Here’s a quick roundup of events and news from the past few days …
A couple of newspaper columnists seized on the news article produced by the Associated Press recently (I wrote about it in my previous post Teaching that global warming is caused by human activity is “blatant indoctrination”).
Bill Maxwell, from the Tampa Bay Times said Welcome to Florida, the benighted state.
One of Florida’s three nicknames is the Sunshine State. We should add at least one more: the Benighted State.
You see, our anti-intellectual lawmakers in Tallahassee recently passed a law that institutionalizes academic censorship in our public schools. These politicians are urged on by the ultra-conservative group the Florida Citizens Alliance, anti-science zealots.
Daniel Ruth, also from the Tampa Bay Times said Classrooms need some controversy for learning.
And a group called Florida Citizens’ Alliance argues that teaching stuff like evolution and climate change shouldn’t be allowed to muddle the minds of our precious youth without equally including creationism, as well as the belief by some that global warming is a hoax.
Indeed, one Nassau County resident scholar suggested schools should teach that life was created on Earth by space aliens. What would be the source material for this curriculum? Plan 9 From Outer Space?
The Daytona Beach News Journal published an editorial Textbook law could cause headaches.
The problem arises when people exploit that expanded freedom for purely ideological reasons. The Florida Citizens’ Alliance is a conservative group that pushed for the new law, arguing that many districts ignored challenges or addressed them with committees that were stacked in the districts’ favor. The alliance particularly has problems with the way evolution and climate change are taught in science classes; it wants students to hear counterarguments the organization approves of.
And the Orlando Sentinel noted the new bill pre-filed for the next legislative session that targets textbooks yet again (I posted about it at: Another “controversial theories” bill filed and other bad news) in the news story: Florida could expand challenges to school textbooks.
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.
The proposed changes are in a bill (HB 827) filed by Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, a co-sponsor of the initial bill (HB 989) signed into law in June.
And, of course, our friends at the National Center for Science Education are spreading the word: A new instructional materials bill in Florida.
Florida’s House Bill 827, prefiled on November 28, 2017, would, if enacted, revise the procedures for adopting instructional materials to permit members of the public to recommend instructional materials for consideration by the state or their district school board, which would then be required to get in touch with the publisher of those materials and allow it to submit a bid for evaluation.
Meanwhile, the folks at the Florida Citizens’ Alliance aren’t happy with the negative press they’re getting. They went so far as to issue a press release:
The bill in no way promotes a narrow ideology. It opens the conversation to everyone and welcomes factual, objective conversation about important issues.
Controversial Theories Bill
Surprisingly, there has been no news at all about this bill lately. I’m genuinely shocked that Sen. Baxley hasn’t been put on the spot yet about the bill (see my previous post “Controversial theories” science education bill filed in Florida senate). Perhaps because there are so many other high profile news stories there just hasn’t been time for reporters to tackle this one yet. And it might just be on the back burner until the legislative session starts. But the fireworks will start eventually.
Constitution Revision Commission
Some Florida Citizens for Science members and friends traveled to Tallahassee Nov 29 to testify against the proposed change to our state constitution that would “remove the prohibition against using public revenues in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or any sectarian institution.” (I wrote about why we’re concerned the proposal at Education a target for Constitution Revision Commission.) Jiri Hulcr and Joseph Richardson sent this report of their experience, reprinted with permission:
Joseph Richardson and I have just come back from a meeting of the Constitution Revision Commission in Tallahassee. The main topic of today’s agenda was whether to place on a public voting ballot the proposal to delete the No Aid clause of the Florida Constitution that bans the State from supporting religious organizations with tax-revenue money.
It was one of the most troubling experiences in my recent memory. I believe that we have witnessed the right-wing political machine at work. It was obvious that the decisions of the individual committee members have been made long before the meeting. Many of the commissioners are politically appointed by governor Scott, others are drawn from other branches of the current government, and as a result this critically important body is much more a reflection of the current conservative representatives than of the state’s population. There were only four members of the public that spoke: three against the proposal, one (a representative of a catholic bishop conference) in support. The proposal passed 7 to 1 [the website says the vote was 5-1], quickly, with little discussion among the committee members. The Florida voters will soon be asked to decide whether to get rid of one of the few remaining pieces in the state legislature that prevent religious organizations pushing religious agenda, particularly education, using your taxes.
The most troubling aspect was the behavior of some of the committee members. There was not even a pretext of unbiased and prudent deliberation. Commissioner Stemberger in particular was wallowing in excitement as he proceeded to lecture about the benefits of connecting, not separating, church and state. […] Here are a few transcribed gems: “By getting rid of [the No Aid clause] we are getting more human flourishing, better education… Faith is a public good. Faith provides amazing richness and services. […] It is smart for the government to decentralize its services… The purpose of the First Amendment was NOT to protect non-religious people from religion…. Our job [as the Committee] is not to be successful, it is to be faithful.”
Is this legal? Is this the appropriate process? Can the committee’s explicit, blatant bias be challenged on this ground?
If you’re interested in watching the comments, the video is available online. Jiri starts at about 1:55:00 and Joseph immediately follows him.
Here’s a news article about the vote: Panel wants end of Florida constitution ban on state cash for religion
The Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years and has the power to place proposed constitutional amendments on the November 2018 ballot. Martinez’s proposal to eliminate the no-aid provision is one of dozens of proposals being considered by the commission.
Adkins warned commission members that adding a “controversial” provision like the no-aid proposal could jeopardize the commission’s entire slate of measures. She noted a similar no-aid constitutional amendment failed in 2012 with only 44.5 percent support from voters.
Martinez’s proposal next heads to the commission’s Education Committee. If it moves forward to the full 37-member commission, it will need at least 22 votes to go before voters in November 2018.
We here at Florida Citizens for Science are busy keeping track of these issues and others. We’re submitting public records requests to Palm Beach County, Nassau County and Brevard County to find out all that we can about complaints about evolution in textbooks filed in those counties. We’ll let you know what we discover.