“Nowhere in the material is a balanced discussion of the biblical explanation.”

March 22nd, 2017 by Brandon Haught

textbookskullsThe instructional materials bill in the Senate has now been scheduled for a hearing in the education committee March 27th. Last year the bills didn’t make it on to any committee calendars. So this is an unfortunate step forward for them them this year. Call education committee senators now. Refer to our Instructional Materials bills ’17 blog post category for background information on this bad bill that can have a significant negative impact on science education.

The group behind these bills is Florida Citizens’ Alliance. In news stories that have been published about these bills so far we’ve pointed out that evolution and climate change could be targets. But representatives of the Alliance blow off our arguments, claiming that’s not a goal of their campaign. That’s a very bold lie. They want materials that “Provide a non-inflammatory, objective, and balanced viewpoint on issues.” They constantly tout their Objectionable Materials list [link to pdf] as proof that these bills are needed. Scroll down on that document to page 8 and you will find:

“Florida History: People And Nations” Authors: Anatole Mazour, John Peoples, Publisher: Harcourt. In Collier and Marion Counties so far, teams in Volusia, Okaloosa, Charlotte and Brevard are in process’. This book is full of factual errors and half-truths. http://goo.gl/vYTYtR

That link takes you to a page on their website that has several “objections” to “factual errors and half-truths” about evolution. And another objectionable material complaint is also on page 8:

World History- Ancient Civilization: Author” Holt McDougal, Publisher: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt 6th grade History: These two pages teach the children that we descended from apes. This is stated as a fact not a theory. http://goo.gl/MNqVBm

That link takes you to another page with this significant red flag: “Nowhere in the material is a balanced discussion of the biblical explanation.”

And just a few days ago, the Alliance reported a victory in getting supplemental materials removed from 6th grade classrooms in Brevard County that referred to man-made climate change as fact. (Note: we need to research this claim. If anyone reading this is in Brevard County, please help us verify this.) In response to one statement found in the materials, the objection was:

This statement leads the child to believe that man made global warming is a scientific fact, when it is not. Man made global warming is a hoax, based only on computer models and false data, and is an injustice to the child, by not teaching scientific fact. It is pure and unadulterated false propaganda.

Representatives of the Alliance are clearly lying with the proof seen right there on their own website and in their own materials promoting the bills! A clear goal of these bills is to target evolution and climate change.

Don’t let them get away with this. Contact the senators on the education committee. Challenge this bill on behalf of science education in our state!

Religious Liberties bill on Senate floor Tuesday

March 20th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

Here’s a few quick updates on the Religious Expression in Public Schools bills that we’re opposed to.

senateFirst, the Senate version has been approved by all of its assigned committees and is now scheduled to be debated on the Senate floor tomorrow (Tuesday). If I understand the procedure, this is an opportunity for senators to ask the bill sponsor (Sen. Dennis Baxley) questions and engage in debate. But I don’t think there will be any voting. That should come during the bill’s “3rd reading” at a later date. However, I could be wrong; I’m certainly not an expert in these matters. Regardless, the time for citizens to make public comments on this bill during senate proceedings is over. You best option now is to get on the phone now and to email now. Tell your senator and any other senators who you think will listen why we are concerned about this bill. See the Religious Liberties Act 2017 category here for ideas.

The House version sailed through one committee and is now waiting to be put on the meeting schedule for the full Education Committee. Now would be a good time to call and email representatives on that committee and see if another embarrassing tent-revival-style meeting and unanimous vote can be avoided. (That atmosphere at the last meeting should make anyone who actually cares about religious liberties for all students cringe; but I digress.)

The Orlando Sentinel posted a story online today about the bills and mentioned Florida Citizens for Science’s concerns: Lawmakers’ push for ‘religious liberties’ in schools sparks debate.

Brandon Haught, a biology teacher in Volusia County and a member of Florida Citizens for Science, told lawmakers the bill would hurt science education.

Some teachers might feel free to discuss evolution from a “religious perspective,” and some students might feel they could claim “religious discrimination” if a teacher tried to explain “the science,” Haught said.

