Removing Botany from the core

Perry, Jim jperry at
Mon May 14 12:11:32 EST 2001

A couple observations:

1. We know a lot more about biological processes today than we did when I
was an undergraduate from 66-70. Yet we still have the same length of
semester. Despite being an advocate for "less is more" we still have to
learn content in order to understand process.

2. Personally, I believe a conceptual BIOLOGY course is best for the
students as a FIRST college course and then we should spend at least one
semester, if not two, on organismal courses. Perhaps for bio majors the
intro sequence should be four courses. The only course I teach is an intro
botany course. Most of the students are headed into a science major of some
sort. In terms of diversity, I don't do anything BUT Kingdom Plantae, and I
still have a tough time getting through all that I would like. We do
ecology, diversity, cell chemistry, cell structure, plant anatomy,
photosynthesis (heavy emphasis 'cuz it's a BOTANY course), cellular
respiration; mineral nutrition and plant growth. 

3. I am not sure students CAN'T think abstractly, but I do believe they
DON'T. Most 18-20 year old kids are much more concerned about what THEIR
hormones are telling them, as opposed to plant hormones. They are kids. We
have a fair number of non-trads, which we define as someone older than 22.
Most are around 30, and they are much more interested in everything in the
classroom than are the 18-20 year old students.

4. Getting students excited about plants includes being excited about plants
yourself, conveying that excitement and doing what Janice Glime proposes --
making it relevant to their lives.

5. Education is a partnership. If one partner is not interested you can't
force that partner interested to be interested.

Bottom line, it would be a shame to be an bio major, perhaps a citizen of
the world, and not know anything about what most life as we know it depends
upon. Resist until you bleed.


-----Original Message-----
From: gcote at [mailto:gcote at]
Sent: Monday, May 14, 2001 10:15 AM
To: plant-ed at
Subject: Removing Botany from the core

Hi all,
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.

Gary Cote
Dr. Gary Coté
Assistant Professor
Department of Biology
Box 6931
Radford University
Radford, VA 24142-6931

Ph: 540-831-5630
Fax: 540-831-5129
email: gcote at

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...

More information about the Plant-ed mailing list