Martin County’s evolution vote: “And I think if you’re not going to teach both then you shouldn’t teach either.”

At long last I have official word about what happened to the objections filed against science textbooks proposed for adoption in Martin County. Refresh your memory by reading my previous posts about Martin County:

It was another close vote: 3 to 2 in favor of adopting the textbooks and rejecting the filed objections. There was also a close 3 to 2 vote in Collier County recently.

With that in mind, let me make a point: elections matter. Especially local elections. The vote in Martin or Collier County could have swung the other way with just one more person dissenting. Elections matter. As you’ll see in just a minute, school board members in Martin County complained about micromanaging and unfunded mandates from lawmakers in Tallahassee. This whole textbook hearing process was forced on local school boards, costing them time and money. So, who your votes send to Tallahassee matters.

Now let’s get into the June 5 Martin County school board meeting. Have you ever heard of the Dazzler? She’s a comic book hero I fondly remember from my childhood. She was a singer on roller skates who could turn sound energy into eye-popping light displays, dazzling her concert audiences and her supervillains.

I do hereby proclaim school board member Rebecca Negron the Dazzler of Martin County. She spent nearly half an hour launching one quote after another after another at the audience and her fellow board members. She would quote from the contested textbook and then follow that with multiple quotes from various scientists and others who appear to rebut the textbook’s statements. She mentioned Jeffrey H Schwartz, Ernst Mayr, Scientific American, New Scientist, Lee M Spetner, Dr. John Sanford, W. Ford Doolittle, Eric Bapteste, Lawton Graham, Richard Buggs, Gerd Muller, New Trends in Evolutionary Biology, Nature Research in Ecology and Evolution, Kevin Padian, Reports of the National Center for Science Education, Henry Gee, Robert Sokal, Peter Sneath, William Dembski, Jonathan Wells, Michael Richardson, and Gavin De Beer.

In other words, she was attempting to dazzle the audience with what appears to be scientists versus scientists arguing over the validity of evolution. She did this in an attempt to convince everyone that the textbooks violate Florida statute that requires the books be “accurate, objective, and balanced.” How can the books be accurate and balanced if so many “evolutionists” (she kept on pointing out these quotes came from scientists and evolutionists) were refuting what was in the high school science textbooks?

And Negron didn’t even finish her dazzling display. She had a few more pages to read when she was politely cut off by a school member who asked that Negron take a break so that another agenda item could be taken care of.

I believe that the dazzling strategy has potential. To folks who aren’t familiar with the creationist strategy of quote mining, the list of so-called evidence seems overwhelming and impressive. The time it would take for a knowledgeable person to shoot down each individual quote Negron was flinging would be way too much – hours at least – for a school board meeting or textbook hearing. That’s what Negron the Dazzler is counting on. And if she can convince other school board members that her dazzling shows that the textbooks violate Florida statute, she wins. It nearly worked this time. (On a side note: she is married to state senator Joe Negron who recently resigned his senate seat.)

What was Negron the Dazzler’s ultimate goal? (Quote from my transcript of the meeting.)

I believe that we could find supplemental materials, just to give the evidence against evolution. And I think that would be, would address that problem. Now whether we can or not I would have to lean on the attorneys. To me we can, you know, we can create curriculum for our students. So I don’t see why we couldn’t have supplemental materials that just say, you know, this is what the textbook says and these are some of the things, the evidence against evolution, or the difference.

Of course, Negron was one of the nays when it came time to vote. The other nay was from Michael DiTerlizzi. I’ll let him speak for himself (from my transcript of the meeting):

Actually, when my son went through this in high school — maybe was middle school, I don’t remember — but they were teaching, the teacher came in dressed as a cavewoman. And long story short, he questioned her and wound up having to do his own presentation on creationism. And I think if you’re not going to teach both then you shouldn’t teach either. It’s really where I feel.

One of the yes votes in favor of the textbooks was Tina McSoley. She made a couple of excellent points about the whole textbooks hearing process itself. She asked the district staff how much the hearing cost. The hearing officer cost about $1,800. Creating a transcript of the hearing cost about $900. And school district staff devoted somewhere around 40 to 50 or more hours just to this issue. Who paid for this? The school district. McSoley made sure to point out for the record that this was an unfunded mandate forced on the school districts by lawmakers in Tallahassee. All of that expense and time was used because a few people (who McSoley pointed out didn’t have children in the district schools) submitted objections to the textbooks, which by law then requires that the official hearing be held.

Here’s what I said in a Florida Citizens for Science press release back in May 2017:

We believe that should this bill become law with the governor’s signature, people who crusade against basic, established science concepts such as evolution and climate change will have the green light to bog down the textbook selection process on the local level and bully school boards into compromises that will negatively impact science education.

