Archive for the 'Controversial Theories bill 2017/18' Category

Antiscience Bills Update 12/8/17

Friday, December 8th, 2017

Here’s a quick update on the bills we’re watching in the Florida legislature. The legislative session doesn’t actually kick off until Jan. 8 but bills can be pre-filed in preparation for the session and those bills can be assigned to committees and possibly even heard and voted on during committee meetings before the session. With that in mind, here’s what’s happening:

House Bill 827: Instructional Materials

Link to bill here.

“A controversial new state law that makes it easier for Florida residents to challenge books used in public schools could get overhauled next year so those who dislike certain texts could also suggest replacements they find more appropriate.” (Orlando Sentinel, 12/1/17)

Today (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. It should be noted that the person who filed this bill, Rep. Byron Donalds, is on this committee.

At this time, this bill has no counterpart in the Senate.

Senate Bill 966: Educational Standards for K-12 Public Schools

Link to bill here.

Florida’s Senate Bill 966, prefiled on November 17, 2017, would, if enacted, require “[c]ontroversial theories and concepts … [to] be taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner,” while allowing local school districts to use either the state science standards or alternatives “equivalent to or more rigorous than” them. Although there is no indication in the bill about which “theories and concepts” are deemed to be “controversial,” much less any guidance about adjudicating disputes about which are and which are not, it is suggestive that the bill’s sole sponsor, Dennis Baxley (R-District 12), has a history of antievolution advocacy. (NCSE, 11/20/17)

On Dec. 4, the bill was referred to three committees: Education, Appropriations, and Rules. It should be noted that the bill sponsor, Sen. Dennis Baxley, is on the Appropriation committee.

House Bill 825: Educational Standards For K-12 Public Schools

Link to bill here. This is the companion bill to SB 966.

Florida’s House Bill 825, prefiled on November 28, 2017, would, if enacted, require “[c]ontroversial theories and concepts … [to] be taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner,” while allowing local school districts to use either the state science standards or alternatives “equivalent to or more rigorous than” them. (NCSE, 11/29/17)

Today (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.

You need to be active now!

As you can see, these bills are live and on the move. The time to contact your local legislators is now, not later. Try to meet with them in person, especially if they’re serving on any of the committees these bills will be in front of. We can’t stop these bills without YOU!

“Florida’s Bible belt runs the show in Tallahassee”

Friday, November 24th, 2017

Most Floridians are still enjoying their turkey eating and deal hunting and so not much is developing concerning the filing in our state legislature of an “academic freedom act” bill by Sen. Dennis Baxley. It was introduced quietly last Friday and as soon as I was alerted to it I spread the word to education reporters across the state. But it’s Thanksgiving week and so many reporters are enjoying a few days off and I presume Baxley is unavailable for comment anyway. So, we won’t see any Baxley quotes or in-depth reporting for a while yet. Nonetheless, the Orlando Sentinel did get us started with a quick story, as I posted about earlier.

But Sun-Sentinel columnist Fred Grimm wasted no time tearing into the bill along with other past creationist shenanigans in his piece: Darwin deniers inject religiosity into Florida biology classes. Here’s just a couple of samples of his take.

But it’s that damned Darwinian theory of natural selection that has these activists frothing. That’s what inspired Ocala state Sen. Dennis Baxley, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida, to introduce yet another bill last week designed to muddle science education in Florida’s public schools. Baxley filed legislation that require “controversial theories and concepts must be taught in a factual, objective and balanced manner.” That same coded language has shown up in legislation in other southern states where lawmakers are intent on injecting ol’ time religion into biology lesson plans.

But thanks to the magic of gerrymandering, Florida’s Bible belt runs the show in Tallahassee. God and guns are our priorities. (The Florida Citizens Alliance website also complains, “Our kids are being indoctrinated in our public schools and being taught that our 2nd Amendment right to self-defense is outdated. They are being taught to support gun control and depend on government to protect them.”)

Except this kind of civic leadership leaves Florida with an intellectual contradiction. Even while we support medical researchers worried about the evolution of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, and astronomers who measure distances by millions of light years, we’ve got politicians wanting Florida school children taught that our entire biosphere clocks in at just under 7,000 years old.

But I wouldn’t bet against Sen. Baxley’s bill. The chairman of the Governmental Oversight and Accountability has real power in Tallahassee. Back in 2005, as a member of the House of Representatives, he was co-sponsor of Florida’s infamous Stand Your Ground legislation. Earlier this year, he pushed through a “religious expressions” bill, giving public school students the right to express religious beliefs in school assignments, wear religious clothing and jewelry to school and to “pray or engage in and organize religious activities before, during and after the school day.”

