Pharyngula

There are a few novelties in this one: a) it’s in Florida, not Texas; b) it’s a creationist in the department advocating creationism; and c) she didn’t get fired for writing it. You can read the whole thing at Florida Citizens for Science, but here’s the stupid part.

The science standards that are in place now do not include the word Evolution anywhere. In fact, they are ambiguous enough that the districts and schools in Florida have been able to teach evolution as a theory along With other theories. In addition to that, if these new standards are adopted, the new instructional materials adopted and placed in our schools will be aligned to these standards, which means that our new materials will explicitly teach evolution – and not as a theory!!!

The current Florida standards are weak and vague, and this twit is complaining…because it leaves the teachers the latitude to actually teach a fundamental concept of biology. I guess their goal in Florida is to close the loophole. And of course it’s rather obvious that she has no understanding of the meaning of the scientific term “theory”.

Man, the quality of the people who are ending up on state school boards is depressing.

Comments

  1. #1 Martin
    December 9, 2007

    Did she actually randomly capitalize the word “With”? And she’s in the department of education? Lovely.

  2. #2 James W.
    December 9, 2007

    Living in FL myself, I can tell you that morons run the school boards. Down here in Palm Beach County will penalize you for actually wanting to do MORE than is required. If you’re assigned to write a 4 page paper and you end up writing 5 and a half, you’ll get a number of points off your grade because you’re making the teacher exert more effort than was originally required. I understand doing the assignment as ascribed but we’re talking about kids in *gifted* classes (you know, kids who put forth more effort in the first place) getting punished for putting for more effort. Students in the Miami-Dade school system are regularly punished, academically, for doing well because it makes the rest of the kids “look bad and demoralizes them”. I wish I were kidding. The more “average” students they pass through, the more funding they get. It must be because hiring teachers that are A. smart and B. dedicated to enriching a child’s life is far too expensive.

    I’m glad that I don’t have children — yet — that have to go through this utter nonsense. I’m regularly at mental odds with a neighbor of mine who’s unfortunate enough to be stuck in middle school here and wonders why I think it’s an absolute disservice that she’s in classes for gifted students and is penalized for wanting to do well academically.

  3. #3 Michael X
    December 9, 2007

    A new theory! How wonderful! Which journal should I buy so that I can read the published paper describing it?

  4. #4 Waterdog
    December 9, 2007

    I’m a high school science teacher. My qualifications are an undergraduate degree in science, and a second degree in education. I spent several years earning these degrees, I did a lot of studying, a lot of practical training, and the end result is that I walk into my classroom and I know what the hell I’m talking about.

    What are the specific necessary and sufficient qualifications for a career in politics? What are the specific additional qualifications for a political position that relates to making decisions on widespread education standards? Oh, nothing? Here’s the problem in the United States (and Canada): we have such a specialized society, with division of labour and specific expertise in different fields, but any old nitwit can go into politics. Local schoolboards in backwater towns are made up of homemakers that may or may not have graduated high school themselves, and unfortunately, at the state level, the prospects are just as bleak.

    Environmental affairs ministers (in Canada) who don’t know anything about environmental science; education ministers who have no background or knowledge about either the basics of specific academic subjects, nor the field of education itself. A president (in the US) who drank his way through Yale on daddy’s dime and managed to avoid learning a damn thing. What is this crazy beast we call politics?

  5. #5 Amenhotep
    December 9, 2007

    Hey, a 4 page limit is OK. Part of the intellectual exercise is to express your thoughts concisely. Running over a limit does not mean you have put in more work than someone with the discipline to organise their argument within the set parameters.

  6. #6 Graeme
    December 9, 2007

    “. . . to teach evolution as a theory along With other theories.”

    Aside from the novel use of capital letters (and is there significance that it’s a ‘W’? – nah, that would be implying some level of forethought), I am keenly interested in knowing what these other theories are. I am assuming that one of them is Creationism. But are there more? Is some differentiation being made between Creationism, Intelligent Design, magic in order to come up with all these alternative theories?

  7. #7 wildcardjack
    December 9, 2007

    I’m still waiting for a push to replace some level of English with a mandatory course in Ethics and Critical Thinking. I think it would work as a replacement for an English course since you could refine language skills in such a course by integrating a series of writing and research assignments.

    You thought the Christians were pissed over evolution? Just wait until you propose teaching Ethics without a bible, and the whole notion of Critical Thinking will just lobotomize the rest.

    Or better yet, as part of the Ethics portion you can tear into bible for it’s unethical tenets. Surely you can’t call it ethical, it talks about subjugation of women and rules about slavery.

