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Education Newswire: November/December 1999

Getting Rid of The Theory of Evolution

The Kentucky State Education Department, in its new state curriculum guidelines, has replaced the word “evolution” with the phrase “change over time” in an attempt to avoid advocating “a particular doctrine or a specific view,” according to Deputy Commissioner Gene Wilhoit. Two months earlier, the Kansas School Board of Education voted to remove all references to evolution from its new science curriculum.

In contrast, New Mexico’s board of education plans to change state teaching guidelines to make it clear that only evolution belongs in science classes. “Everything in biology falls out from this [evolution] so we really can’t ignore it or leave it to children to figure out on their own,” said New Mexico Education Board president Flora Sanchez.

Part of the problem with all three of these states’ decisions is the limited view taken toward evolution, most often interpreted strictly as biological evolution or, even more narrowly, as the evolution of humans from primitive hominids. But the “theory of evolution” has, in a modern context, become almost a meaningless label with a wide variety of possible uses.

In astronomy we cannot talk about evolution in general without being more specific—stellar evolution, galaxy evolution, planetary evolution. In Charles A. Young’s 1898 astronomy text Lessons in Astronomy, the author concludes his discussion of the “maintenance of solar heat” by Helmholtz contraction: “[I]f this theory is correct, the sun’s heat must ultimately come to an end; and looking backward it must have had a beginning.” Granted, the theory was wrong, but the concept of a stellar lifecycle is inevitable.

To prevent the use of the word “evolution” is to close the door on the study of a vast range of science; in biology, astronomy, geology, and many related fields. From the Big Bang to the Tree of Life’s tiniest twigs of hominid advancement, evolution helps describe the Kentuckian “change over time.”

How are teachers to manage the teaching of evolutionary processes while being confronted by those who view this strictly as how humans evolved from apes? What are appropriate responses to claims of creationism that object to all forms of evolution? How do teachers assure themselves that they are not violating the freedom of religious beliefs of their students (see “Commentary,” p. 36)? Just remember, you and your colleagues are not alone: this is not the first time the subject has arisen, and a lot of fine minds have addressed these and many related issues.

  • The National Academy of Sciences published a document for teaching evolution in science classes. Titled “Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science,” the publication is available at https://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=5787. Also available through the National Academic Press, at www.nap.edu, are “Science and Creationism, 2nd edition” and “National Science Education Standards.”
  • “The Benchmarks for Science Literacy,” published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, provides information and support for the teaching of evolution. Start at URL project2061.aaas.org/tools/.
  • The National Center for Science Education is an excellent online resource at https://ncse.com/. NCSE engages in a number of activities advancing two primary goals: improving and supporting education in evolution and the nature of science, and increasing public understanding of these subjects.

ExploraVision

Toshiba and NSTA announce this year’s ExploraVision competition. The goal of ExploraVision is to encourage K-12 students to “combine their imaginations with the study of science and technology to explore visions of the future and find solutions for real-life problems.” Students work in teams of three or four to create a vision of the future ten to twenty years from now by researching their problem and creating a storyboard to convey their ideas. In the second round of competition, regional winners produce a video about their innovation. For more information, visit https://www.exploravision.org/ or call 800.EXPLOR9. The deadline for entries is 2 February 2000.

Listserver for Research in Astronomy Education

As a result of discussions at recent meetings, Tim Slater at Montana State University has created an email listserv for astronomy education research discussions. Titled ASTROLRNER, this electronic community will focus on student-misconceptions research; technical issues in measurement, assessment, and evaluation; comparisons of instructional strategies; and research design in the context of pre-K through graduate level and informal astronomy education. For information, navigate your browser to URL https://www.caperteam.com/.

Heavy Books Light On Learning

Not one middle-grades science text was rated satisfactory by the AAAS’s Project 2061, the long-term science, mathematics, and technology education reform initiative. And the new crop of texts that just entered the market fared no better in the study, which found that most textbooks cover too many topics and don’t develop any of them well. All texts include many classroom activities that are either irrelevant to learning key science ideas or don’t help students relate what they are doing to the underlying ideas.

The evaluation of middle-grades mathematics texts, released in January 1999, rated several texts high, but these texts are not yet widely used. Project 2061 will release its findings for high school algebra and biology textbooks next year and is seeking funds to examine elementary school materials and to update the middle- and high-school materials evaluation. For more information on this topic and Project 2061, visit the Project’s website at https://www.aaas.org/program/project2061.

LEO P. CONNOLLY can be found surfin’ the Net using his G3 at the Department of Physics, California State University, San Bernardino. He responds to messages sent to lconnoll@csusb.edu. Comments and contributions are welcome.