“This bill would cast a chilling effect on science teachers across the state who would prefer to shortchange evolution instruction rather than deal with potential conflicts with students, parents and then community,” he added.

And before I wrap up, it’s worth noting that the House sponsor of the bill has been the subject of some controversy: Jax State Rep Kim Daniels Accused of Campaign Fund Violations.

More press about bills

March 15th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

There are more news stories today about both the Religious Liberties bills and the Instructional Materials bills that we here at Florida Citizens for Science are opposed to and tracking.

Naples Daily News: Senate committee pushes ‘religious expression’ bill forward

Brandon Haught, a high school biology teacher representing the organization Florida Citizens for Science, says the bill would have detrimental effects specifically in science education.

“Does this mean that a teacher or school personnel can then talk about stuff like the age of the Earth and evolution from a religious perspective, and if someone was to try to counsel them not to do that, would that be discrimination against the teacher?”

Haught also raised concerns about students being able to refute what is being taught based on their own religious beliefs.

“This has a chilling effect on science teachers across the state who would prefer to short-change evolution instruction rather than deal with potential conflicts with students, parents and the community,” Haught said.

Tampa Bay Times: ‘Religious liberties’ measures diverge, but advance

The bills were once identical, but the House Pre-K-12 Quality Subcommittee amended its bill to make it more narrow than the Senate’s …

At this point that seems to be our best hope. The House and Senate versions are different and if they are both approved by their respective chambers, they will need to be reconciled before moving to the governor’s desk. We’ve seen bills fall apart at that stage before and we’re hoping it happens again now.

Meanwhile, the Instructional Materials bills get some media attention too.

Naples Daily News: Leon educators say ‘instructional materials’ bill not needed

Flaugh said he and others in the Alliance define “objectionable material” within the textbooks to be that which is “strongly biased on major issues.” However, critics of the bill say it could be a Trojan horse to undermine instruction of climate change and evolution.

Flaugh characterizes the bill as straightforward, simply a way to control quality when it comes to what a community’s children are reading and discussing.

[…]

Wood, however, thinks the legislation was proposed to benefit special interests with hidden agendas.

“This bill seems like a well-disguised way for single-issue interest groups who don’t have students in public schools to work their agendas,” she said.

textbookskullsKeith Flaugh and his Florida Citizens’ Alliance are trying to tap dance around specifics when called out on them. But they’ve been passing around copies of their “Objectionable Materials” list [pdf document] that shows on page 8:

World History – Ancient Civilization: Author” Holt McDougal, Publisher: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt
6th grade History: These two pages teach the children that we descended from apes. This is stated as a fact not a theory. http://goo.gl/MNqVBm

That link in their document takes you to a page of their website that states this:

Collier County 6th grade History: These two pages teach the children that we descended from apes. This is stated as a fact not a theory. Nowhere in the material is a balanced discussion of the biblical explanation.

Trojan horse, indeed. Fortunately, both the Senate and House versions of this bill are still stalled with no committee hearings scheduled.

Lots and lots of bill updates today

March 14th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

senateThere’s quite a bit to talk about today. I’ll start with the Religious Liberties bills that we oppose on the grounds they can negatively impact science education. One passed the Senate judiciary committee this afternoon on a narrow, party line vote of 5-4.

I spoke at this meeting but I don’t think I performed all that great. The committee chair was impatient as the meeting was running long and he started to impose a time limit on speakers that he hadn’t for the hour leading up to this bill’s discussion. So, by the time I got up there I had already chopped two paragraphs from my planned remarks but I still felt pressure while standing before the committee chair to speed things up even more. So, I wound up stumbling and pausing a bit as I tried to make sure my most important points were covered. You can watch the video here. The Religious Liberties bills portion starts at 52:04. Sen. Dennis Baxley, the bill sponsor, irritated me a bit when in his closing remarks he said he wasn’t going to chase rabbits and red herrings, which I believe meant, at least in part, my arguments about evolution.

houseI couldn’t attend the House committee meeting that was considering that chamber’s version of the bill because it was being held the same time as the Senate meeting. But according to the news articles, there was overwhelming support for the bill. The vote was 14-0.

