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Unfortunate students stuck in the middle of a debate they don’t understand

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

wnyc_square_logoNew York’s flagship public radio station WNYC recently broadcast/published stories about conflicts over teaching evolution and climate change in classrooms across the country. I spent quite a long time talking with a reporter about the situation here in Florida, especially in relation to the Religious Liberties and Instructional Materials bills approved by our state legislature and awaiting the governor’s signature. The first couple of stories went live today.

One story is on a show called The Takeaway: New Law Would Let Citizens Fight to Get Climate Change, Evolution Out of Florida Classrooms. It’s an interview with Glenn Branch from the National Center for Science Education. Overall, it’s a good, informative story. But I feel some nuance was missed, as indicated in the story’s title. Even those who promoted the bill have said it’s not about getting subjects they don’t like out of the science classroom, but rather trying to balance them with other views. And the bill doesn’t directly impact the curriculum but rather just the instructional materials, such as textbooks. I’m not sure if the reporters who I’ve talked with aren’t understanding that or they are choosing to simplify the topic for their audiences.

upset-studentThe other story is on a show called The United States of Anxiety: “Would you debate gravity?”: climate change in the classroom. The main story can be played right at the top of the page, but there are several other audio clips further down the page, including mine roughly halfway down. My clip features some fumbling pauses in the beginning because I was trying to think of the best way to tell my story without providing too much detail that might identify and embarrass or upset the story’s subjects if they were to happen to hear it. The main point I was trying to make was that some poor students find themselves stuck in the middle between a teacher and his/her family. The student brings a question to me but as I delve deeper into the question with the student it becomes clear that the student is just relaying it from a parent and doesn’t even understand the question.

But there was more that I told the reporter that didn’t make it into that 28 second clip. I said that’s a horrible situation for the student and I refuse to use the child as a messenger. Instead, I decline to answer the question, explaining that I want to hear questions that the student comes up with, not the parent. What I teach is a very basic foundation and this is probably the first time students are hearing about climate change in an academic setting. The questions the parents come up with are full of misleading inaccuracies and outright false information that would take forever to try to explain to a child who has just learned for the first time from me what the greenhouse gases are (other than carbon dioxide) and what the albedo effect is. Honestly, I think the students are relieved that I take that stance.

With that in mind, I want to point out that if the instructional materials bill is signed into law by the governor, we’re going to see the situation I described much more often.

I was told that more clips from my long interview might be used in other stories still to come.

Heartland’s junk mail arrives in Florida

Friday, May 26th, 2017

Today was my last day of school with students for the year. After saying a final farewell to my students, I wrapped up my day with my usual trek to the mail room and I found a little gift in my mailbox:

heartland

For those of you who don’t know, it’s climate change denial garbage from a conservative think tank. This New York Times Op-ed explains.

The book is unscientific propaganda from authors with connections to the disinformation-machinery of the Heartland Institute. In a recent letter to his members, David L. Evans, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, said that “labeling propaganda as science does not make it so.” He called the institute’s mass mailing of the book an “unprecedented attack” on science education.

Judging from the responses of educators I know who have received “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming” in recent weeks, most copies of it are likely to be ignored or discarded. But if only a small percentage of teachers use it as intended, they could still mislead tens of thousands of students with it year after year.

Knowing that the other science teachers at my school received the same package, I sent an email to my department explaining what’s going on and pointing them to the National Center for Science Education’s material that refutes Heartland’s junk. I’m glad I did. I later spoke with a fellow teacher who didn’t know anything about Heartland. With that in mind, I advise that all teachers educate their coworkers when this junk mail shows up!

“They’re both theories”

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

senateWelcome to the final week of the Florida legislative session. Today, the creationist-enabling Instructional Materials bill (SB 1210) is being debated on the Senate floor. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out the Instructional Materials bills ’17 blog category here to find out why creationists, climate change deniers and anti-vaccine nuts love this bill that could impact how textbooks are chosen on the local school board level.) As of this writing, I don’t know if the bill has actually been debated yet or if that will come later. I’ve been at work all day, as I’m sure most of you have been, so I haven’t been able to monitor today’s proceedings. If I understand the process correctly, senators will just ask questions and debate the merits of the bill today without any voting. Then the bill needs to be scheduled for a full Senate vote on some later date. Of course, I could be wrong about that. I’m no expert, and it is the final week of session. I don’t know if the process can be expedited before the session ends on Friday. We’ll see.