The current textbook selection and review process allows parents to have a voice. But this bill would now allow any citizen, not just parents, to formally complain about what’s in instructional materials, allowing anyone with an ideological agenda to protest on behalf of their pet cause. The bill also requires school boards to appoint a hearing officer to consider such complaints, adding onerous extra steps to the process and potential additional expense.

Our concerns were waved away by legislators who sponsored the law, saying we were alarmists about some slippery slope worst case scenario that will never happen. We now know who was right, don’t we?

Another yes vote came from Marsha Powers. She had an interesting point:

And you know this is why we will never have really great science teachers. And we’re not going to be able to recruit good science and math and STEM because we’re constantly being micromanaged at the local level. Everybody’s throwing your hands up. So I, you know, I choose as a school board member to have a level of trust in our teachers and our staff.

I’m going to wrap this up by restating my point from earlier: elections matter. Local elections matter. Your vote matters.

I’ve included “below the fold” the full transcript related to the textbook issue from the board meeting. It took a very long time to make. It is possible that there are some errors in it. And some of it may be confusing because these are the words of people who are doing the normal human thing of stumbling over their words and trailing off incomplete thoughts. You can find the original audio recording (there was no video) here.

Chair Christia Li Roberts: So we have 2.01 instructional material objection and the recommended order. We have Mrs. Baxter and I believe perhaps we should hear first from our attorney. Mr. George, do you have anything you wanted to say?

Mr. George: This comes to you under new legislation. So a hearing officer has heard it and made the recommendations to you. There is no burden of proof or presumption under this law at this time built-in as to whether anyone else appearing, or the board and weighing its decisions needs to give great weight to the magistrate. That being said, you all appointed that magistrate to have these hearings because of an expertise and background in textbook matters. During this proceeding with you all as the board, since the recommendation was to uphold the superintendent’s position and the petitioners would have a right if they wanted to, to proffer, meaning list the items that they had brought forward at the hearing that would be available for the board if it wanted to go to the detail of looking at those items. They can’t present that in this proceeding or hearing but they can state what they offered the magistrate for supporting their position that those two textbooks did not meet the guidelines and of the state.

Chair Christia Li Roberts: Okay Mrs. Baxter did you have something?

Mrs. Baxter: I just wanted to give the board just an overview in terms of this proceeding. We did have the hearing. We had a total of seven objections filed by six individuals and it was regarding — I’m sorry five individuals — and it was regarding two textbooks in particular. It was a biology and the Elevate Science. We did have a hearing and at the hearing we had the community members of the parents who had filed objections come and speak. I had provided to the board — we did have that transcribed, that hearing — and I provided to the board a copy of the transcript. The hearing officer who is not an employee of the district or an agent, Ned Julian, is somebody who is unbiased. He came, heard the evidence, gave everyone an opportunity to speak and present evidence and he issued his recommendation to the board. And his recommendation to the board was to uphold the March 20th adoption of the science materials. So now coming before the board you have his recommendation and you’ll make that final decision. It is not subject to a 120 hearing and your decision is final. It’s not subject to review or appeal.

Chair Christia Li Roberts: Okay. Mrs. Negron did you have something on this?

Board Member Rebecca Negron: Actually, I do. I read — and I was here and a few of us were here for that hearing — and I read Mr. Julien’s opinion and there is to me a major thing that he did not include in his opinion. He cited case law, you know about teaching creationism, intelligent design and we already all know that’s out there and those cases are out there. But what he did not address to me was Florida Statute. And Florida statute is very clear. The board is to provide adequate instructional materials for all students in accordance with the requirements of chapter 1006. And you know 1006 is a very long chapter. I will just read just a small part out of 1006.31: “instructional materials recommended by each reviewer is to be to the satisfaction of the reviewer accurate objective and balanced.” There’s, you know, a lot of different statutes that have to do with that. But that to me is the obligation of the board to meet those three and there’s more than that but to me this applies to the science materials that they need to be accurate, objective, and balanced. And I will just read — the Florida Department of Education has a whole definition explanation of the statute — and I will just read a small part of that that has to do with accuracy of content which has to do with those three things. “Content must be accurate in historical context and contemporary facts and concepts.” And then it gives some statutes in 1006. “Objectivity. Content that is included in the materials should accurately represent the domain of knowledge and events. It should be factual and objective. It should be free of inconsistencies, contradictions within itself and biases of interpretation. It should be free of the bias selection of information. Material should distinguish between facts and possible interpretations or opinions expressed about factual information.”