  8. #8 speedwell
    December 9, 2007

    Wildcardjack, I remember 30 years ago when my mother embarrassed me by going to the school board and ranting about “secular humanism” (HORRORS!) being taught in the public school. Given that I didn’t know a single atheist at the time, and she never mentioned it to me, I was wondering where the heck she was getting it from. Of course that was the year our (Presbyterian) church was showing all the crap Dobson films, which did far more toward shoving me toward atheism than did anything I merely learned in school.

    Mom lived long enough to see me become one of those terrible, horrible, very bad Humanists myself, She figured she failed as a parent to protect me from the encroaching worldliness and sin that is such an essential part of, oh, let’s say… growing up, taking the world, yourself, and others seriously, and insisting on being told the truth instead of being lied to.

  9. #9 Cuttlefish
    December 9, 2007

    #5–

    I agree, and I’m glad that you said it
    It’s important to know how to edit
    Be precise and concise,
    Squeeze your thoughts in a vise
    And remember that sometimes, doing even more than is asked is not likely to be the right thing to do to get you additional credit.

  10. #10 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    December 9, 2007

    I’m still waiting for a push to replace some level of English with a mandatory course in Ethics and Critical Thinking. I think it would work as a replacement for an English course since you could refine language skills in such a course by integrating a series of writing and research assignments.

    When I was a senior in high school, we spent the entire third quarter of our English Composition class on Critical Thinking. This at a Catholic school run by Benedictines. We studied Ethics in Political Science, and it was actually a very liberal-oriented segment using world hunger as the issue through which we studied ethics. It was not advanced-placement, it was a requirement for all students.

    But back to the issue of school boards. I am upset that the most recent school board election in my district only had five candidates for four open seats. The election was held in an odd-year, and it was the only issue on the ballot. It would have been very easy for a creationist to file (none did, this year) and get elected. There were only 320 votes cast in the four precincts which voted at the local polling place (and that represents 12000 eligible voters.)

    I wrote about it here.

  11. #11 Ian B Gibson
    December 9, 2007

    And of course it’s rather obvious that she has no understanding of the meaning of the scientific term “theory”.

    Okay, here’s a little informal experiment for everyone: over the next week or two, be on the lookout for improper use of the word ‘theory’ – by scientists – in science blogs, science articles, science textbooks and even peer-reviewed science journals.

    I guarantee you’ll be surprised if you currently think that it’s just the other side who are confusing ‘theory’ with ‘hypothesis’.

  12. #12 Pablo
    December 9, 2007

    “Hey, a 4 page limit is OK. Part of the intellectual exercise is to express your thoughts concisely. Running over a limit does not mean you have put in more work than someone with the discipline to organise their argument within the set parameters.”

    I concur. When I send a grant proposal that has a 15 page limit, I can’t write 16.5 and claim I am an overachiever. Similar, when a journal indicates that a communication cannot be more than 3 pages, I can’t write 4.

    When I write an exam, and say “Describe, in 25 words or less, …” I don’t do it because I don’t want to read more than 25 words, but because the answer can be given in 25 words and I don’t want to read three pages unnecessary, incoherent rambling.

  13. #13 Pablo
    December 9, 2007

    Add the appropriate “of”

  14. #14 N. Wells
    December 9, 2007

    Cuttlefish, that was wonderful.

    Ian, scientists in particular shouldn’t use the words “theory” or “believe” or “random” without thinking long and hard about what they mean to say.

  15. #15 dogmeatib
    December 9, 2007

    The problem is, the word theory, has been co-opted by everyday language. I catch myself doing it, I’ll say “in theory,” or “theoretically,” when the gist of my point is, “one would hope,” or “one would expect.”

  16. #16 dogmeatib
    December 9, 2007

    I would have to agree with the others regarding ‘limits’ on papers. I generally assign papers in ranges, 3-5, 5-7, 8-10, 10-12, depending on the project, expectations, etc. I have created assignments that required the students to express themselves on just one sheet of paper, the intent being to force them to think about/discuss/describe/analyze, but also to do so bordered by brevity.

  17. #17 Donnie B.
    December 9, 2007

    Cuttlefish, you should send that limerick to the NPR show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” for use in their quiz. It’s brilliant.

    (Of course, they may not use listeners’ submissions, or may not consider the issue significant enough, but still…)

  18. #18 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 9, 2007

    If you’re assigned to write a 4 page paper and you end up writing 5 and a half, you’ll get a number of points off your grade because you’re making the teacher exert more effort than was originally required.

    I recently failed such an exam. I wrote too little out of fear of writing too much.

    (Background information: In Austria, university professors are almighty. They can grade as they damn well please. The only thing students are allowed to do against that is sue if they’ve flunked — ha, ha.)

  19. #19 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 9, 2007

    If you’re assigned to write a 4 page paper and you end up writing 5 and a half, you’ll get a number of points off your grade because you’re making the teacher exert more effort than was originally required.

    I recently failed such an exam. I wrote too little out of fear of writing too much.