While we wait to see what happens, the online news website Motherboard published a story today about the Instructional Materials bills: Florida Bills Would Let Citizens Remove Textbooks That Mention Climate Change and Evolution. I’m excited about the story because for the very first time, one of the main bill creators/supporters, Florida Citizens’ Alliance’s Keith Flaugh, has finally been directly confronted with our science education concerns. His thoughts on the matter are quite revealing:

Keith Flaugh, co-director of the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, a libertarian advocacy group, argued the bills are about transparency and giving communities greater say in school materials, which he said are currently being chosen by “politicized” school districts and “establishment” textbook companies.

“The science here is not proven on either side,” Flaugh said. “There are lots of scientists on both sides of that equation: Creationism versus the theory of evolution. They’re both theories. And all we’re asking for is both sides of the discussion in a balanced way be put in front of the students.”

If only this view had been drawn out of Flaugh so much earlier! I don’t know if it would have done any good. But at least now there is clear evidence that Flaugh wants something in Florida schools that has been repeatedly judged by the court system to be unconstitutional.

What happens now? Assuming the Senate bill is voted on and approved by Friday, I believe the next step is that the House and Senate versions, which have some differences, need to be reconciled before a final joint version can be forwarded to the governor for signature. Does the merging of the different versions need to happen before Friday? I don’t know. I’m out of my depth right now. Anyone with better knowledge of the process is more than welcome to chime in.

 

Marching for Science across Florida

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

The March for Science events across Florida were awesome! I attended the Space Coast March and I was genuinely excited to see how many folks attended. From the front of the march I could look back and see the mass of chanting and sign-waving people stretching out for blocks behind us. This definitely wasn’t some minor protest with a handful of die-hards. This was, in fact, a movement. And that was just from my view in Titusville. The same big crowds were seen all across Florida and the country. Check out these two photos I took. I tried to capture the size of the march as best as I could. In the first photo you can obviously see the marchers in the foreground, but then also look in the distant background: more people!

march1

march2

Here’s a story about the Space Coast March: Hundreds in Titusville march for science

“We think it is extremely important for all children to realize that science is a way of life, not just part of life. I hope this event reminds Brevard County of our roots. We are the Space Coast after all. We should all celebrate and appreciate the diversity that NASA has brought to this area and how fortunate we are to have rocket launches in our back yard.”

And here are more stories about Florida marches:

Orlando joins world in March for Science on Earth Day

“Science is inherently apolitical. There are facts, and then you make decisions based on those facts,” Emerson, 31, said.

“Science isn’t about one side being good and one side being bad. Science is about one side being right and one side being wrong,” he added.

‘Science not silence’: Hundreds of mad scientists descend on downtown Miami

Organizers said that it was more than the actions of the current administration that drove them to the streets. Protesters, like retired marine scientist Susan Markley, expressed concern over a societal shift away from science.

“I’m particularly upset that there’s a contempt for science now,” Markley said. “There’s a rejection. It’s described as an elitist approach when that’s not what it is at all.”

[Tallahassee] March for Science draws thousands, calls for education

“Science matters.”

“Science matters.”

It was the rallying cry for more than 4,000 people who attended Saturday’s March for Science in Tallahassee.

People held signs saying, “Science will not be silenced” and “The truth has no party affiliation.” They came from as far away as Fort Lauderdale and were as young as a few months old. But they all held the same belief.

Scientific integrity is important.

[Gainesville] Saturday’s March for Science draws nearly 1,000 protestors

“We’re out here because we have to be,” said Candace Biggerstaff, the assistant manager general of the chemistry lab at UF. “Before, we didn’t have to be political because science wasn’t being actively stomped on. Now this attack is forcing us to get out of our house and march down the street on a hot day in Florida. I hope the kids don’t forget this moment. I hope we continue to fight.”

We here at Florida Citizens say THANK YOU for supporting science. But don’t stop with one day of marching. Keep on marching!

 

Florida Citizens for Science on the March Saturday

Friday, April 21st, 2017

march logoFlorida Citizens for Science officers and board members will be participating in March for Science events around the state Saturday. We hope to see you at one!

President Jonathan Smith will be at the Tampa March.

Vice President Joe Wolf will be at the Lakeland March.

I’m one of the speakers at the Space Coast March.

Board Member Pete Dunkelberg and some members will be at the Orlando March. I believe they’ll have an information booth there.

Who will defend Florida science education?

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

houseWe’re facing an uphill battle as we fight against the Instructional Materials bills in the Florida legislature. We know these bills, if they become law, will almost guarantee a future fight over evolution and climate change in our classroom textbooks. It’s not just conjecture. We have unambiguous evidence.

