Here is my summary of what happened today in the Senate concerning SB 2692. First of all, there was a last minute strikeall amendment proposed by Senator Storms in an effort to make the senate bill mirror the house bill. There was some brief debate on that amendment, which I’ll get to in a minute. Then there was a voice vote and the amendment did not pass.
Debate then started on the original bill. There were some great arguments against the bill. Senator Geller was especially good. All the arguments for the bill were horrific! I have been following the anti-evolution efforts for a few years now and so these arguments were nothing new to me. But it makes me choke and fume as I see the same old garbage trotted out yet again for a new audience who has, unfortunately, not heard them before.
Finally, the vote happened and the bill passed 21 to 17.
As I listened to the debate, I tried to type what was happening. But my transcribing skills are nonexistent. I’ve cleaned my notes up as best as I can, but you are welcome to offer corrections and clarifications in the comments.
The first part of debate concerned the strikeall amendment. There was a question and answer session. I didn’t catch the names of everyone participating.
Storms says that critical analysis is something “I would think that you would want.”
Geller said that he had asked six times and he would try one more time to get Storms to answer the question of whether intelligent design could be taught under her (amended) bill. He asked that she please not refer to her bill text. Just give a yes or no. And if she couldn’t answer, then everyone could draw their own conclusions.
Storms said that in her experience people will draw their own conclusions anyway. She accused Geller of trying to shake her from her bill language and she refused to allow him to do so.
Someone asked/pointed out that the amendment requiring critical analysis would risk everything that Storms tried to do with her original bill. It would require critical analysis. As such, any teacher not wishing to do this critical analysis would be put at risk of discipline.
I think that Storms then said that critical analysis is required in all of education and that the bill would just require the presentation of the full range of scientific thought on the subject.
Someone said that the amendment is actually much worse than the original bill. The original would have permitted a bunch of stuff, but this amendment now requires it all. Intelligent design in case law is a violation of the constitution. Storms, you are not using the words “intelligent design” but instead you are describing it without naming it.
Someone else said that the amendment makes a mockery of the original bill. It doesn’t protect teachers, but requires teachers to present alternative theories. Teachers who don’t offer the alternatives could face punishments.
Storms says that this amendment is simply an opportunity to conform to the house version. It addresses the situation of there being two different bills now rather than later. She asks for everyone’s support.
Voice vote is then taken. Amendment is voted down.
Next begins the debate on the original bill.
Wilson starts off by citing previous court history concerning evolution, intelligent design and creationism. The Supreme Court case of Epperson v. Arkansas requires that instruction in the classroom be neutral toward religion. Wilson stated that kids are painting their nails black, dying their hair black and getting tattoos. This leads her into talking about voodoo becoming prominent as a religion. She also mentions supremacists. She says the bill would open the door to all of these sorts of ideas and religions. She encourages the senate to keep religion out of the public schools.
Gaetz said that he had asked Storms if the bill would require creationism or intelligent design. She said no and the bill text supports her. I asked her if the bill would discourage the teaching of evolution. She said no and the bill text supports her. This bill provides teachers and students in the classroom with the freedom to explore through critical analysis scientific theories and laws. Some say that evolution is settled and some say it’s not. Do you believe in gravity? Back in school my teacher took us to the second floor and asked if we believe in gravity. We all did. He then asked that if he dropped a quarter and a bowling ball off the second floor if they would both hit bottom at the same time. Half of us said no. This illustrates that we can push discussion and debate of science, and evolution. If this bill addressed literature instead of science, and if students and teachers wanted to grab controversial books off the shelf, the ACLU and my liberal colleagues here would be overwhelmingly in favor of that right. But for some reason they are not in favor of the same freedom concerning evolution. [Brandon’s response: Gaetz twists the gravity example completely out of shape. He actually described the actions of a good teacher showing his or her kids what science knows and how we know it. Gaetz turns this great science lesson on its head, by somehow claiming that the kids who answered no were pushing the discussion and having debate? No. They made a wrong, uninformed guess, and then the teacher corrected them. No debate happened. Also, Gaetz’s literature example is a mess. Can a student hold the belief that the Captain Underpants books are great literature like Shakespeare? Good luck with that. That’s what is happening in science. Evolution is the Shakespeare and intelligent design is Captain Underpants. One is literature and the other isn’t. One is science and the other isn’t.]
Joyner read the title of the bill “evolution academic freedom act.” She then said that the bill is not about evolution and not about academic freedom. It’s about religion and creationism. Don’t the teachers have enough to worry about? The Bible says that God created the heavens and the earth. I believe in God. But the Bible is not a science textbook. The scientific method was not known in biblical times. Science studies natural phenomena. Science is testable and systematic. It describes and explains and predicts. The supernatural is not science. It is not contrained by natural laws. The supreme designer is not in the realm of science. Religion needs to be taught in the appropriate venues. The legal issues are important too. I don’t want public school instruction interfering in private, family religion. Those who subscribe to a strict constitutional interpretation will have problems with this bill. Let’s not insert politics into the classroom.