There are a few news articles popping up already this evening about the bill. I and Florida Citizens for Science do get good mentions in some of them.

Miami Herald: Plan to fortify religious expression in public schools quickly advancing

Sunshine State News: Religious Liberties Act Heading to the Senate Floor

Florida Politics: ‘Religious expression in public schools’ ready for full Senate vote

 

The other bills we’re tracking about Instructional Materials got some press today. But they’re, fortunately, still stuck in the starting gate with no scheduled committee meetings yet.

NBC, Channel 2, Fort Myers: Creationism, evolution optional in Florida classrooms with new bill

 

And I’ll close for now with my interview with the Tampa Bay Times’ Gradebook blog podcast that was published today: Can science and religious expression coexist in Florida public schools?

Spring break in Tallahassee

March 14th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

Old_and_New_Florida_State_Capitol,_Tallahassee,_East_view_20160711_1I’m in Tallahassee today. It’s spring break for me but rather than head to a beach I decided to visit our state capitol to speak to the judiciary senate committee about Senate Bill 436. That’s the Religious Expression in Public Schools bill that we believe can harm science education. There’s still time to give the senators on the committee your opinion on this bill by just calling or emailing them this morning. Then you can watch the meeting at 2 p.m. via the committee’s webpage.

The House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee is meeting at the same time to consider their chamber’s version of the bill. I can’t be in two places at once, so I’ve chosen to be in the Senate. The House bill has a few proposed changes to it that make it a little less of a concern. Of course, we still have some issues with it, but the Senate version is unchanged at this point and so it is the higher priority.

My short speech covering our main concerns is ready to go. It will be interesting to see who else shows up with their two cents. I’ll keep you updated as best as I can. Wish me luck.

Let’s not forget about the Instructional Materials bills

March 11th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

climate changeWe’ve been giving a lot of attention to the Religious Expression in Public Schools bills because they’re seeing quite a bit action in the Florida legislature. But let’s not forget that we’re also monitoring Instructional Materials bills filed in both chambers (House Bill 989 and Senate Bill 1210). We’re concerned about a few points in the bills, such as the requirement to: “Provide a noninflammatory, objective, and balanced viewpoint on issues.” That’s a potential back door for inserting creationism and climate change doubts into the classroom.

That’s illustrated wonderfully in this Naples Daily News article that was published online today: Teaching of evolution, climate change at stake in Byron Donalds’ bill. I was interviewed at length for this piece and I think our views came across loud and clear.

“This has caused a chilling effect on teachers,” said Brandon Haught, a high school biology and environmental science teacher in Orange City, Florida, and a founding member of Florida Citizens for Science, a group that describes their mission as “defending against attacks on science education from lawmakers.”

Haught pointed out many people find the teaching of evolution and climate change “inflammatory” and “unbalanced,” thus any person visiting Florida who pays tax on a cup of coffee could make the case for teaching creationism and non-human induced climate change in front of a school board. If the majority of the board agrees, those topics would be integrated into the curriculum of each public school in that district.

Others interviewed for the story wave off our concerns as being possible yet far fetched. But then they say …

Keith Flaugh, co-director of the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, a conservative group that helped write the language for the bill, doesn’t deny the possibility of that outcome.

“So long as the material is presented in a balanced way, that’s fair game,” he said. “We want kids to get a balanced view of the world, not an indoctrinated view of the world.”

Mike Mogil, co-owner of Mathworks Tutoring in Naples and a former meteorologist, said if the bill is passed he would use the opportunity as a non-parent to challenge how climate change is taught.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, 6,000 I would be there in front of the school board,” he said. “If we’re going to teach climate change, let’s teach it in the context of geological changes. Not to say that humans are great stewards of planet Earth — we are not — but CO2 produced by humans is not the primary cause.”

There’s a lot more to the article and I highly recommend that you read it. I feel that reporter Annika Hammerschlag did a very good job.

House version of the Religious Liberties bill now moving

March 10th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

houseWe’ve been tracking the Senate version of the Religious Expression in Public Schools bill, which has successfully navigated one committee hearing and is headed for its next one next week. We are concerned with two troubling parts of the bill that could have negative implications for science education. Please see our previous posts about this in the Religious Liberties Act 2017 blog category. So far, the Senate bill hasn’t been modified in any way.

