Archive for March, 2017

These dangerous bills need to be disarmed

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

An op-ed I wrote was published in today’s Daytona Beach News Journal: Bills threaten science education

Of concern to science advocates like us is the Collier group’s vociferous opposition to established, accurate science concepts. Among their targeted objectionable materials are lessons about evolution and climate change. The single most alarming statement from the bills’ supporters is this analysis of a textbook passage about evolution: “Nowhere in the material is a balanced discussion of the biblical explanation.” This week, the bill’s supporters offered affidavits from parents who said their complaints about textbooks were “ignored.” Among those affidavits, I found complaints about evolution and climate change.

Giving these grossly unscientific views a voice equal to education and science experts in the choosing of instructional materials is irresponsible and does a disservice to our children. Confusing and inaccurate science lessons based on bad instructional materials could discourage students from seeking out science careers or immediately put students academically behind their peers in college.

Please share widely. Our opposition is crowing about their success so far, saying: “Senators’ aides told us they were flooded with calls.” We can only counter that if you help us. Drown out their calls with ours. If you sit idly by, our schools and our students lose.

Quick Bills Updates

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

Old_and_New_Florida_State_Capitol,_Tallahassee,_East_view_20160711_1This is a quick update on the Religious Liberties and Instructional Materials bills we’re watching in the Florida legislature.

Religious Liberties:

The bill successfully passed through all Senate committees and the full Senate approved it on a 23-13 vote.

The House version successfully passed through all committees and is awaiting its full House vote.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State opposes this bill: Fla. Legislators Push To Turn Public Schools Into Mission Fields.

Most troubling, these bills will harm students’ religious freedom. Both SB 436 and HB 303 would require teachers to permit religious expression in all school assignments without penalty, opening the door for students who so desire to use class time to proselytize and advance their own religious views on classmates. A student, for example, could use every assignment that includes a class presentation as an opportunity to convince any non-believers in the class that they need to accept Jesus to achieve salvation. Alternatively, students in science classes could try to turn every class discussion into a debate about evolution vs. creationism.

Instructional Materials:

The bill passed through one Senate committee and is waiting to be scheduled for its only other committee stop before the full Senate considers it.

The House version passed through one committee and is waiting to be scheduled for two other committee stops before the full House considers it.

The Tampa Bay Times Gradebook blog briefly mentions our concerns about this bill and also shows we’re not the only folks opposed to the bill: Concern mounts over textbook, coding bills as they gain steam in Florida Legislature.

Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science posted on the group’s blog this indictment: “It’s unanimous … Florida lawmakers disregard danger to science education.”

He and others pointed to the affidavits submitted by bill supporters, in which they complain about such things as evolution being taught as fact rather than theory, and said the Legislature must beware the motivations.

And the National Center for Science Education is also keeping an eye on developments here: Antiscience bills progress in Florida.

Both bills were amended in committee before they passed, eliminating two worrisome provisions (involving eligibility to file a complaint and consistency of instructional materials with the state science standards).

But in a March 27, 2017, blog post, Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science emphasized that passage of the bills even as amended would threaten to inundate local school boards with scientifically unfounded attacks on climate change and evolution.

To demonstrate his point, Haught cited affidavits submitted in support of the bills that complained, e.g., “I have witnessed students being taught evolution as a fact … rather than a theory … I have witnessed children being taught that Global Warming is a reality.”

“I have witnessed children being taught that Global Warming is a reality.”

Monday, March 27th, 2017

climate changeI believe we can defeat the bad Instructional Materials bills making their way through the Florida Senate and House (see our Instructional Materials bills ’17 blog category for information about these bills). I believe we can offer substantial resistance to these bills by simply emphasizing our opponent’s own materials. They’re handing us a treasure trove of evidence of their true motivations. We just have to spotlight how blatantly anti-science the bills’ supporters are and how the Florida education system could once again be the butt of national jokes over anti-evolution and climate change denial in our schools.

The bill’s supporters have been waving their very own “Objectionable Materials” list in everyone’s faces as evidence for the need for these awful bills (see my previous post “Nowhere in the material is a balanced discussion of the biblical explanation” for a breakdown of anti-science tomfoolery that’s in there).

