A Spark

theoryAn interesting situation is percolating in Volusia County. A mother of an 8th grade student recently found a science assignment in her son’s binder that upset her. The part that really stood out to her is:

“Next time someone tries to tell you that evolution is just a theory, as a way of dismissing it, as if it’s just something someone guesses at, remember that they’re using the non-scientific meaning of the word. If that person is a teacher, or a minister, or some other figure of authority, they should know better. In fact, they probably do, and are trying to mislead you.”

I believe the mother felt that the passage undermined her authority as a parent and was derogatory toward her Christian faith. She posted a picture of the handout on her public Facebook page and said:

“I encourage you to call the school, call the school board. We need to rally together as parents and let them know this is UNACCEPTABLE. They can teach evolution as a theory, but to say that it is not just a theory and to tell students to question authority on this matter is CROSSING THE LINE! Please share and call the school. Call the schoolboard. Call the news! Stand up for what is right. Something needs to be done.”

Further comments and posts from her indicate that she has called the school. She said: “I was told that this assignment has since been removed from the curriculum. Too little too late. The school has no right to indoctrinate our children and to undermine the authority of other teachers, ministers, or any figure of authority that tells them evolution is not just a theory.”

Furthermore, she said she was contacted by the local Fox News station (WOFL 35) to find out if she would give an interview. She said yes but it doesn’t look like any appointment has been set yet.

The mother’s posts on this started Friday morning (September 18). She is attempting to get friends and supporters to share the information in an effort to get it to go viral. Based on the comments others have left on her posts, she is getting some support.

The teacher’s handout apparently was copied fully and directly from the website http://www.notjustatheory.com/.

Note that in accordance with the Florida Sunshine State Science Standards, 8th grade teachers are expected to instruct students on the meaning of the word theory in science (science standard SC.8.N.3: The role of theories, laws, hypotheses and models). However, evolution is not in the standards for 8th grade. It is in the standards for 7th grade, so it is covered to some extent in middle school but not in 8th grade. Additionally, Volusia County’s curriculum map has evolution being taught in 7th grade but not in 8th grade.

I don’t advocate attacking or debating the mother or her supporters in any way. The purpose of the “theory lesson” was obviously lost on her and I don’t think it would be worthwhile debating that aspect of this situation with her or her supporters.

As far as teaching about the scientific meaning of the word theory goes, the teacher is not only OK with teaching the meaning but the teacher is expected to teach it. Bringing evolution into the lesson might not have been the best decision, especially in light of evolution not being in the curriculum. But using evolution as an example in a theory lesson is acceptable, especially in light of the fact that 8th grade students were taught about evolution the previous year. Where the teacher might have gone too far is in using the Not Just a Theory website text word for word. The section that upset the mother in this situation should have been left out. The teacher should have been more sensitive to the possibility that the passage could be unnecessarily confrontational in nature.

I haven’t named the parties involved. But since the mother’s Facebook posts are public and are being shared, I’ll provide a link.

If anything more comes of this, I’ll keep you posted.

(Cross posted at Florida Citizens for Science)