So that, you know, explains the “accurate objective and balanced.” So I would like to give some examples from the textbooks. And I will just use the one textbook, the other one would translate to the middle school textbook, of what is offered and some of the information that would say that this is not accurate objective or balanced. “Darwin developed a theory of biological evolution that offered a scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life by proposing how modern organisms evolved through descent from common ancestors.” So that’s what Darwin set out to prove. “Recall that a scientific theory is not a guess, a hunch, or a proposal. A scientific theory is a well-established scientific explanation of events in the natural world.” This is from the textbook, the textbooks that we’re talking about adopting. “Scientific theories can be used to make predictions about events in the natural world that can be tested by experiments and observations.” It’s a definition of how you get to a scientific theory. “Darwin’s work confirmed that the living world is constantly changing.” Which is interesting to me that they put that in the textbook and didn’t put, you know, that he actually proved common descent. Which, I agree with that. The world is constantly changing. It’s when he says things like in the textbook further on: “Many scientific advances have confirmed and expanded Darwin’s hypothesis. (Negron put verbal emphasis on the word hypothesis.) Today evolutionary theory is vital to all biological and biomedical sciences and is often called the grand unifying theory of the life sciences. Like any scientific theory, evolutionary theory is constantly reviewed as new data are gathered. However, any questions that remained are about how evolution works and not whether evolution works.” And I agree with that. Darwin did prove with his beaks and some of the other things he did that there is micro-evolution. But he never proved that we descended — you know it like he wanted to prove – from microscopic organisms.

So that’s the textbook. I will read some of the things that say that that’s not true. “It was and still is the case that with the exception” — and it’s a person’s name Dobzhansky’s – “claim about a new species of fruit fly. The formation of a new species by any mechanism has never been observed.” (Negron’s verbal emphasis.) Now remember what the definition of a scientific theory is. It has to be observed and repeatable. That’s from Jeffrey H Schwartz, Sudden Origins, New York — I’ve got the references for that. “Macro-evolution, not micro-evolution, has never been observed or repeated. Ernst Mayr, the dean of living evolutionists, long time professor of biology at Harvard, who has alleged that evolution is a simple fact nevertheless agrees that it is an historical science (Negron’s verbal emphasis) for which laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques by which to explain it.” That’s from Scientific American. “Evolution must (intelligible) explain everything. A theory that explains everything might just as well be discarded since it has no real explanatory value. Of course the other thing about evolution is that anything can be said because very little can be disproved. Experimental evidence is minimal.” And that’s from the New Scientist. I’ve got the author if you want that.

Okay, now I’m going to go back to the textbook. “Darwin made a breakthrough by recognizing that inherited variation was actually very important because it could provide raw material for a natural mechanism that could drive evolution. Darwin made his mechanism for evolution natural selection. Natural selection is a process by which organisms in nature with variations most suited to their local environment survive and leave more offspring. Well adapted individuals survive and reproduce. From generation to generation populations continue to change as they become better adapted or as their environment changes.” And then it has a hypothetical example. It couldn’t even find a real example of natural selection evidently in the textbook. And I’ll skip some things so it might not make a little sense because I want to make this as short as possible. “This can lead” – and they’re still talking about natural selection – “this can lead to a great diversity of adaptations and species living in different environments. Since Darwin’s time we have learned that natural selection is not the only mechanism that leads to evolutionary change.” And now we’ll go to some of the objections of that, that are in the textbook. “Anyone who believes evolution works by small changes over longer periods of time must hold that on the average cumulative selection has to add a little information to the genome at each step. But all of the mutations studied since genetics became a science not a single one has been found that adds a little information. It is not impossible in principle for a mutation to add a little information. But it is improbable. The neo-Darwinian theory was an attractive theory. Unfortunately, it is based on the false speculation that many small random mutations could build up to large evolutionary changes.” That’s by Lee M Spetner, Not by Chance! Shattering the Myth of Modern Evolution (I believe the correct title is Not by Chance! Shattering the Modern Theory of Evolution.)

And then I’m gonna give another summary from Dr. John Sanford a retired Cornell professor. “Shows in Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome that the primary axiom is false” — and they’re talking about natural selection – “the primary axiom is the foundational evolutionary premise that life is merely the result of mutations and natural selection. In addition to showing compelling theoretical evidence that whole genomes cannot evolve upward, Dr. Sanford presents strong evidence that higher genomes must in fact degenerate over time. This book strongly refutes the Darwinian concept that man is just the result of random and pointless natural process.” And again that’s from a book that John Sanford wrote of Cornell University.

And now we’ll go back to the book. “Darwin sketched his thoughts about descent from common ancestors in the form of a branching tree. This tree thinking implies that all organisms are related. Look back in time and you will find common ancestor shared by tigers, panthers, and cheetahs. Look farther back and you will find ancestors that these felines share with dogs, then horses, and then bats. Farther back still is the common ancestor that all mammals share with birds, alligators, and fish. Far enough back are the common ancestors of all living things. According to the principle of common descent, all species living and extinct are united by descent from ancient common ancestors and exhibit diversity due to natural selection and adaptation. A single tree of life links all living things.”