    (Background information: In Austria, university professors are almighty. They can grade as they damn well please. The only thing students are allowed to do against that is sue if they’ve flunked — ha, ha.)

  20. #20 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 9, 2007

    And remember that sometimes, doing even more than is asked is not likely to be the right thing to do to get you additional credit.

    Negative credit isn’t the only possible alternative to additional credit.

    I guarantee you’ll be surprised if you currently think that it’s just the other side who are confusing ‘theory’ with ‘hypothesis’.

    Even this is rare in my experience — and not always clearly recognizable; after all, the difference between hypothesis and theory is one of degree –, but I don’t think you’ll easily find a scientist confuse “theory” and “speculation“.

  21. #21 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 9, 2007

    And remember that sometimes, doing even more than is asked is not likely to be the right thing to do to get you additional credit.

    Negative credit isn’t the only possible alternative to additional credit.

    I guarantee you’ll be surprised if you currently think that it’s just the other side who are confusing ‘theory’ with ‘hypothesis’.

    Even this is rare in my experience — and not always clearly recognizable; after all, the difference between hypothesis and theory is one of degree –, but I don’t think you’ll easily find a scientist confuse “theory” and “speculation“.

  22. #22 Ray C.
    December 9, 2007

    There are a few novelties in this one: a) it’s in Florida, not Texas

    Florida, in addition to being the only state with its own tag on fark.com, also put a carpetbagging son of a Bush in its governor’s mansion. Without whom we might have had sensible leadership in Washington these last seven years.

  23. #23 Jim Wynne
    December 9, 2007

    Regarding the page-limit question, there is quotation I’ve seen attributed to both Voltaire and Mark Twain, one of whom was writing a letter to a friend: “I’m sorry this is such a long letter, but I didn’t have enough time to write a shorter one.”
    I wrote an op-ed column in the local paper for a number of years, and I can assure you that staying within an 800-word limit is considerably more difficult than writing 1500 words. Another quote that comes to mind is the famous one from Truman Capote who said, upon being informed that Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road in two weeks or so said, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

  24. #24 BaldApe
    December 9, 2007

    wildcardjack said:
    “I think it would work as a replacement for an English course since you could refine language skills in such a course by integrating a series of writing and research assignments.”

    Where I teach, these are not part of the English curriculum. I teach science, and we are told that since students are not taught to write research papers in English class, we must do that job. English consists of watching movie versions of what passes for literature these days. (You know the stuff, the crap that fills the Young Adult section of the public library)

    I agree, BTW with the comments on length limits. When I give students a choice of two out of three essay questions for instance, they often ask if they get extra credit for answering all three. I ask them why I should give extra credit for their not following instructions.

    And the word “theory” is misused distressingly often by scientists and science reporters to mean “hypothesis.” I’m sure that if any of my students notice this at all, they just think I’m some nut who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. That’s what their ministers and parents tell them anyway.

  25. #25 Pierce R. Butler
    December 9, 2007

    It’s not just curriculum. The Prime Directive of Florida schools is: Rock ye not the boat.

    Here in Alachua County, (north central) Florida, the one progressive member of the school board is regularly ostracized for attempting such heretical efforts as trying to negotiate a lower electricity charge (bulk rate, as enjoyed by various corporations) for the public schools.

  26. #26 CortxVortx
    December 9, 2007

    When I give students a choice of two out of three essay questions for instance, they often ask if they get extra credit for answering all three. I ask them why I should give extra credit for their not following instructions.

    Doing your part to breed resentment in students.

    I recall a teacher who handed out a test and an answer sheet. The test said to write the letter of the correct answer on the answer sheet. The answer sheet had the machine-readable fill-in-the-lines scoring. Guess who got a 0 for using the answer sheet as designed, rather than as instructed? I’m sure she had the same rationale as the penalize-for-doing-more crowd.

    I pretty much gave up on high school because of such regimented, sarcastic demi-gods, and had to re-learn basics in college.

    — CV

  27. #27 Calladus
    December 9, 2007

    … and I can assure you that staying within an 800-word limit is considerably more difficult than writing 1500 words.

    And that, in a nutshell, is one of the prime reasons why novels today have expanded in size from novels of decades ago.

  28. #28 Rey Fox
    December 9, 2007

    Good point, Graeme. Next time I hear anyone talk about teaching “alternate theories” to evolution, I’ll say: “Name three.”

  29. #29 Amenhotep
    December 9, 2007

    Class!! I got a Cuttlefish poem :-) Thanks dude!

    As for “theory”, it of course means a framework for understanding. It is quite distinct from “hypothesis”, and sure ain’t the next step up.

    Bottom line: the Theory of Evolution is our framework for understanding the Facts of Evolution. Cre/ID isn’t even at the show.

