The following press release has been sent out. Our media page is available for any interested reporters.
SO-CALLED “ACADEMIC FREEDOM” BILLS ARE NEEDLESS AND TREACHEROUS
Senate bill 2692, “evolution academic freedom act” will be going before the Judiciary committee Tuesday. The Senate bill and its companion House bill are raising serious concerns among Florida educators, scientists and parents. The senate bill’s recent easy passage through the Pre-K – 12 committee is alarming due to the bill’s questionable purpose, likelihood for lawsuits, and the potential it has for disrupting sound science education.
New state science standards already encourage questioning
The bills serve no secular, academic purpose. Freedom of academic inquiry is already provided for in the new state science standards, approved by the Florida Board of Education in February. The Pre-K – 12 committee’s own bill analysis, prepared in advance of the meeting, clearly highlighted this fact. The bill proponents’ call for “academic freedom” is a political ploy that attempts to paint anyone in opposition to it as un-American and against education. Academic freedom, as commonly used and understood, does not apply to the public school classroom, but rather applies to university level research. Students in high school are certainly not doing cutting-edge research. Instead, they’re learning what real researchers have discovered so that one day these students can then explore their own new frontiers.
“K-12 students are already learning about all of science through inquiry-based instruction where they always must ask: ‘what is the evidence to support that information and how do scientists obtain it?'” said Mary Bahr, Marion County middle school science teacher and one of the writers of the new state science standards. “This already opens up everything taught to questioning by both teachers and students, while teaching the nature of science and science content together. Not only is this an exceptional teaching method for science, it’s a lot of fun!”
These bills would encourage irresponsibility when classroom instruction incorporates materials without accountability, treating them as having comparable credibility with those of the legitimate science curriculum.
“The bills would make science education less uniform and standardized between districts,” said Joe Wolf, Winter Haven resident and president of Florida Citizens for Science. “Science is science, whether in Valrico or Miami; and Valrico students need to compete in the same global information economy as students from Miami, New York City, or Tokyo. That’s why the state has new uniform science standards, which were widely praised by scientists.”
Expensive lawsuits would draw unwelcome attention
These bills, if approved, will eventually invite expensive lawsuits during a time when our state is in a financial crisis. An ACLU representative who spoke at the Pre-K – 12 committee’s meeting warned the legislators about this. Ignoring such a warning is irresponsible and does not serve the public’s or Florida students’ best interests. Sen. Ronda Storms, who introduced the Senate bill, is quoted in the St. Petersburg Times on March 11: “Under this bill, if you have a teacher who is pro-evolution and every student is intelligent design … that teacher is safe to teach that as a theory.”
Rep. D. Alan Hays hosted an embarrassing event in early March with a representative from the Seattle, Wash.-based Discovery Institute and the star and production team from a grossly anti-science tirade film. The film, which was screened for Florida state legislators but closed to the public and media, explicitly and deplorably tries to blame the Holocaust on evolution. Furthermore, the proposed bills are clearly modeled on one provided by the Discovery Institute, an organization reliably documented as having as one of its goals: “To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.”
The Discovery Institute has vocally advocated intelligent design, trying to pass it off as real science. The teaching of intelligent design was shut down during an expensive court case in Dover, Pa., resulting in intense international media scrutiny. Intelligent design was found to be strongly linked to its creationist predecessors, devoid of anything scientific and thus ruled unconstitutional on church-state separation grounds. Even more specifically–and particularly relevant to Florida–is that the “evidence against evolution” form of Intelligent Design was already considered in a court of law and found to be unconstitutionally religious.
Bills’ supporters demonstrate science ignorance
It certainly stretches credibility to listen to Storms and Hays with the above verifiable information in mind and then later believe them when they claim the bills have nothing to do with intelligent design or religion. Their bills have a highly suspect purpose. Neither Storms nor Hays have offered any credible examples of scientific challenges to evolution. As a matter of fact, Hays has gone on record displaying what can’t be termed as anything other than complete ignorance of evolution when he is quoted in the St. Petersburg Times on March 6 as saying: “No one yet has found a half-animal of this or a half-insect of that. And they certainly haven’t found any half ape and half man.”
It’s outrageous that any lawmaker would so grossly misrepresent the fundamental concept that underlies all of the life sciences, and yet introduce a bill that directly affects that subject. As outlined above, these bills will invite expensive, embarrassing lawsuits, disrupt the classroom, and undermine the approved state science standards. Legislators need to discard these troublemaking bills and move on to other more important matters.
“Our kids are going to be caught in the crossfire of this senseless political grandstanding,” said Brandon Haught, Florida Citizens for Science board member and father of two public school students in Eustis.
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