And then I will give the rebuttal. “The tree of life concept was absolutely central to Darwin’s thinking. Equal importance to natural selection, according to biologists W. Ford Doolittle of Dalhousie University in Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada. Without it the theory of evolution would never have happened. For a long time the holy grail was to build a tree of life, says Eric Bapteste an evolutionary biologist at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France. A few years ago it looked as though the grail was within reach. But today the project lies in tatters torn to pieces by an onslaught of negative evidence. Many biologists now argue that the tree concept is obsolete and needs to be discarded.” And that is from Lawton Graham, Why Darwin was wrong about the tree of life, and it’s from the New Scientist.

And I want to remind you that, you know: accurate, balanced and objective. And to me, you know, I want our kids to be taught the theory of evolution. I absolutely want them to be taught that. But I also want them to be taught the evidence for evolution and the evidence against evolution. Nothing about creationism, intelligent design. To me — and I believe that’s what some of the presenters in their way tried to say — to me, teach the evidence for and against. To me you don’t have critical thinkers and I know that above all is what we want our students in Martin County to be is critical thinkers. And you have to have all the information to be a critical thinker.

Another excerpt from the textbook: “Astonishingly every scientific test has supported Darwin’s basic ideas about evolution.” They’re saying every (Negron’s verbal emphasis) test has supported that. “Patterns in the distribution of fossils and living species combined with information from geology tell us how modern organisms evolved from their ancestors.” And in the textbook does, at times, you know, they will point out this is a theory, this is what a theory is, and we’ll move to that direction. But then so much of their verbiage says it, you know, treats it like it’s a fact. And it’s not a fact. It’s a theory.

So again the rebuttal: “This is false. The scientific literature includes many articles with results that are inconsistent with Darwin’s theory. All organisms studied so far contained orphan genes that are not found in their supposed ancestors and thus pose a problem for the theory of common ancestry.” And that’s from Richard Buggs, The evolutionary mystery of orphan genes from Nature Research in Ecology and Evolution.

“All evidence indicates that natural selection, like artificial selection, produces only minor changes within existing species. In 2016 Australian biologist Gerd Muller told a meeting of evolutionary biologists at the Royal Society of London that evolutionary theory has failed to explain, among other things, the origin of new anatomical structures. The main goal of Darwin’s theory.” And that’s from New Trends in Evolutionary Biology and there’s more — but the Royal Society of London.

Back to the textbook: “Many recently discovered fossils now show clearly how modern species evolved from in extinct ancestors.” And it’s got a fossil series shown on the next page that documents the evolution of whales from ancient land mammals. “Other recent fossil finds connect the dots between dinosaurs and birds and between fishes and four-legged land animals. So many intermediate forms have been found that is often hard to tell where one group begins and another ends. All historical records are incomplete. and the history of life is no exception. The evidence we do have however tells an unmistakable story of evolutionary change.” And again I agree you know for back to bird beaks and the small changes in species, yes. But not from species to species. That’s never been proven.

So I’ll give the rebuttal: “Fossil experts are convinced that none of these animals descended” — and they’re talking about I think (intelligible) – “from animals portrayed before them.” And that’s from Kevin Padian in The Tale of the Whale from Reports of the National Center for Science Education. “Fossils are isolated points in deep time that cannot be connected” — and most of these, by the way, are evolutionists speaking, not, you know, creationists or anything else. These are evolutionists that I’m quoting and this happens to be one of them. “Fossils are isolated points in deep time that cannot be connected. No fossil is buried with its birth certificate. That and the scarcity of fossils” — and you remember they just said so many intermediate forms – “that and the scarcity of fossils means that it is effectively impossible to link fossils into chains of cause and effect in any valid way. As if the chains of ancestry and descent were a real object for our contemplation and not what it really is a completely human invention, created after the fact, shaped to accord with human prejudices. To take a line of fossils and claim that they represent a lineage is not a scientific hypothesis that can be tested.” And remember I said, you know, what a scientific theory is. It has to be tested and repeatable. “But an assertion that carries the same validity as a bedtime story. Amusing, perhaps, even instructive, but not scientific.” And that’s from Henry Gee, again an evolutionist, In Search of Deep Time. That’s a book, one of the books, many books, he wrote. “We can’t identify ancestors or missing links and we cannot devised testable theories to explain how particular episodes of evolution came about” — this is the same person I’m quoting – “Gee is adamant that all the popular stories about how the first amphibians conquered the dry land, how the birds develop wings and feathers for flying, how the dinosaurs went extinct, and how humans evolved from apes are just products of our imagination driven by prejudices and preconceptions.” Again that’s from Henry Gee.