The House version sailed through its first two committee stops on 14 to 0 and 12 to 2 votes. It’s frustrating to watch this bill go largely unchallenged and to know our valid arguments are being ignored.

But now is not the time to give up. We need to get louder. And now is your chance.

The House Education committee, the last stop before the bill moves to the full House, is going to consider the bill Thursday at 8 a.m. Call the committee members. Email them. Visit them. Make sure they hear your opposition to this horrible bill. Let them know that:

Here’s the committee member list. How many of them will commit to supporting science education?

Bileca, Michael [R] michael.bileca@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5115
Cortes, Robert “Bob” [R] Bob.Cortes@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5030
Jones, Shevrin D. “Shev” [D] Shevrin.Jones@myfloridahouse.gov(850) 717-5101
Ahern, Larry [R] larry.ahern@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5066
Antone, Bruce [D] bruce.antone@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5046
Asencio, Robert [D] Robert.Asencio@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5118
Brown, Kamia L. [D] Kamia.Brown@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5045
Diaz, Jr., Manny [R] Manny.Diaz@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5103
Donalds, Byron [R] Byron.Donalds@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5080
Latvala, Chris [R] Chris.Latvala@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5067
Lee, Jr., Larry [D] Larry.Lee@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5084
Plasencia, Rene “Coach P” [R] Rene.Plasencia@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5050
Ponder, Mel [R] mel.ponder@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5004
Porter, Elizabeth W. [R] elizabeth.porter@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5010
Raburn, Jake [R] Jake.Raburn@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5057
Russell, Barrington A. “Barry” [D] Barrington.Russell@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5095
Stone, Charlie [R] Charlie.Stone@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5022
Sullivan, Jennifer Mae [R] Jennifer.Sullivan@myfloridahouse.gov (850) 717-5031

We need to be wary. The circus is coming to town.

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

circusLast month we had intelligent design promoter Paul Nelson bumbling around in Florida promoting a documentary. Now another famous intelligent design guru, Michael Behe, is barnstorming Florida to show off a new documentary that’s all about him. He’ll be at the University of Central Florida tonight. Then he’ll move on to Clearwater and the University of South Florida Friday followed by Clearwater on Saturday. He’s tentatively scheduled to wrap up at Florida Gulf Coast University Monday. Interestingly, his presentation at a Naples church is meant for high school students only.

The reason I point out these visits is because I spent years researching the ebb and flow of anti-evolution efforts in Florida. Any time creationists come knocking, their visits are followed by a flurry of creationist shenanigans involving textbooks, or some local school board, or the state legislature. The back to back visits by Nelson and Behe make me wary. Something is up.

March for Science, Florida

Monday, January 30th, 2017

There is a March for Science movement spreading across the country and the world. The main March for Science website says:

science march 2March for Science is a grassroots effort comprised of dozens of independent, nonpartisan coordinators. Recent rhetoric has inspired us to march on Washington D.C. and in Satellite Marches across the country. Our mission statement is as follows:

THE MARCH FOR SCIENCE CHAMPIONS PUBLICLY FUNDED AND PUBLICLY COMMUNICATED SCIENCE AS A PILLAR OF HUMAN FREEDOM AND PROSPERITY. WE UNITE AS A DIVERSE, NONPARTISAN GROUP TO CALL FOR SCIENCE THAT UPHOLDS THE COMMON GOOD, AND FOR POLITICAL LEADERS AND POLICYMAKERS TO ENACT EVIDENCE-BASED POLICIES IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST.

It looks like the effort is still in its planning stages and yet it has sparked a lot of interest. There are at least six satellite marches forming here in Florida that I know of so far. If you want to participate and help in some way, check out the below list. And let me know if you know of any that need to be added.

Main March for Science being organized in Washington D.C.:
Twitter: @ScienceMarchDC
Webstie: https://www.marchforscience.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marchforscience

science march 3The main Florida March for Science account:
Twitter: @ScienceMarchFL

Tallahassee:
Twitter: @ScienceMarchTLH
Volunteer Inquires to:
sciencemarchtally@gmail.com

St. Petersburg/Tampa:
Twitter: @March4SciStPete
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MarchForScienceStPete/

University of Florida:
Twitter: @March4ScienceUF

Orlando:
Twitter: @ScienceMarchORL
Inquiries? Email: sciencemarchorlando[at]gmail[dot]com

Miami:
Twitter: @MiamiMarchforSc
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/March-For-Science-Miami-1756461831341881