What can you do? How can you help? How can you make a difference?
I’m getting a lot of inquiries from folks wanting direction. They have the interest and the desire to pitch in but they’re not sure where to put that energy. With that in mind, I’ve created a to-do list. You can pick a whole bunch of things to do or you can just choose the thing or two that your busy schedule allows. But the main thing is that you find a way to participate that works best for you. Even if you’re doing a small part to help, you’re at least doing something. (Note: this is an updated version of a post from early September. A lot has happened since then, leading to many additions.)
What are the issues we’re facing?
- A new law passed by our state legislature and signed by our governor this year now allows any citizen, not just a parent, to protest to local school boards about instructional materials and those protests could then force the school board to appoint a hearing officer to collect evidence about the complaints. This has led to a few challenges already, some of them targeting evolution and other science topics (see posts here and here).
- Another new law this year allows any student or school employee to freely express their religious views in school, which could impact how students answer questions on assessments and assignments and how teachers and school administrators present material to students.
- The Florida Department of Education’s review and selection of new science instructional materials has now kicked off. In light of the new instructional materials law, we could see some fireworks as the process gets moving.
- Marion County decided to not use the state process for reviewing new science textbooks, instead initiating their own selection process.
- An “Academic Freedom Act-style” bill has been pre-filed for the next state legislative session. It states that in relation to science standards adopted by school districts: “Controversial theories and concepts must be taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner.”
- Annual statewide science assessment results have been poor and stagnant for many years. The Florida Department of Education has barely acknowledged this (and I would argue they have even tried to hide it) and hasn’t offered any solutions.
- Every two decades a commission is charged with reviewing the Florida constitution and suggesting changes to it. The commission is now in session and considering several proposals that can impact education, such as: “Deleting language barring state funds from going to ‘aid of any church, sect or religious denomination.'” And another one suggests “Allowing the state to use taxpayer dollars to fund private, religious schools.”
What can you do? Here’s a to-do list to choose from:
- You’ve reading this because you heard about at least one of the issues mentioned above. How did you hear about it? Now think about the many other people who haven’t heard about it. It’s time to spread the word. Post on social media. Bring it up in conversations with friends, colleagues and family. Ask any organizations you’re a member of to consider advocating for one of the issues. Write letters to the editor. The bottom line is to spread the word. This becomes a numbers game. If you tell 50 people, then maybe five will be interested and maybe one or two will be very active. But it all starts with you.
- We posted about the start of the state’s science instructional materials review and approval process. Sign up if you have the qualifications.
- The real fireworks will happen over instructional materials at the school district level. Contact your local school district. Let them know you are willing to help them review and select science instructional materials when the time comes. Let them know you’ll be willing to serve as the hearing officer if any complaints come forward. Make sure they know who you are and that you are there to help, not cause problems.
- Become familiar with your school district. When are the school board meetings? Can you access the school board meeting agenda online or somewhere else before meetings? Can you access the meeting minutes after the meetings? Are the meetings recorded? Are they broadcast live? Who are the school board members? Have any of them ever expressed anti-science sentiments or pro-science comments?
- Become familiar with your local residents. Are there any who frequently complain to the school board who might now use the new instructional materials law to amplify their complaints? Are there any organized groups who have or possibly will be loud? (Check this list on the Florida Citizens’ Alliance website and this list, too. Are any of those groups or individuals in your area?)
- The new instructional materials law was created and pushed by a group called Florida Citizens’ Alliance. They were dominant during the last state legislative session. They were a constant presence in Tallahassee, meeting lawmakers face to face and speaking at every relevant hearing. We need to counter-balance that influence. Do you have any contacts with state lawmakers? Can you contact your local representatives now to ask them questions and express your concerns while they’re in your home district (as opposed to sealed up in Tallahassee when the legislature is in session)?
- Contact your lawmakers about the Academic Freedom Act bill. Do it now before they disappear to Tallahassee. Try to meet them in person. Educate them about the history of this bad bill and the fallout that will happen should it become law.
- We here at Florida Citizens for Science are an all-volunteer force. None of us are working on this full time. That means we need more people willing to stand up and take on a role. All of the above ideas are wonderful and could make an impact, but they’ll be even more powerful if they’re coordinated and tracked. We have an idea for a “county watch” committee that will collect and sort a lot of the above information. Then we can better match people up with others in their area, keep track of activities in potential hot spots, and better deploy resources without wasted duplication of effort. But all of that takes committed people willing to invest the time and energy.
- In conjunction with any of the above to-do items is doing your homework. Our blog is jam-packed with lots of valuable information. Read it. If you would like to help index all of that information for better ease of use, then do it and send me what you’ve compiled. In other words, if you see something that can be improved to make our work more efficient, then please roll up your sleeves and pitch in. I would love to make the blog more user friendly for quick research but I don’t have the time to do it. Do you?
We’ll add to this list as more ideas pop up. No, it’s not comprehensive. That’s why we need you. Help us to help our schools.