And back to the textbook: “Color coding is used to show the homologous bones in the four limbs of select modern vertebrates. These limbs evolved from the front limbs of common ancestors whose bones resembled those of an ancient fish. If these animals had no recent common ancestor they would be unlikely to share so many common structures. Similar structures like the bones of vertebrate limbs” — are again still talking about homologous structures – “that are shared by related species and have been inherited from a common ancestor are called homologous structures. Evolutionary theory explains the existence of these structures adapted to different purposes as the result of descent with modification from a common ancestor. Biologists test whether structures are homologous by studying anatomical details, the way structures develop in embryos” — and that’s important in another quote that I have – “and the pattern in which they appear over evolutionary history. Similarities and differences among homologous structures help determine how recent we species shared a common ancestor.”

And this is the rebuttal: “If homology is defined as similarity due to common ancestry it cannot be used as evidence for common ancestry except by reasoning in a circle. Recall the example of similar bone patterns in vertebrate forelimbs” — which I just read in the textbook – “which Darwin regarded as evidence for the common ancestry of the vertebrates. A Neo-Darwinist who wants to determine whether vertebrate four limbs are homologous” – (Negron stumbles in her reading a little bit.) Reading too much. – “must first determine whether they are derived from a common ancestor. In other words, they must be evidence for common ancestry before the limbs can be called homologous. “But then to turn around and argue that homologous limbs point to common ancestry creates a vicious circle. Common ancestry establishes homology, which in turn establishes common ancestry.” As an attorney you guys would enjoy the reasoning here. You can’t say one is a reason for the other. “Various biologists and philosophers have noticed and criticized this circularity. When neo-Darwinian paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson tried to use homology as common ancestry to infer evolutionary relationships, biologist Robert Sokal and Peter Sneath criticized him for his circulatory reasoning.” And that’s from William Dembski and Jonathan Wells from The Design of Life.

And back to the textbook: “Researchers noticed long ago that early developmental stages of many vertebrates look similar. Recent observations make clear that the” — You would … okay, uh, okay … I’ll take a break if anybody wants to take a break okay. (She’s talking to someone and I can’t hear what that other person is saying. But then Negron continues.) “Recent observations make clear that the same groups of embryonic cells developed in the same order in the similar pattern to produce many homologous tissues and organs. Similar patterns of embryological development provide further evidence that organisms have descended from a common ancestor.” Now we’re talking about embryos and how they develop.

That was part of and it’s interesting to me, one thing the text was, actually two things the textbook did that was good, because I had looked back in previous well not looked at the actual books but read about Miller and Levine. And in a previous textbook they’ve done they took out Haeckel’s embryos, which, that’s part of what this argument right here is talking about because they found out those drawings were fake. So at least that’s no longer in the textbook. So they did one good thing. They still to me have things that need to be addressed. “As a rule, this does not indicate common ancestry.” They’re talking about, but I’m reading the rebuttal. “In the earliest stages the embryos of different classes of vertebrates look very different.” And that’s from Michael Richardson. There’s no highly conserved embryonic stage in the vertebrates. And there’s another: “Many homologous features defined as features with similar structure and position developed from different embryonic cells and developmental patterns.” And that’s from Gavin De Beer from Homology: An Unsolved Problem. That’s from Oxford University Press.

Back to the textbook: “Darwin had noted that different Galapagos finch species have beaks of very different sizes and shapes. Each species uses its beaks just like just like a specialized tool to pickup and handle its preferred food.” I’ll make this one really short. Darwin didn’t know that they were finches so they’re you know in this textbook they’re saying he knew they were finches, they weren’t finches. That’s just small, just a little sidebar. “Natural selection.” And I’ll try to summarize this one so I don’t have to read it all. What this one is saying, and this is from the textbook, there are some scientists that went back to the Galapagos Islands, the Grants, and studied those birds again. I mean, it sounded like to me for years. And you know that we all know that story, the beaks and the finches. And when there was drought you know the beaks got bigger because they had to get to the seeds. They were harder to get to. And they you know extrapolated, one of the Grants’ colleagues calculated that it might take, they’re trying to say the evolution sometimes happens really fast, that it might take no more than twelve to twenty such droughts to change the bird’s beak size enough to transform one species to another. What they don’t say in the textbook is that once the rain comes back the beaks shrink back. So again you know you can’t say that there’s evolutionary change because they go back. It’s not like you know they, see what I’m saying, because that’s what Darwin said. Things progressed then they change to new species. But in this case the birds’ beaks would go back so it’s not going prove evolution again. “By comparing fossils to each other’s” — back to the textbook – “and to living organisms, paleontologists can propose and test evolutionary hypothesis. Fossils reveal information about the structures of ancient organisms, the sequential nature of groups in the fossil record, evolution from common ancestors in the ecology of ancient environments. Comparisons of body structure test hypothesis about the appearance evolution in history of groups in the fossil record. (Negron is reading faster here, making it tough to accurately determine what she’s saying.) Studies of evolutionary change and body structures can also test hypothesis about evolution of living species from extinct common ancestors in the evolution of diversity.” And again I’m not a scientist and I can read this but I’ll try to spare you guys.

