“Based upon the community standards”

textbookskullsThe creationist-enabling instructional materials bill was debated on the Florida Senate floor Wednesday and there were finally a few tough, pointed questions posed. We believe that if this bill becomes law, it will give creationists, climate change deniers, anti-vaccine nuts and other non-science crusaders a path to challenging textbooks that feature basic science concepts they don’t like. The bill sponsor, Sen. Tom Lee, faced a tough question or two from a couple of fellow senators during the debate. But the questions missed the mark, unfortunately, and Sen. Lee’s answers didn’t soothe our concerns.

The first thing to note is that the Senate was debating the House version of the bill. If Lee continued to pursue the Senate version and got it approved by the full Senate, it would have to be reconciled with the different House version. There’s not enough time left in the legislative session for that. So, the Senate version was set aside and replaced with the House version, which had been approved by the full House. Lee’s hope is that his fellow senators will be OK with the House version, thus avoiding the entire negotiation process of merging the two different versions.

You can see the Senate video from Wednesday here. Go to the 1:11:00 mark, which is where debate on the instructional materials bill begins. Lee explains what the differences between the Senate and House versions are. Then he answers questions about the bill allowing any resident to file a complaint, the possibility of the instructional materials adoption process being lengthened, and concerns about bilingual versions of materials being affected. Then at about 1:21:00 Sen. Jeff Clemens asked:

If there was a group of parents in a county that wanted to make sure that the school textbooks no longer had any reference to evolution or the Holocaust, how would they go about removing those pieces of history from our textbooks? What would be the process?

Sen. Lee responded:

Well, what I would see happening is they would, under the bill, they would find provisions of those books, ostensibly objectionable, they would raise the issue with the school district but then they would be summarily dismissed because in subsection 2B of the bill on line 122 their objections are really limited to things that contain pornography as defined in Florida statute, and they are not suited to the students’ needs and their ability to comprehend the underlying subject matter. So, when you get into things like biology, when you get into things like sex education, when you get into some of those subjects, there’s certain instructional materials that, you know, you can’t really teach the subject without going there. So, this provision here in the bill is designed to protect people from extracting from the instructional materials those things that are essential in order to learn the underlying subject matter.

That’s good news. Lee says the bill doesn’t give permission for citizens to demand evolution be stripped from the instructional materials. But I’m not entirely convinced. I recommend that you check out the text of the bill for yourself: HB 989. My concern isn’t with line 122 referenced by Sen. Lee. Rather, I’m worried about lines 116-121:

a. An instructional material does not meet the criteria of s. 1006.31(2) or s. 1006.40(3)(d) if it was selected for use in a course or otherwise made available to students in the school district but was not subject to the public notice, review, comment, and hearing procedures under s. 1006.283(2)(b)8., 9., and 11.

Florida statute 1006.31(2) says that instructional materials shall be “accurate, objective, balanced, noninflammatory, current, and suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented.” I can see creationists claiming that biology books aren’t “objective” or “balanced” or “noninflammatory.” And if the local school district doesn’t dot their I’s and cross their T’s in the review process, creationists could cry foul.

And I’m not sure that the folks behind this bill, the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, would use this potential law to try to remove evolution from textbooks. Instead, they are seeking “balance.” Remember this recent quote (Florida Bills Would Let Citizens Remove Textbooks That Mention Climate Change and Evolution)?

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.”

Further heightening my anxiety is the fact that later in the debate Sen. Lee referenced the “sworn affidavits” provided by Florida Citizens’ Alliance as proof that the bill is needed. Sen. Lee had mentioned in the debate that citizens in “certain areas” of the state were having problems with their local school boards not listening to their complaints. Sen. Aubrey Gibson asked why a statewide bill was needed if the problems were just in a few areas. Sen. Lee said:

Well, the reason I used the term “certain areas” of the state is because I know that — I don’t have that information with me today —  but in committee there were affidavits presented from various school districts around the state — they weren’t isolated in one particular district or one particular region of the state but from around the state where certain instructional materials were objected to and there was not a process for them to get redress. And the whole idea here is not to create some cumbersome expensive process but to make the point that while we have a state list, and that’s sort of a safe harbor for districts to choose from, that based upon the community standards of particular areas of our state, some may find certain elements of those instructional materials objectionable. I don’t know how frequently that’s happening but I know it’s happening.

Take a look at what the affidavits he referred to contain:

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.

Does Sen. Lee even know what’s in the very affidavits he’s using as evidence?

The bottom line is that I don’t believe this bill would kick wide open the front door for the removal of evolution or climate change from textbooks. But I do believe it leaves unlocked the back door for anti-science folks to slip in and ask for some type of “balance” or blatant misuse of the word “theory.”

At the time of this writing (about 6:45 p.m. Thursday), the bill has not received its final vote in the Senate. It looks like the senators will be working into the night, keeping in mind that Friday is the final day of the regular session. We’ll just have to wait to see what happens.

(If you want some more background on this bill, check out the Instructional Materials bills ’17 blog category here.)

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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