think about the fact that evolution is included in the new science standards?

It’s going to raise some concerns and I understand that. Any time something is taught in the classroom that might have a religious connotation, the parents have the ability to opt out of that discussion and the child wouldn’t be tested on it.

So you’re saying that parents could opt out of their child being taught about evolution?

Perhaps. I’d want to look at what’s being taught and how it’s being taught. What are they saying about evolution? Are they posing it as a theory or as a fact? I’d have to see how it would play out in the classroom. It’s similar to the health curriculum. There are pieces in there that a lot of people don’t agree with. Maybe this should be something that can be taught, but it could be an opt out.

But if evolution becomes part of the Sunshine State Standards, students will be tested on it. Won’t districts have to teach it?

If the state mandates it, we’ll do it, but we want the local community to understand we’ll do it within the regulation of the law but with their interests in mind. If the state comes down with the standards, kids are going to be tested on it. Certainly we’ll have to teach it, but we’ll have to see to what degree and in what capacity we have to teach it.

Just from a personal view, and I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, we talked at home about it because I wanted my children to understand both issues. But we can’t assume that’s what happens in every household. We have to be very sensitive and look at all the ramifications. If it would be taught in the classroom, we would have to look at how it would be taught and what would be said. I would want to know at what grade levels it’s being taught. It’s one thing to do it in a high school classroom. It would be different in an elementary classroom. In general, I would say we need to be very careful and look into this really carefully. If the state is going to do this, we need to hear what they’re going to do and then give them input.

So you’re saying that you would want more details on how evolution would be taught?

Yes, it’s going to depend on where it’s taught and to what age group. It could be confusing to kids who are taught creationism at home. This is a theory that doesn’t always fit in with religious beliefs. I would want to know to what age group are we teaching this. I think it would be very confusing to younger children. It needs a lot of thought. Would we be teaching it as a theory or as a fact? I would have a lot of questions about how it’s going to be taught before I could make a decision.

It sounds like you’re not convinced that evolution is a sound theory.

Evolution is a theory that opposes the different religious theories. How do we teach that without offending the child?

And what about creationism?

How scientific is it? I’m not in a position to judge that. But it does open up an area that public schools try to stay out of. I would want to know, does every religion believe the same thing? I don’t mind doing both, but if we’re teaching creationism, it has various interpretations. You’re getting into some areas that I don’t know belong in the curriculum per se. And I’m not so sure the schoolteacher is the one to be presenting religious ideas. My question would be, are we better off not teaching any of it at all? We need to hear from the public on that.

I’m not saying it belongs in the schools. But if we’re teaching one thing, don’t we have the obligation to teach the other side? What is the obligation we have to the community? I don’t think religion per se belongs in the schools, but each of us have beliefs that are part of who we are. You can’t totally separate that because it’s part of who we are. I’d probably ideally like to keep it ALL out of the classroom. If it’s going to create this much controversy, how important is it?

Brown MARY BROWN

Do you think intelligent design or creationism should be included in the new science standards?

I’m not going to jump in the middle of that. Under Florida law . . . what we have been teaching has been called “changes over time,” which really is the same thing in my mind as evolution. So therefore what has created the controversy is the word “evolution.” From my standpoint, we have to go with what the state requires. I’m not going to interject my personal opinion as to what we should or what we should not do. Whatever my personal opinion is, it’s not one that takes precedence here.

I have not seen the standards. Since I have not seen them, I don’t think it would be fair of me (to comment). I’m not going to interject my personal opinion.

I’m sure it will be an issue. There are people who have very strong opinions on the subject.

Has the Pinellas School Board discussed the issue of the new science standards and the inclusion of evolution?

The discussion has not come before the Pinellas County School Board. Usually we do look at (the standards). The standards . . . obviously needed to be changed. I want to see the standards. I want to see why they changed it. I don’t know why they changed it. I have to presume that what we were teaching was not good enough. The way our world is going, our children have to be more up-to-date on science and facts and so forth. If we are going to compete . . . they must assume they were not up to par. I have to assume that.

So you can’t say whether the change to include evolution in the new standards is good or bad when it excludes intelligent design or creationism?

It’s not that I can’t, it’s that I won’t. I want to see the standards.

Cook_6_2 CAROL COOK

It looks as if the controversy over evolution being taught in public school classrooms is heating up. I was wondering what you think about the inclusion of evolution in the proposed science standards.

I don’t think we need to be afraid of any of it. Evolution is a popular belief out there. Many people will tell you it’s science. It’s something that as a society and as a world we need to discuss. It’s worth talking about.

Let me start by saying a whole lot of where I’m going to go with that has to do with how the curriculum is designed. When people wanted to have prayer or Bible study, as long as we’re not trying to convert anyone to a particular religion or a particular belief, I’m willing to have some discussion about it.

I’m not one who would want to protect our students from knowing those thoughts are out there. I think they should also know that creationism is out there. As a Christian, I won’t go so far as to say that God didn’t create the world through evolution. It’s never been such a huge topic for me that it has to be one or the other. I know there are a lot of people who teach the Bible is the only way.