The rebuttal to this is the Cambrian explosion, And in the Cambrian explosion they found that all of the forms of life seem to appear at once. And so they have a hard time explaining evolution because of that layer, the Cambrian explosion, because you know because they look at the rocks and the levels and they say you know it started out here you know with microscopic and then it moved up the chain. Well again the Cambrian explosion which is one of those layers seems to have every form in it and so that that’s something that they don’t explain that it that’s hard to prove Darwin’s theory.

Interruption: (Someone breaks in to politely state that some people are present who were asked to stay and speak about an unrelated issue. Could we take a break from textbooks and address the other issue so those people can participate and then be able to leave? Negron agrees.)

Chair Christia Li Roberts: Okay we’re back to 2.01, instructional materials.

Board Member Michael DiTerlizzi: You know we got an awful lot of information from Rebecca today. I have similar comments but there are a whole lot shorter. Actually, when my son went through this in high school — maybe was middle school, I don’t remember — but they were teaching, the teacher came in dressed as a cavewoman. And long story short, he questioned her and wound up having to do his own presentation on creationism. And I think if you’re not going to teach both then you shouldn’t teach either. It’s really where I feel. And so I don’t think our curriculum should have one or the other; it should either have (someone tries to interrupt but DiTerlizzi says it’s his turn to speak) whether it’s creationism whether it’s debunking Darwin’s theory versus Darwin’s theory, that’s fine. But I personally believe that it should either have both or at the least maybe … what? (Negron interrupts)

Board Member Rebecca Negron: By law you have to teach evolution. By law. You have to teach it by law. By the cases that’s what I referenced earlier. But by so far what the courts have said you cannot teach creationism and you cannot teach intelligent design. So by law you have to teach, and by our Florida (DiTerlizzi says something about law and yeah … yes …) But that’s why to me I stated at the beginning, looking at Florida Statutes and things have to be accurate, objective, and balanced, and what I read the explanation from the Department of Education to me on this topic. You know the balance of proof to me is not met. And I can keep going because there’s more, there’s a lot more, well not a lot. I think I’ve done three pages and there’s maybe two and a half or three more. But that is what the textbook has is all of the evidence for, you know and then and to me not just that, because the evidence for is fine, I agree with that. But the evidence against, to me, is lacking. And then the way it is stated, yes, they stated as a theory. But then, and I will give you another example, they state it as fact. So you know you cannot have both. You know, humans, I’ll read from the textbook: “Humans and other primates evolved from common ancestor that lived more than 65 million years ago.” I mean that’s stated as a fact. You can’t, I mean, we evolved, that’s not a theory. That’s stating as a fact. “Molecular biologists have analyzed mitochondrial DNA from living humans around the world to determine when we last shared a common ancestor.” Not, you know, did we? You know, we’re still looking into it. It’s when we share that that common ancestor. “Neanderthals and Homo sapiens live side by side for thousands of years.” And there’s a whole thing on the Neanderthals, and I don’t know if you guys, there’s different, you know, fossils they found that they think are either human or not human and they thought humans, it goes back and forth with Neanderthals whether they were human or not. And I, just to me, the textbook does not present the material accurately, balanced, and objectively.

Board Member Michael DiTerlizzi: So what are you looking for?

Board Member Rebecca Negron: I believe that we could find supplemental materials, just to give the evidence against evolution. And I think that would be, would address that problem. Now whether we can or not I would have to lean on the attorneys. To me we can, you know, we can create curriculum for our students. So I don’t see why we couldn’t have supplemental materials that just say, you know, this is what the textbook says and these are some of the things, the evidence against evolution, or the difference. And I’ll give you one, it’s interesting, just one of the last interesting ones, if I can find it really quick.

Chair Christia Li Roberts: And while you’re doing that, Dr. Miller, could you look up and see what the standards are? The science standards that have to do with evolution? And perhaps you could give those to us.

Board Member Tina McSoley: I have some questions. The complaints that were filed, were they parents, grandparents, residents, or all the above, none of the above? Do you have any demographics on the complaints?

District staff member: We have several of them. Let’s see, I have community members. I have one that was a concerned parent.

Board Member Tina McSoley: And I saw those. I just wanted them said, stated for the record

District staff member: A lot of them were community members …

Board Member Tina McSoley: Community members that have no children in the schools? Okay. The second question is what was the cost of the hearing officer?

District staff member: The cost of the hearing officer — and I have — the transcript, getting a copy of the transcript, which we needed, that alone was $923.

Board Member Tina McSoley: And the hearing officer?

District staff member: For writing the report attending hearing was about $1,800.