  30. #30 N. Wells
    December 9, 2007

    CortxVortx: To avoid resentment by students, I’ve found it best to tell them ahead of time why you are specifying a page limit, for example, you want no more than X pages because you want them to practise being concise, or at least X pages, in order to ensure a certain degree of depth and detail in their responses.

    David, only slightly tongue in cheek: we’d be better off vis a vis “theory” if people weren’t allowed to designate their own proposal as a theory. In agreement with Bald Ape, all too often when people (even scientists) say “theory”, the correct word was “hypothesis”.

  31. #31 Pyre
    December 9, 2007

    Graeme @ 6: “I am keenly interested in knowing what these other theories are. I am assuming that one of them is Creationism. But are there more?”

    Rey Fox @ 26: “Good point, Graeme. Next time I hear anyone talk about teaching ‘alternate theories’ to evolution, I’ll say: ‘Name three.'”

    Creationism, Intelligent Design, Genesism, Guiding Agentism, Non-Random-Originism, Teleological Developmentism,….

    Oops, sorry, I get marked down for offering more than three, right?

    Mobsters and Moonies aren’t the only people capable of coming up with an endless stream of “front names”.

  32. #32 Pyre
    December 9, 2007

    By the way, evolution should get “Equal Time” with each of the other 27 theories.

    Since those 27 will all amount to Creationism under various names, that’ll be a ratio of Creationism to evolution at 27:1.

    Fair and Balanced?, right?

  33. #33 natural cynic
    December 9, 2007

    Waterdog: What are the specific necessary and sufficient qualifications for a career in politics? What are the specific additional qualifications for a political position that relates to making decisions on widespread education standards?

    Some of the blame can be placed on the good intentions of Thomas Jefferson. At the time that many of our democratic principles were formed, there was only elementary education available for most people, if any. It was assumed [by Jefferson] that most people would have a modicum of wisdom for political purposes and, more importantly, that those who wanted to further themselves in society would further their education by reading the scientists, philosophers and others lezding the enlightenment. Tom expected too much. What we have in many cases is people that grossly failed that ideal.

    Cream rises to the top. So does scum.

  34. #34 James W.
    December 9, 2007

    To everyone hanging on my earlier point of “writing more gets you less”:

    I did say that I understand doing the assignment as ascribed (I stated that!) but as a number of other commentors have stated, negative credit is not the only alternative. I told my neighbor that she should write exactly what was assigned and to understand why there is a limit. I also told her it’s absurd to be penalized for doing a little more because it’s punishing those who have a bit more to say.

    I’m not saying you should give a student extra points for doing more, far from it. I’m saying it’s a huge detractor to negatively score a paper because someone in a *gifted* class (whom by definition wants to do more) did more than ascribed. This is the kind of backwards teaching that’s encouraged in Florida. “No Child Left Behind” has turned into “No Child Doing Anything” since no teacher wants to stand out and does not want their students to stand out.

    It’s even worse in our magnate schools.

  35. #35 Romeo
    December 10, 2007

    Urg – students who write more than required and then whine for a better grade are so very annoying! I say drop a letter grade for every half-page over. The least capable people pursue this because they write in convoluted, drawn-out passive sentences and haven’t developed an adequate vocabulary to succinctly express ideas. Oh yes, I’ve reviewed my fair share of my peers papers in college and I don’t hesitate in recommending the “Writing Room” for help.

  36. #36 Romeo
    December 10, 2007

    Ahem – peers’ papers? peers’s papers?

    >>>headed to the Writing Room… darn plurals and apostrophes…

  37. #37 Pablo
    December 10, 2007

    “I’m saying it’s a huge detractor to negatively score a paper because someone in a *gifted* class (whom by definition wants to do more) did more than ascribed. ”

    See my comment above. The NSF has a 15 page limit on proposals. If I write 16.5 pages, I won’t be “scored negatively,” I will be flat out NOT CONSIDERED! They don’t care if I “want to do more.”

    I don’t see why taking a few points off is so harsh, considering that, in life, you don’t follow the directions and you get a big fat zero.

  38. #38 Abel Pharmboy
    December 10, 2007

    As a product of the Florida higher education system and a devotee of Florida natural history, I can’t believe that Ms. Carraway can live in Sopchoppy and not acknowledge the contribution of Darwin to their major claim to fame: The Sopchoppy Worm Gruntin’ Festival. Darwin observed how moles used vibrations to coax worms out of the ground – worm hunters in Sopchoppy mimic these tactics for earthworm bait commerce.

  39. #39 James W.
    December 10, 2007

    Pablo @ 35:

    Yes, writing for the NSF is entirely different than writing a menial report when you’re 13 and just getting to the point whether you’ll care about doing well or not until you leave school primary school. If you get taught at an early age that doing a little more is bad, you’re perfect fodder for being a part of everyday life where you don’t stick out…and rarely accomplish anything.

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