Now we have an even richer supply of evidence. Besides the Objectionable Materials list, I’ve learned that our opposition has also been emphatically imploring lawmakers to read through a stack of 31 sworn affidavits from citizens who are upset about what’s being taught in their local schools. I took the time to read them and guess what I found? Several complaints about evolution and climate change. Here’s just a sample:

From 17-02-02 Cash_Mary_Ellen_Collier.pdf:

b. I have witnessed students being taught evolution as a fact of creation rather than a theory. Parental objections are ignored.
c. I have witnessed children being taught that Global Warming is a reality. Now that it is colder and the country is experiencing repeated Cold Waves, the new term is Climate Change. When parents question these theories, they are ignored.

From 17-02-10_Daniel_Lynda_Martin.pdf:

Presentation of evolution as fact and romanticizing and fantasizing Paleolithic human life: P. 3-4 Again, a one-sided, slanted, secular world view OPINION presented as fact. The vast majority of Americans believe that the world and the beings living on it were created by God as revealed in the Bible.

The text includes 9 pages on creation myths from Australia (‘Dreamtime’), as well as repeated referrals to the big bang and evolution as facts; however, there is only passing reference to, and no explanation of the Biblical version of creation.

From David_Bolduc_Collier.pdf:

High School Honors Biology textbooks teach that Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is the greatest scientific discovery in the last 200 years. This is ridiculous when you research Charles Darwin, and find he was the largest promoter of Eugenics, a race-based pseudoscience which espoused using the force of government to sterilize or separate the “unfit” from society.

From Deirde_Clemons_1_Collier.pdf:

The majority of Science material revolves around climate change, earth-first issues, and evolution. Evolution is now taught as fact. You will not find the words ‘theory’ or ‘evolution’ in the 6th grade World History book in Collier County, however, you will learn that you were preceded by four hominids in your ancestry.

There’s quite a few more examples at their affidavits page. Don’t let the bill’s supporters get away with this. School boards across the state will be buried under complaints like the ones above. And these Instructional Materials bills will force the school boards to hire a hearing officer to take these complaints seriously. The process will be a massive waste of time, money and resources. Not only that, but any school board that gives in could then face unwinnable lawsuits that will be financial and publicity nightmares.

Call lawmakers. Tell them to please go ahead a read the materials our opposition is giving them. Point out to them that the anti-science complaints alone will be a bottomless pit of quicksand for school boards across the state. I’m not qualified to analyze all of the other complaints listed in the affidavits and the objectionable materials list, but if these science whoopers are any indication, I imagine there are many other incredible claims that will cause just as many headaches.

If lawmakers refuse to hear us, then take our case to the public. Talk to reporters. Write letters to the editor. Write op-eds. Share this information with friends, family, and other groups you belong to. Spread it like wildfire on social media.

In other words, do something. Our schools and students lose if you don’t.

It’s unanimous … Florida lawmakers disregard danger to science education

Monday, March 27th, 2017

TextbooksThe bad instructional materials bills that we believe can open up the doors of our schools to grossly anti-science ideologies cruised through two committee meetings today.

The Senate Education Committee gave a favorable report on a unanimous 9-0 vote.

The House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee gave a favorable report on a unanimous 14-0 vote.

I wasn’t able to view or listen to either meeting. I hope to watch the recordings but I don’t know that I’ll have the time anytime soon. If you were able to watch, or if you can watch the recordings, I encourage you to give us a report on what happened in the comments or via email. We need to know if our concerns were brought up at all. (Links to the Senate Education Committee video can be found on this page. Links to the House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee video can be found on this page.)

I know that it’s frustrating to lose. But this was just one round. The Senate bill still must go through the Appropriations Committee. The House bill still must go through the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee and the Education Committee.

If our voices weren’t heard in today’s committees, then that should give us the motivation to be even louder the next time.

Contact lawmakers on the committees by both phone and email (use the above committee links). Make sure you clearly state your opposition to the bills and why you’re opposed. Emphasize the harm to science education and why our concerns are real and must NOT be dismissed as far-fetched (see our post “Nowhere in the material is a balanced discussion of the biblical explanation” for details about our issues with the bill and the evidence for our claims.) Explain to them the humiliation Florida experienced the past few times creationism became a statewide education issue.

I know we all have jobs and responsibilities at home, but is anyone possibly available to go to Tallahassee to speak at any of the future committee meetings? Our opposition has multiple representatives hard at work there. We need to have a turn at the microphone.