At the same time, as a Christian, I’m not sure I want someone who doesn’t believe in creationism being the one to teach my children about it.

What I would be looking for in the curriculum would be a balance between the trains of thought. Here is evolution. What is its impact? And here is another belief. While both are valid, this is something you need to wrestle with in your life.

So you’re saying both evolution and creationism should be taught in the public schools?

We should expose them to it. I wouldn’t necessarily say teach them. They need to know both things are out there – both trains of thought, both theories. To teach one as if nothing else existed, I think we’re doing our students a disservice.

So you wouldn’t consider the teaching of creationism as a conflict of church and state?

I see no conflict with the separation of church and state. That rule was designed so the state could not tell you which religion you could teach. My concern is the way these ideas would be taught. I don’t want students being forced to believe in creationism any more than I want them to be forced to believe in evolution. I want them to be able to gather the facts and gain the skills to make their own decisions.

To what extent would you consider teaching evolution and intelligent design?

I think our students who are living in this society need to know that both theories, both facts, both trains of thought are out there. They need to know that. We’re constantly trying to teach them critical thinking skills. We as educators should be teaching children how to get information and decide what is real and what isn’t. They need find out if this is fact or if this is someone’s opinion, whether it’s evolution or creationism. They need to get the facts and with their critical thinking, determine what their belief will be.

They need to be exposed to both. They need to know both are out there. I don’t want to cram one down their throats. I also don’t want to get into spending one six weeks on this and one six weeks on that. This is something they’re going to be exposed to I’m assuming much of their lives unless someone can prove somewhere along the line that one is definitely right and one is definitely wrong.

I don’t think we need to get into this at the kindergarten level.

In my faith, it’s not a deal breaker one way or the other. I believe in the Bible. How do I know that’s not how God chose to create man? Does it make any difference? That’s where I stand back and ask, Why are we wasting so much time discussing something we may never have the answer to?

You should be constantly gathering more and more information to determine where you’re going to land with this.

Lerner LINDA LERNER

What do you think of the inclusion of evolution in the new science standards?

I think it’s a good thing because evolution is about science.

What do you think about the controversy that has arisen recently over evolution and creationism?

I don’t think there has to be a conflict. I think creationism is a philosophy. It should be taught in synagogues, in mosques, and in churches. That’s where I was taught and that’s where my children were taught. Evolution should be taught in science class because it’s based on scientific evidence.

Can both evolution and creationism be taught in school?

No, because I believe in the separation of church and state. I belong to a temple and that’s where I get my religion. In school, it’s science, not theology we should be teaching. I know there are courses in history where you can learn about religion. But creationism is theology and religious doctrine. One (theory) is science and one is theology and both can exist. But not in a public school science class.

JANET CLARK

What do you think about the controversy that’s developing over the inclusion of evolution in the new proposed science standards?

The standards came out a while back. It’s been absolutely quiet. Then this last week it just exploded when the board of education person made her comments. Up until then, I hadn’t heard a peep out of anybody.

What are your views on the subject?

I stand on evolution. I’m glad it’s in the standards. There was a poll sited that said only 42 percent of the population believes in evolution. Part of it is that people don’t know what evolution is. There are people who think we evolved from apes. That’s absolutely wrong. That’s not part of the theory of evolution at all. But that’s the idea people have. If we don’t teach evolution in schools, where are people going to learn it? It’s like sex education. All we teach is abstinence. Meanwhile, pregnancy rates are going up for teenage girls. Where are they going to get their information when we teach them abstinence only?

What would you say to those who think kids should be taught both evolution and creationism both?

The creation story in the Bible is a creation myth. Every race, every culture, has a creation myth. There are different stories of how the world came into being. When you’re talking about a classroom with 15 different ethnicities, someone will be offended. I’d be hard pressed to say, “We’ll teach this religion’s creation story and not that one.”

Science is progressing all the time. Evolution is the current thought on how life came into being and how things change. I don’t see us going off on another course. They’re not going to do any scientific research on creationism. Any progress in science is going to be based on evolution.

You taught middle school science. Did kids ask you about evolution and creationism?

It did come up. I always prefaced my answers by saying, “This is what some people believe,” just to let them know there are differences. You don’t go into what your personal beliefs are. But not to talk about evolution at all is ridiculous.

I think part of the problem is that people are afraid. kids tune in and out in class. when you’re teaching, they may not be listening to one part of what you say but they listen to another part. then they go home and say, “Mr. so-and-so said blah, blah, blah about Christianity. That’s when that whole ball of wax starts with parents getting upset and teachers getting investigated.

Do you think the new standards will be helpful to teachers when it comes to this subject?

I definitely think it will be helpful. The standards give them guidelines on what they are to teach.

So you’re pleased that evolution is included in the standards?

I think it’s a step forward. It’s a step into the 21st century. A study that came out just last week showed that American children lag behind children in so many other countries when it comes to science. Let’s start teaching the Bible as science and then see how our students compete against the rest of the world.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:30am]

    

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