Bills are prefiled for the 2018 state legislative session in both chambers that would impact the standards for all academic subjects, especially science. The bills propose allowing school districts to adopt their own sets of educational standards if they are equal to or more more rigorous than the state’s educational standards. The bills specifically target science standards with the following directive from lines 62 to 66.
62 (b) Science standards must establish specific curricular
63 content for, at a minimum, the nature of science, earth and
64 space science, physical science, and life science. Controversial
65 theories and concepts must be taught in a factual, objective,
66 and balanced manner.
What’s wrong with the bills:
What is meant by “more rigorous” and who sets that standard? An organization in Collier County, Florida Citizens’ Alliance, is the originator and primary cheerleader for these bills. They advocate that school districts should be allowed to use curriculum from places like Freedom Project, which uses as a biology textbook Exploring Creation with Biology published by Apologia Educational Ministries. Is this an example of what is meant by “more rigorous?”
“Controversial theories” is a standard tactic used for several years to target evolution and, lately, climate change. The bills don’t call out these scientific concepts by name, but the history of bills like these, referred to collectively as Academic Freedom Bills, make it clear what the intended science topics are. This Washington Post article briefly explains the purpose of these types of bills:
These bills are worded as “academic freedom” bills, but they really are efforts to present foundational science as controversial. For example, evolution is the animating principle of modern biology, but these laws attempt to allow creationism and evolution to be debated in a science classroom as though they had equal scientific basis. There is no scientific basis to creationist thinking.
On Dec. 4, the bill was referred to three committees: Education, Appropriations, and Rules. The bill has not been scheduled for any meetings yet. It should be noted that the bill sponsor, Sen. Dennis Baxley, is on the Appropriation committee.
On Dec. 8 the bill was referred to three committees: PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee, PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, and Education Committee. It looks like the PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee will be the first to consider the bill but it has not been scheduled for a meeting yet.
The Senate bill was introduced by Sen. Dennis Baxley who has a history of disliking evolution lessons in schools. He was a representative in the state house back in 2005 when he sponsored an infamous bill titled The Academic Freedom Bill of Rights. That bill would have prevented “biased indoctrination” by “the classroom dictator.” In defense of that bill he related an upsetting personal story of a Florida State University professor ranting against creationism in class. You can read more about that bill in chapter 8 of Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom.
In 2008 we here at Florida Citizens for Science were deeply involved in the brawl over the inclusion of evolution in the new state science standards. Baxley was then executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida and he had a firm opinion about the issue:
“There is no justification for singling out evolution for special skepticism or critical analysis,” wrote Richard T. O’Grady, executive director of the American Institute of Biological Sciences in a Feb. 8 letter to the Board of Education. “Its strength as a scientific theory matches that of the theory of gravitation, atomic theory and the germ theory.”
The response from Dennis Baxley, executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida: “He’s in error.”
“At one time, the scientific community thought that for good health, you should attach leaches to your body,” said Baxley, a former state representative from Ocala. “We’re just asking them to leave the door open a little bit” for other evidence to be considered.
Baxley also sponsored last session’s Religious Liberties in Schools bill that successfully passed into Florida law.
In the Florida Senate, her partner in this quest is State Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who owns a string of funeral homes and was the former executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida.
Baxley’s not a fan of evolution, and thinks it’s unfair that Florida’s public school children are being exposed to a science curriculum that doesn’t allow that the earth is just 6,000 years old.
They were the guiding hands that successfully passed a bill that would expand the role of religion in Florida’s public schools to levels that have alarmed the American Civil Liberties Union, the Florida Citizens for Science and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
What you can do:
Individuals and organizations are starting to mobilize against the bills. For instance, the Secular Coalition for Florida issued an Action Alert that includes a form you can use to send emails to lawmakers.
The legislative session officially starts Jan. 8. You need to contact your local lawmakers before then, preferably in person if possible. And continue applying pressure throughout the session through phone calls and emails. Spread the word to friends, family, and associates through social media and word of mouth. Encourage others to contact lawmakers. Write letters to the editor or op-eds for your local newspaper.
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