U.S. Senator from Florida blasts instructional materials law

Bill_NelsonU.S. Senator from Florida Bill Nelson seized upon all of the press generated by his state’s new instructional materials law to stand up for science on Monday and accuse Gov. Rick Scott of being anti-science: In Senate floor speech, Bill Nelson takes aim at Rick Scott and GOP’s ‘war on science’

Nelson took aim at a bill sponsored by Naples House Republican Bryon Donald that will allow anyone in the state to challenge and possibly change what kids are learning in public schools. The senator said he feared that could chill discussion on climate change in Florida schools.

“Sea-level rise in South Florida is a fact,” he began.

Unfortunately, Nelson makes a mistake here:

“But if there are some who object to that climate science, then, under this new law just signed by the governor, they are going to be able to object to that subject being taught in our public schools and a single hearing officer will determine — a single hearing officer – will determine — lord only knows who that officer is appointed by — that single person will determine under the new law if the objection is justified and they can force a local public school to remove the subject from its curriculum.”

He’s right to be worried about who that hearing officer could be. But the hearing officer doesn’t make any final decisions. He or she only makes a recommendation to the school board, which makes the final decision. Read the final version of the law here (pdf file). Also, it’s unlikely that this law will be used to remove subjects from the curriculum. The curriculum is mainly driven by the state science standards. Instead, school boards could alter what’s in instructional materials, such as textbooks, online materials, workbooks, etc. In other words, evolution and climate change won’t be erased. Rather, those subjects might be watered down or “balanced” with other unscientific ideas (intelligent design or climate change denial arguments).

For instance, the law’s authors and supporters said:

“Darwin’s theory is a theory, and the biblical view is a theory, and our kids should be taught both in a balanced way,” [Florida Citizens’ Alliance’s Keith Flaugh] said.

And that goal was repeated:

“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.”

And it was repeated yet again:

“We’re not trying to ban books,” said Keith Flaugh, founder of the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, which pushed for that state’s bill.

He said his group is seeking balance in school instruction, including teaching both evolution and creationism and the various arguments about climate change.

Despite Sen. Nelson’s error, we appreciate that he is aware of the law and its potential negative impact on science education. Thank you, sir.

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