Wise said he saw the movie Expelled over the weekend. He then tried to equate the movie to television news programs like 60 minutes. He named three examples that were offered in the movie of people who were supposedly fired and blackballed for daring to question evolution. It was a compelling documentary, and addresses the crux of what the bill is about. We are asking young people to critically think about something. He urged others to support the bill to give teachers and students the opportunity to talk about both sides of the issue without fear of reprimand. [Brandon responds: Senator Wise, those people you are talking about were not fired or blackballed. Get the actual facts.]
Rich did a good job of highlighting the fact that the state board of education already addressed this issue while approving a new set of state science standards. We were 50th in the nation in the level of science literacy. The BoE wanted to strengthen the curriculum. They wanted to help science educators increase scientific literacy in the classroom, not religious literacy. We want our students to understand the scientific method: how they know what they know. They are already encouraged to discuss the full range of science in all subjects including evolution. They are already directed to use critical analysis. The committee that put the standards together was composed of experts. Let’s not interfere with the experts.
Geller said that when he was in high school he was in the play Inherit the Wind. The play was about the Scopes Monkey Trial. We used to laugh at how backwards those folks were. Now fast forward to 2008 and here we are standing on the floor of the senate, during a budget crisis, and what are we debating? Evolution! I wonder what play will be written about us in the future and how those people will laugh at us. We in Florida worked hard to bring in Scripps and other high-tech scientific research institutes. And now these folks see us debating evolution. Are we going to be effective in our ability to bring the high-tech jobs here if we are debating evolution? They are debating today our commitment to science. Geller then turned his attention to section two of the bill, which describes acceptable critical analysis in the classroom as being based on germane information and data, and peer review. He points out that a teacher could, under this bill, bring in so-called germane information, but it wouldn’t have to be peer reviewed. Geller is saying that a teacher could pick and choose from the list that is in the bill. Geller then asked what is considered germane information? Raelians have their own set of ideas and beliefs that they certainly would consider germane, even if the rest of us don’t. Geller then points out the legislative findings section of the bill where it says that the legislature has found that there are many instances of educators fearing or experiencing discipline for questioning evolution. Geller points out that no such teachers are named or have testified. How can this possibly be a legislative finding without proof? Geller then talked about the use of the word theory a little bit. He used as an example Storms’ own story she had related during a previous debate about her questioning a geometry theory. Geller said that it was a funny story, but actually illustrates his point better than hers. No, we don’t want students coming up with their own theories about geometry or science. We can’t have students saying “Hey, I gotta theory.” It’s not a scientific theory! Geller said that current law allows for questioning in the science classroom. There is no law that says a teacher can’t review other theories in the classroom. Next, Geller turned to section six of the bill about students not being penalized for subscribing to other views. What does that mean, Geller asks. If they write their belief contrary to evolution on a test, can they get full credit? What about on the FCAT or even the SATs? How far does this go? Geller then tells everyone that he had asked more than six times if intelligent design could be taught. He couldn’t get a straight answer, because Storms knows that intelligent design in unconstitutional in the classroom. To get around that, Storms is not using the words intelligent design, but is nonetheless describing it. Geller closed by saying that to have this debate in 2008 is embarrassing.
Webster held up a “pop top.” He said they are manufactured in his district. He knows where it was made and how it was made. In other words, he’s trying to make the argument from design. Over and over again Webster says that this bill asks one question: “could it be?” If you don’t ask that question, there can be no research. He then says that the word theory means just a conjecture or mere scientific speculation. He talked about the discovery of a massive “hole” in the universe light years across. Do current theories explain it? No, he claims. But asking “could it be” will get us to the answer. Don’t stifle the asking of that important question. [Brandon responds: Webster’s speech was more philosophical and touchy-feely than anything, but his argument from design is pretty much addressed here.]
Storms then closed by saying that her bill does not establish religion. She agrees with the Supreme Court case cited by another senator. Her bill does not establish nor is it hostile toward religion. She wants to make sure no one is ridiculed for having their own beliefs. She points out Geller and admonishes him for when he talked about laughing at people during his play. She then reads from an e-mail from a teacher who wished to remain anonymous. The teacher is national board certified. The teacher claims that it would be career suicide for him to question evolution. He knows of other teachers who flat out ridicule students for not accepting evolution. Storms said that this is a freedom of speech issue. She then reads from an e-mail from another teacher who doesn’t mind being named. Storms read the name, but too quickly for me to accurately catch it. Wayne Gurba it sounded like. The teacher works in Pinellas County and has been teaching science for 20 years. His e-mail is long, but Storms just hits the highlights. The teacher points out in a Holt textbook on page 285 that there is mention of the Miller-Urey experiment. The teacher trashes the experiment and wonders why it is still in science textbooks. The teacher then turns to page 268 and talks about the precursors to living, reproducing cells. He expresses his extreme doubt in what is written there and equates it to a floating leaf transforming into an airplane. Storms closes by saying that her bill is not about religion, but rather about critical analysis of evolution. This is a freedom of speech issue and encourages higher order thinking. Anyone truly supporting science would not be afraid of this questioning.
Vote is then taken. 21 yeas. 17 nays. Bill passes.
Comments are open. What’s your take?