The St. Petersburg Times has a good post on its education blog about the creationism bills (“academic freedom act”) filed in the state senate and house. The main question on the reporter’s mind is: what problem are these bills supposed to address? The reporter correctly notes that it’s the teachers who want to teach scientifically-accepted evolution who are feeling the pressure to downplay or even not teach the subject at all. Where are all the poor, oppressed teachers who want to teach something else? Honestly, I have no doubt there are plenty out there flying under the radar, especially in rural counties where their alternative views on science are essentially protected by the conservative community. Think of all those northern county school boards that issued anti-evolution resolutions. Setting that aside, though, where are all the persecuted teachers losing their jobs over their alternative views? Who will the proposed bills protect? Even the legislators who filed the bills have trouble answering that question.
I would encourage reporters to go a step further when digging into this issue. Note how Rep. Hays throws out an old canard about evolution having holes in it. Every scientific field/theory has holes in it. Heck, that’s practically a defining characteristic of science itself. It’s the never-ending pursuit of knowledge to fill in the holes. Will all the holes ever be filled? No. But that’s what draws folks into the science field and keeps them busy. Once again we see evolution being singled out, which is a purposeful ploy to fool the general public. Joe and Jane Public don’t need to know about all those other sciencey holes and stuff. They just need to know that there are holes in evolution. Ignore all the holes that have been filled over the years, folks. They mean nothing. I daresay that if you press Hays to come up with the details concerning some holes, he would say something silly, like there are no half creatures running around out there, so that means evolution is a crock. Oh, wait! He actually did say that!
“No one yet has found a half-animal of this or a half-insect of that,” Hays continued. “And they certainly haven’t found any half ape and half man.” It’s painfully obvious that Hays has no clue what he is talking about. Just stop and think for a moment. Human transportation certainly has changed over the years. So, by Hays’ reasoning, we should see some half buggies and half Ferraris out there, right? Hays needs some education on things like transitional fossils. Or maybe he thinks these chimeras he demands science to produce should literally be something straight out of circus side show exhibits. In that case, I have no idea how to get through to someone so potentially reality-challenged.
Before attacking evolution on the political front, Hays, Storms and others should be required to take a simple evolution exam. Nothing too complicated is needed. Just some basic concepts called for in our brand new science standards, say from the middle school level. I don’t expect our state legislators to be experts on every subject they deal with there at the state capital, but I do expect them to do some basic research and educate themselves on the subjects. This is especially important when the legislator is the one filing the doggone bill!
The St. Petersburg Times blog post focuses on the teacher aspect. But let’s not forget that students are addressed in the bill, too. “Public school students in the state’s K-12 school system may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but may not be penalized in any way because he or she subscribes to a particular position or view regarding biological or chemical evolution.” A good question to ask here is what happens when a student fills in an exam question concerning evolution with: “I do not believe in evolution and based on that belief refuse to answer this question.” Or how about if the student goes the hard core route: “According to such-n-such verse of such-n-such chapter of the Bible, God specially created man.” The teacher then marks these answer as wrong and the student gets no credit and possibly fails the exam. Is the student being penalized? Can the teacher then be disciplined or even sued based on this bill?
Does this sound like academic freedom to you? It sounds much more like freedom from education to me. These bills are nothing more than the setup to an expensive lawsuit.
HB 1483 was filed on March 4 and had its first reading later that evening. SB 2692 was filed February 29 and hasn’t seen any other action yet. I have no idea when these bills will be considered in their respective committees (House and Senate. Let me know if I have the wrong ones linked here, please). Everyone needs to keep an eye on the committees and track the bills’ progress. The committee members are listed on the committee pages and links will take you to contact information for each person. Here are some good tips for communicating with those folks.
The track record for similar bills in other states is bad. I would hate for Florida to break that trend.