Board Member Tina McSoley: Okay. And was that funded by the Department of Education since they’re requiring us to do these hearings now? We did not receive any additional funding, so that came out of current school district funding. So the mandate to do this was unfunded. Just want to clarify that. Okay. My other question is, is that a normal, how many staff members were involved in preparing for this hearing and what would be your estimated number of hours for the hearing and the preparation?

District staff member: You were gathering that information. I’m looking at Dr. Miller and I believe she was actually gathering that information so she could …

Tracey Miller: Good afternoon. Tracey Miller, chief academic officer. We did start to track that information. Valerie Gaynor obviously spent the majority of her time working on this, including weekends. We tracked time for the secretary in our department, my time. I did not actually track your time or your secretary’s time. We are at well over 40-50 hours of staff time to prepare documents and then the time …

District staff member: Probably about 20 hours of my time.

Board Member Tina McSoley: Okay. So I’m just want to make a statement you can say yes or no. So we went through a formal textbook adoption process with textbooks that the state of Florida approved. We adopted those materials with teachers, community members, it was wide open to anyone who wanted to participate in the adoption process and submit concerns at that time. We adopted or we made a recommendation for adoption. Then complaints were filed by, how many, eight residents? Was it eight?

District staff member: Total of seven. But, no it was a total of five (There’s a few people talking at once trying to straighten out the number of people who submitted complaints. They eventually agreed that there were seven objections filed by six people.)

Board Member Tina McSoley: Right, five or six, okay, less than ten. We are now at least forty to sixty hours of our staff time that’s been spent. We spent eighteen hundred dollars on the hearing officer. We spent $900 on the transcript. We are spending hours, I mean we’re here an hour now doing this, because of a mandate sent down by the Tallahassee and Florida Department of Education, in which the person assigned (She’s referring to the hearing officer.) upheld the adoption. Yes or no? Just say yes or no. Is that what just happened?

District staff member: Yes.

Board Member Tina McSoley: Okay. That’s all I need.

Board Member Rebecca Negron: And I would like to add to that. That there were nearly forty people, I think, I didn’t get an accurate count, forty citizens, parents that were here for that hearing. So you know if you want to count numbers you need to include them. Also Tallahassee, a lot of the things that it requires us to do is because citizens, our neighbors, talk to them and say this is a problem. We’re not — and I know in this case — we’re not being listened to by the school district. And so Tallahassee intervenes in ways probably that maybe aren’t always the best, but I know they’re not just making this up as they go. They’re doing it to address concerns of their constituents.

Chair Christia Li Roberts: So, Dr. Miller, what is SC.7.L.15.1? Do you have that?

Tracey Miller: I do. “Explain how the scientific theory of evolution is supported by the fossil record, comparative anatomy, comparative embryology, biogeography, molecular biology, and observed evolutionary change.”

Chair Christia Li Roberts: And what is SC.7.L.15.2?

Tracey Miller: I have not pulled that one up yet. This was the first one that I got. That’s the correlative seventh grade standard for evolution as well. Those were the two standards one for each book, one for the objections that we received.

Chair Christia Li Roberts: And then there’s the SC.912.L.15.1, correct?

Tracey Miller: Yes that’s the ninth grade standard. So we have ninth grade and seventh grade.

Chair Christia Li Roberts: So can we teach something that’s not the standard?

Tracey Miller: You must teach the standard. You, we can decide to do something in addition. One of the comments that was actually made after the hearing by one of the members of the public. That member said, well, you know why don’t we do something in addition? We can do more. And actually one of the objectioners said, you know what, I was just recently a student — and I’m paraphrasing obviously — he said, you see that book over there? It’s this thick. Teachers have one year to teach what’s in that book. They can’t get through what’s in the book let alone layering additional materials on top of that. The teachers are never going be able to do it. That was actually what the petitioner, a summary of his thought.

Chair Christia Li Roberts: But we’re required to teach these …

Tracey Miller: We are required to teach these standards. We are not required to teach in addition to the standard.

Chair Christia Li Roberts: Okay, all right, thank you.

Board Member Marsha Powers: So let me just make up, I mean having two recent graduates from our high schools, specifically, and one still in high school, and that you know again this comes back to trust. And you know the discussions that are taking place in our classroom, you know, are not narrow-minded. I think good teachers are teaching everything. They’re not just teaching evolution. I can tell you that. But they’re not, I have never had as a parent, ever had an experience where someone’s personal opinion was thrust upon my children to the point where they felt uncomfortable. Never. So in the textbook, some teachers teach to the textbook, some teachers don’t. Some kids never open up the textbook. The teachers know what to teach. They know how to teach it. The textbook is sometimes a tool and sometimes it’s not. That happens in high school. It happens in college. My kids in college don’t even have textbooks for some of their classes.

