Jan. 25: Senate bill referred to four committees.
A bill was filed for the 2019 legislative session in the Florida legislature that would impact the standards for all academic subjects, especially science. The bill proposes allowing school districts to adopt their own sets of educational standards if they are “equal to or more rigorous” than the state’s educational standards. The bill specifically targets 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 shall be taught in a factual, objective,
66 and balanced manner.
What’s wrong with this bill:
What is meant by “more rigorous” and who sets that standard? An organization in Collier County, Florida Citizens’ Alliance, is a firm supporter of this bill. They spent several years fighting against what they believe to be bias in textbooks used in their local schools. They eventually expanded their scope to the entire state and met with some success in the state legislature in 2017. For a full write-up of the lengthy history of this fight, which isn’t over yet, see the blog post Creationist-enabling bill passes; what can you do now? The Alliance listed this new Rigorous Standards/Controversial Theories bill on their 2019 legislative agenda (pdf file). They advocated 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 Jan. 14, the bill was pre-filed for the 2019 legislative session, which starts March 5.
(Historical note: this same bill was filed in the 2018 session. That year it went nowhere, not having been scheduled for a hearing in any of its assigned committees.)
No companion bill has yet been filed in the Florida House.
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 a bill in a previous session, Religious Liberties in Schools, that successfully became a 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.