Go read the whole thing for yourself. It’s definitely educational.

What amazes me is that the Alliance has yet to say anything about the bill or the negative response to it yet. Interesting.

The controversy “will never be over”

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

The Orlando Sentinel’s School Zone blog posted a short story about the new “controversial theories” bill recently filed by Sen. Dennis Baxley: Sen. Baxley files school bill to require ‘controversial’ science topics be taught in ‘balanced’ way.

State Sen. Dennis Baxley, who once said controversy about evolution being taught in public schools “will never be over,” wants to make Florida school districts teach “controversial theories” in science subjects in a “balanced” manner.

It’s just a quick story with no new quotes. I imagine details will emerge when reporters can interview Baxley after the Thanksgiving holiday. Nonetheless, the word about this bill is starting to spread. A reporter for the Palm Beach Democrat offered a strong opinion about it:

Baxley is the former executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida, and similar language has been used in other states to force science classes to treat evolution as though it were controversial when it is not. Neither is climate change. Or the moon landing. As a journalist, I’m all about being factual, objective and balanced, but I also don’t feel a need to get a quote from a flat-earther every time I mention our planet.

The story is also making the rounds on Twitter where one person tweeted: “Bills going nowhere for $500 Alex.” In other words, that person is predicting the bill will sputter and die. We absolutely can’t let that dismissive attitude flourish! We must treat this bill seriously and do everything we can to defeat it. Keep in mind these points:

  • Baxley sponsored last session’s Religious Liberties in Schools bill (link goes to our blog category of all posts on that topic) that successfully became law. This law will eventually open up a Pandora’s Box of trouble for a school district should any teachers or school staff decide that it protects their right to freely express religious beliefs to students.
  • Last session’s horrible Instructional Materials bill (link goes to our blog category of all posts on that topic) successfully became law and has already led to one school district having to deal with a citizen protesting evolution’s place in the schools’ textbooks. It’s not a matter of if, but when more complaints pop up.
  • The Instructional Materials bill was written and heavily promoted by the Florida Citizens Alliance. That group went on the record several times complaining about evolution and climate change: “[Florida Citizens’ Alliance’s Keith] Flaugh said his group will use it [Religious Liberties bill] in conjunction with the instructional materials bill to contest textbooks that demonstrate ‘bias toward Islam and seldom mention Christianity,’ and promote those that push for a Christian view of the origins of life. ‘Darwin’s theory is a theory, and the biblical view is a theory, and our kids should be taught both in a balanced way,’ he said.” The Alliance is also behind this new “controversial theories” bill.
  • Bills directly targeting evolution were approved by the Florida House and Senate back in 2008. The only reason they didn’t become law was that the two versions needed to be reconciled but weren’t by the time the session ended.
  • Oh by the way, I wrote a book that’s all about Florida’s constant conflicts over evolution in the schools. I’m also a high school science teacher. I know what I’m talking about.

Yes, this is serious. We can’t let Florida follow Louisiana down the “academic freedom act” rabbit hole. Start contacting your local lawmakers now.

“Controversial theories” science education bill filed in Florida senate

Monday, November 20th, 2017

We’ve got a live one.

This past Friday Sen. Dennis Baxley filed a bill in our state legislature concerning public education. Senate Bill 966’s purpose is to revise “the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards; providing that such standards are the minimum baseline core content standards for K-12 public schools.” In other words, Baxley would like the use of our state standards to be only the minimum school districts should strive for. They’re encouraged to consider adopting their own set of standards that are “equivalent to or better than these [state] standards.”

What is that all about? Baxley wants school districts to go beyond the basic standards. He wants to allow school districts to raise the bar, so to speak, and challenge schools and their students with more rigorous standards.

Well, that’s what Baxley is trying to sell us. But we can see what he’s really after by reading further into the bill. Go to page three, 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.

Ah, yes, good ol’ “controversial theories.”

Where did this bill come from? Baxley clearly is working closely with the creationist, climate-change-denying group Florida Citizens Alliance. They had announced last month they were working on this bill.

And they found a wonderful sponsor for their bill. Baxley 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 my book 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.

And that’s not all. 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.

There are plenty of other things in this new controversial theories bill about other academic subjects that could potentially raise alarms for those teachers and subject matter experts. But our focus is, of course, the clear attack on science education, specifically evolution and climate change. This Washington Post article from earlier this year 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.

This is developing into an all out war against science education in Florida. New laws about the challenging of textbooks (see our Instructional Materials bills ’17 blog category) and religious liberties (see our Religious Liberties Act ’17 blog category) are meant to chip away at classroom science instruction and now this newly proposed bill is trying to blast a hole right through its heart.

Are you ready to help us fight back?