The House version of the bill had been stagnant for a while but is now moving forward. It is scheduled for its first hearing in the PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee Tuesday, March 14 at 2 p.m. Coincidentally, that’s the exact same date and time as the next Senate committee hearing.

However, it’s interesting to see that the House bill has already been amended. A simpler version of the bill will now be considered. Here’s the original for comparison. Keeping in mind that we’ve had two main concerns about this bill, the possibility of teachers using this “Religious Liberties” bill as permission to teach unscientific religious views in the science classroom and the possibility of students using the bill as permission to use unscientific religious views in their classwork, one of those issues is no longer a problem in the House version. The language about teacher (and other school personnel) religious liberties has been removed.

But that still leaves the student classwork concern on our plate. Even though the bill states students’ work must meet “expected academic standards relating to the course curriculum and requirements,” we’re still worried that this can open the door for unscientific religious views being expressed as a way to challenge the teacher’s authority. We can see an example of this from a Kentucky lawmaker in support of a similar bill there. We certainly don’t mind spirited discussion and respectful debate in the science classroom, but we’re worried that a student (or the student’s parents) could claim that a teacher who tries to further explain the scientific facts in response to the student’s answer is now discriminating against the student.

Many teachers already shortchange evolution instruction due to the “chilling effect” of possible conflict with students and families. This part of the bill could turn the thermostat down a few more degrees.

So far, the Senate bill still has both troubling sections in it. We’ll see if it gets amended to match the House bill before Tuesday’s committee meetings. I will be surprised if it does. The bill’s sponsor, Dennis Baxley, recently wrote a piece for the Ocala Star Banner: Protecting free speech in schools. This line says a lot about his strong views:

Without this free religious expression, we are in fact establishing a state-sponsored religion — secular humanism.

But don’t let up the pressure! Call and email and visit with lawmakers in both chambers. Especially focus your efforts on the members of the House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. And if you are able to make it to either Tuesday meeting, I’d be happy to see you there! Let me know and perhaps we can meet up beforehand.

Religious Liberties bill on a fast track

March 9th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

senateThe Religious Expression in Public Schools bill filed in the Florida Senate is now scheduled to be heard by the judiciary committee March 14 (Tuesday) at 2 p.m. We need you to contact the senators on the committee and urge them to amend or stop this bill due to concerns over its impact on science education.

The meeting is during my spring break, which gives me an opportunity to possibly attend and speak there. If anyone else can attend, please let me know.

For your convenience, below are the two main points we need to make to the senators. You can also see all of our posts about this bill in the Religious Liberties Act 2017 blog category.

First, we are concerned about this line in the proposed bills: “A school district may not discriminate against a student, parent, or school personnel on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression.” Does this allow teachers or other school personnel to state unscientific religious views on science topics such as age of the earth and evolution? If anyone tries to correct the teacher’s statement, would that be seen as discriminating against the teacher?

Second, we are concerned about this section of the proposed bills: “A student may express his or her religious beliefs in coursework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination. A student’s homework and classroom assignments shall be evaluated, regardless of their religious content, based on expected academic standards relating to the course curriculum and requirements. A student may not be penalized or rewarded based on the religious content of his or her work if the coursework, artwork, or other written or oral assignments require a student’s viewpoint to be expressed.” Does this allow students to give unscientific religious views as answers on questions about science topics such as age of the earth and evolution? If a teacher tries to explain to the student how the religious answer is unscientific and incorrect, would the teacher be seen as discriminating against the student?

The above questions in bold are valid, keeping in mind that the bill sponsor, Sen. Dennis Baxley, has been documented saying that he would like to see the teaching of evolution balanced with other views. Furthermore, a similar bill in Kentucky was supported by a lawmaker who admitted that students should be allowed to say the earth is only 6,000 years old and any attempt to correct the student would be seen as “retaliation.”

Now is the time to start calling and emailing the senators on the judiciary committee. Don’t wait. Do it now.