Use the comments section of this post. Email Florida Citizens for Science board members or give us a call. We need your help and we need to hear from you.

What are you going to do to defend science education today?

Who will determine what is noninflammatory, objective, and balanced?

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

The bad Instructional Materials for K-12 Public Education bills are both seeing action this week.

houseIn the Florida House:

On Monday at 12:30 the House version (HB 989) will be considered by the PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee. However, the bill might change. A proposed committee substitute has been filed, which, if approved, would replace the original version.

I’ve looked over the proposed replacement and I see that the part allowing any taxpayer to challenge instructional materials has been changed to “a parent or a resident of the county.” That narrows the potential for trouble from carpetbaggers from anywhere to just local folks.

Another change is that the bill is shorter by six pages primarily due to the removal of a lot of specific language such as one thing we here at Florida Citizens for Science have been questioning: instructional materials must “Provide a noninflammatory, objective, and balanced viewpoint on issues.” The tricky thing is that it’s not actually gone. Instead of spelling it out, the bill now simply refers to various existing Florida statutes, such as 1006.31, which states: “Instructional materials recommended by each reviewer shall be, to the satisfaction of each reviewer, accurate, objective, balanced, noninflammatory, current, and suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented.”

So, our concerns about how this bill could affect science education aren’t going away. Statements made by the Collier County group that recruited lawmakers to file and sponsor these bill need to be spotlighted. Please go back and read my previous post about how they complain that evolution passages in textbooks don’t have “a balanced discussion of the biblical explanation” and they praised an apparently successful effort in Brevard County to keep materials out of the schools partly because they contain statements about human-caused global climate.

I encourage you to read the House Staff Analysis for the bill. It is a helpful document as it outlines what effects the bill would have if approved. One interesting part of the bill is:

The [bill] revises provisions relating to a school district’s process for challenging the adoption of an instructional material by:

  • allowing a resident of the county to challenge the school district’s adoption of an instructional material; and
  • requiring the process to meet the procedural safeguards of the Administrative Procedures Act relating to the appointment of an unbiased and qualified hearing officer. The officer may not be an employee, agent, or contractor of the school district.

Right now, I believe that once a school board makes a decision about the use instructional materials that someone has challenged, that decision is final. But if I understand correctly, this bill would require the appointment of a hearing officer.

senateIn the Florida Senate:

Meanwhile, the Senate version (SB 1210) will be considered by the Education Committee Monday at 1:30. So far, I don’t see any indication that there are any changes to that bill.

Call to Action:

Both committee meetings will be held in the afternoon. That gives you time in the morning to contact all of the lawmakers on each committee to register your concerns and opposition to these dangerous bills. Go to the committee webpages and click on each lawmaker’s link to find their email and phone information. If anyone wants to compile that information for ease of use, please feel free to do so in the comments. I encourage you to highlight the Collier County group’s own opposition statements about evolution and climate change. It would be invaluable to have lawmakers bring them up during the committee meetings as evidence against these awful bills.

Religious Liberties bills nearing finish line

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

The Florida Senate approved the bad Religious Liberties bill (SB 436) on a vote of 23-13.

The version in the House (HB 303) passed through both of its committee stops on unanimous yes votes and will now go to the full House.

The only thing that will stop or modify it is the fact that the House and Senate versions are a bit different. That means that when the House approves their version, there needs to be negotiations between the two chambers until they agree on a final bill. If they can’t agree, the bill can die. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

baxleyOur arguments were either not heard by Florida’s lawmakers or they were dismissed as unimportant. An article published today at least mentions our concern: Senate OKs school religious expression bill.

The bill (SB 436) says school districts may not discriminate against any student, parent or school employee because they shared their religious viewpoint.

But those opposed to the bill say it could open the door from everything from cracking down on science teachers who teach evolution to allowing Christian students to intimidate those of other faiths.

“Could it be provoking? Could it be concerning? Yeah, that’s healthy thought. That’s what happens in a free world,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and sponsor of the bill.

Sen. Baxley has been advocating for years for challenging evolution lessons in our schools (see our post Baxley and the Religious Liberties Act). If this bill passes, he may finally get his wish.

Opening the door to unscientific, religious concepts in a public school science classroom is not “provoking” or “healthy.” It’s doing a disservice to our children who could become confused or misled about what is and is not science.

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

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

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

Monday, March 20th, 2017

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.