Removing Botany from the core
gcote at radford.edu
Mon May 14 10:15:23 EST 2001
There has been discussion recently on departments removing Botany (and
sometime Zoology) from the core. Jon Monroe commented that his department
had just removed both and replaced them with "Process Courses." We too
have recently voted to drop both Botany and Zoology from the core, but to
keep them as electives. Previously these two courses were the introductory
courses. Obviously they were not pure Botany or Zoology courses, but had
to have hefty doses of basic biology also in order for students to go on in
upper level courses. Of course, which course had what basic concept was
not always clear. Should respiration be taught in Zoo or Botany? We hope
that, as electives, zoology and botany can be more interesting and rigorous
The replacements for these two courses are now called General Biology. We
too are hoping to emphasize the process of science, and the challenges that
living things successfully meet in staying alive. We also hope to
emphasize the unity of all life as well as its diversity. How successful
we will be remains to be seen, but the courses will be taught for the first
time next fall.
Part of the rationale for changing was not so much what students were not
learning, but what they were learning. The big message we seem to be
giving them by dividing the living world into botany and zoo, was that
plants and animals are very different, and fungi are basically plants.
For example, students in Cell Biology, which is my primary teaching
responsibility, have assured me:
1 That plants and fungi are photosynthetic, but animals are not.
2 That dinitrophenol, which they learn destroys proton gradients and thus
uncouples mitochondria, will not hurt plants and fungi because they live by
"completely different processes than animals do."
3 That dinitrophenol would not hurt plants because they have chloroplasts
instead of mitochondria.
4 That all plant cells have chloroplasts.
5 That the cauliflower from which we prepared mitochondria might have a few
mitochondria, but it had many more chloroplasts.
(The last two have made me think critically about Cell Bio textbooks.
Every one I've seen shows a "typical plant cell," and a "typical animal
cell," and of course the typical plant cells always have chloroplasts. And
none of them that I've noticed, ever shows a "typical fungal cell.")
It makes you wonder how much our students are learning from the subtleties
of how we teach instead of from what we teach.
Dr. Gary Coté
Department of Biology
Radford, VA 24142-6931
email: gcote at radford.edu
More information about the Plant-ed