I have a little bit of an eyewitness account of what happened in the Senate Pre-K – 12 committee today concerning the creationism bill (“academic freedom”) SB2692. But before I get to that I want to tell you: Don’t Panic.
Today’s committee meeting was just one hurdle. The bill was also assigned to the judiciary committee, and that hearing has yet to be scheduled. From there the bill must then go to the full Senate. There is a bill on the House side, too. It has yet to be scheduled for its education committee hearing. If it makes it out of that committee, the bill then goes before the full House. If both bills go that far and are approved in their respective chambers, any difference in the two versions must be hashed out. Finally, the bill goes to the governor. Bottom line: Don’t Panic. There are still opportunities to stop this … ahem … “smelly crap.”
Here’s something to think about, though. We are aware that the offices of the senators who are on the committee that met today were absolutely slammed with phone calls. So much so that staffers were assigned full time phone duty to handle the onslaught. Our callers were told a few times that the majority of messages were in favor of the bill. You can be sure that the organizations that have gone public with their support for these bills (Florida Baptist Witness and Florida Family Action) have mobilized their forces in a big way. If you care about science education in Florida, then you need to be making phone calls and sending letters and prodding everyone you know to do the same. Our state legislators need to know that those who support sound science education are here … and are mad!
OK, enough of the lecture. Let’s move on to the eyewitness account. What I’m relaying here comes from a person who was at the meeting. However, the information comes via e-mail to me and isn’t complete. If I can fill in some holes later I will.
At least five people (college professors and an ACLU representative) attended the committee meeting to testify against the “academic freedom” bill. Sen. Storms testified in favor of her bill. She read from a list of names of scientists who question evolution as a satisfactory theory [I guess it's the Dissent from Darwin list she used. Project Steve is a good answer to it. --Brandon] After that, each person testifying was given three minutes to speak.
In response, one person testifying against the bill chose to quote from the National Academy of Sciences document “Science, Evolution & Creationism.” He read:
“Recent calls to introduce “critical analysis” into science classes disguise a broader agenda. Other attempts to introduce creationist ideas into science employ such phrases as “teach the controversy” or “present arguments for and against evolution.” Many such calls are directed specifically at attacking the teaching of evolution or other topics that some people consider as controversial. In this way, they are intended to introduce creationist ideas into science classes, even though scientists have thoroughly refuted these ideas. Indeed, the application of critical thinking to the science curriculum would argue against including these ideas in science classes because they do not meet scientific standards” (p.52).
One committee member asked Sen. Storms what the competing theories to evolution are and she gave a non-answer. Then another committee member gave a rambling testimony of her support of the Bible and how she is against evolution. It is sad to think that she represents Florida citizens in matters such as this. It is hoped that this committee does not represent the thinking/feeling of the full Senate.
[edited to add: I spoke with the person who gave me the above account, Ron Good who is a FCS board member and Professor Emeritus, Science Education, Louisiana State University and Florida State University. He added that there were about five people against the bill (including Ron) and about 10 people for the bill. However, only five of the 10 for the bill got to speak because there was little time left during the meeting. Ron says he seriously doubts any of the people speaking had any influence on the committee's decision. It looked like all of their minds were made up already. He also said that Sen. Bullard was the one who was talking about her support for the Bible. This brief post on a Palm Beach Post blog goes into detail as to what Bullard said: "That may be brainwashing." That certainly falsifies this quote from Storms: “It’s interesting for me to note that the only folks who have brought up religion today have been those in opposition." Thank you, Ron, for your time!]
Here is a post in the St. Petersburg Times education blog about today’s vote. There is a ray of hope there:
But [Larcenia] Bullard, the lone supportive Democrat, had reservations. And she said she might not support it if a final Senate vote is taken.
“This is very confusing to me because I believe this is going to open the door for some serious problems in the public school system,” said Bullard, of Miami.
I don’t know what kind of recording goes on in these committee meetings. Hopefully, there is some audio or at least a transcript that can be requested under public records law. It would be very good to listen to or read everything that happened.
The Miami Herald has a short story posted online about some changes made to the senate bill. Essentially, Storms is trying to answer protests that she is sneaking intelligent design into the classroom. If that is the case, then what in the heck is the purpose of this bill? ID is the only anti-evolution (and yet non-scientific) flag waving right now. Could Storms please give us some scientific arguments against evolution this will would cover that are not ID or creationism based!
Storm’s changes pleased scientists like as Paul Cottle, an FSU physics professor, and Gerry Meisels, a chemistry professor at the University of South Florida. Both men helped form the new state science standards, approved last month by the Board of Education, that evolution be explicitly taught clearly and consistently for the first time in Florida public schools.
They both noted that the standards already call for critical thinking, so they questioned the motives of the religiously minded groups pushing for the bill.
“The standards are not broken. Please don’t try to fix them,” Meisels said.
I will keep the tracking the bills post updated as things move along, complete with links to committees, voting record, etc. It’s not too early to start contacting the Senate Judiciary committee members!