By CARL HIAASEN, published in the Miami Herald
In a move that could endanger Florida's flaky backwater reputation, the state Board of Education is poised to endorse the teaching of evolution as a science.
This is a dangerous idea -- not the presentation of Darwinism in schools, but the presentation of Florida as a place of progressive scientific thought.
Over the years the Legislature has worked tirelessly to keep our kids academically stuck in the mid-1950s. This has been achieved by overcrowding their classrooms, underpaying their teachers and letting their school buildings fall apart.
Florida's plucky refusal to embrace 21st century education is one reason that prestigious tech industries have avoided the state, allowing so many of our high-school graduates (and those who come close) to launch prosperous careers in the fast-food, bartending and service sectors of the economy.
By accepting evolution as a proven science, our top educators would be sending a loud message to the rest of the nation: Stop making fun of us.
Is that what we really want?
On Tuesday, , the Board of Education is scheduled to vote on a proposed set of new standards that describe evolution as the ''fundamental concept underlying all of biology'' and ``supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence.''
Certainly that's the position of every reputable academic group on the planet, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Teachers Association.
But forget the fossil record, OK? Forget DNA tracing. Forget the exhaustively documented diversification of species.
This battle is about pride and independence; about boldly going against the flow, in defiance of reason and all known facts.
In recent weeks, the Board of Education has been swamped by e-mails and letters from religious conservatives who advocate teaching creationism or intelligent design, and who believe evolution should be discussed strictly as a ``theory.''
For those who wish to see Florida standing still, if not sinking, this is a fantastic strategy. In fact, it could be expanded to revise other educational doctrines.
Let's start teaching gravity as a ''theory,'' too. And don't forget the solar system -- what proof do we really have, besides a bunch of fuzzy, fake-looking photos, that Mars really exists?
At a recent public hearing in Orlando, opponents of evolutionary teaching rose one by one to assail the proposed curriculum standards. Some had traveled all the way from the Panhandle, and were, like presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, exclusive believers in the Bible's version of creation.
According to The St. Petersburg Times, one speaker compared Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary science, to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, well-known tyrants and mass murderers. Such loony gibberish is actually good for the anti-evolution crusade, providing the best evidence that the human species has not advanced one iota in the last 100,000 years.
With this in mind, several school boards in North Florida have passed resolutions opposing the teaching of evolution as fact. True, students in those same districts have produced some of the worst science scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, but who needs Newton or Copernicus when you've got the Corinthians?
The notion that humans descended from apes has never been popular among fundamentalists, but what of the apes themselves? Given the gory history of Homo sapiens on Earth, no self-respecting chimp or gorilla would claim a genetic connection to us.
The outcry against evolutionary instruction has been so heated that 40 members of the committee responsible for the new science standards felt compelled to sign a letter stating, ``There is no longer any valid scientific criticism of the theory of evolution.''
Caving in to groups that question the soundness of science, the letter warned, ``would not only seriously impede the education of our children but also create the image of a backward state, raising the risk of Florida's being snubbed by biotechnology companies and other science-based businesses.''
Nice try, pinheads, but there's no sin in being a slightly backward state with extremely modest expectations for its young people. That's been the guiding philosophy of our tightwad lawmakers for years, and the degree to which they've succeeded is illuminated annually in the FCAT charade.
If snubbing is to be done, Florida should be the snubber, not the snubee. Keep your elite biotech payrolls up North and out West -- we've got hundreds of thousands of low-paying, go-nowhere jobs that require little training and minimal education.
Should state officials vote this week to put evolution on the teaching agenda, it will be a small yet radical step out of Florida's backwarding-thinking past.
Resistance is not futile. We've worked hard to keep ourselves so far behind in education, and we must stay the course.