You know, we can continue on with this discussion, um I just I feel like we’re — and Miss McSoley’s comments, the same, it’s like I get it. Your frustration with these unfunded mandates and my answer to that in Tallahassee is, you know, and I also see Miss Negron’s point that the legislature is addressing concerns from their constituents. But don’t you think it would be easier to address that to the people that actually work for them at DoE, and saying this adoption process, you need to look at this and consider what you put on your approved list, rather than micromanaging at the district level what and how we do things. It should be addressed at that level. We should have a list and we should be comfortable and confident in that list. And that it should be, you know, it should address the things that our lawmakers expect because that’s really who they work for. I mean those all those state employees are dependent on and following the laws that the legislature makes. I don’t understand why now we are now being micromanaged at the district level. I agree the unfunded piece of it, but this is just another case of micromanaging and I at some point it’s got to stop. And we have to we have to say, you know, just because we can do it doesn’t mean we always should do it.

And you know this is why we will never have really great science teachers. And we’re not going to be able to recruit good science and math and STEM because we’re constantly being micromanaged at the local level. Everybody’s throwing your hands up. So I, you know, I choose as a school board member to have a level of trust in our teachers and our staff. If there is ever an incident where my child felt uncomfortable in the classroom, I would deal with that as a parent. I don’t think that we need to put in place rules across the board because we have a teaching style that somebody doesn’t like, or a certain word that somebody said that they don’t like. Where does it stop?

Board Member Tina McSoley: I motion to approve.

Chair Christia Li Roberts: So Mrs. McSoley has a motion to approve the recommended order. Is there a second?

Board Member Marsha Powers: Second

Chair Christia Li Roberts: Second from Mrs. Powers.

Mr. George: Madam chair?

Chair Christia Li Roberts: Yes, sir?

Mr. George: Since this is a review of the hearing officer’s recommendations, I would recommend that you ask if any of those six petitioners wanted to make a proffer.

Chair Christia Li Roberts: Okay. Would any of the six petitioners like to make a proffer? (Pause) Hearing none, we have a motion and a second to approve the recommended order.

Board Member ?: So is that the public meeting or we just what is the what are we approving in the item 2.01?

Chair Christia Li Roberts: The recommended order from Mr. Julian.

Board Member ?: Okay. So we’re approving his work product.

Chair Christia Li Roberts: We’re approving his — if you could explain that?

District staff member?: Yeah and I did draft final order for the board which would be upholding the approval that the board actually already gave on March 20th. So I, and essentially, and I can just read, it’s not very long. It says: “Final order. This matter came to be heard by the Martin County School Board on June 5th, 2018 for the entry of a final order upholding the adoption of instructional materials on March 20th, 2018 following a hearing on the objection by parents, community members, petitioners pursuant to Florida Statute 1006.28. The school board having reviewed in the complete record and being fully advised in the premises it is hereby ordered and adjudged as follows. Number 1: on March 20th, 2018, following all procedural requirements the school board adopted instructional materials for the science curriculum. Number 2: following this adoption the Martin County School District received seven objections from six individuals challenging adoption of the following structural materials. A: Biology by Miller and Levine. B: Elevate Science Course Two by Miller, Padilla, and Wysession. Number 3: on May 17th, 2018 a hearing on the objections was held before the hearing officer Ned Julian Esquire. Mr. Julian is a qualified unbiased hearing officer. Number 4: at the hearing the petitioners were given an adequate and fair opportunity to be heard and present evidence to the hearing officer. Number 5: on May 23rd, 2018 the hearing officer issued an order recommending that the school board enter a final order upholding the adoption of Biology by Miller and Levine and Elevate Science by Miller, Padilla and Wysession. The Martin County School Board based on the foregoing hereby enters this final order upholding the adoption of the instructional materials for the science curriculum adopted on March 20th.
2018. Done and ordered this 5th day of June, 2018, the school board of Martin County, Florida, school board chair.

Chair Christia Li Roberts: Thank you. So the motion is to uphold the adoption action of the Martin County school board for these two items. One is the motion by Mrs. McSoley the second by Mrs. Powers. All those in favor? (Members vote) Opposed? (Members vote) Four to one with Mrs. Negron dissenting.

Board Member Michael DiTerlizzi: 3 to 2

Chair Christia Li Roberts: Oh, 3 to 2. Sorry. With Miss Negron and Mr. DiTerlizzi dissenting.

(The final item on the agenda was a public hearing on the proposed adoption of an Environmental Science textbook. The proposed adoption had been delayed to allow teacher input. The board chair asked if anyone in the public wished to speak about the book. No one did. Finally, the board adjourned.)

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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3 Responses to Martin County’s evolution vote: “And I think if you’re not going to teach both then you shouldn’t teach either.”

  1. Pierce R. Butler says:

    Sounds like every time pro-science people testify before a school board, at least one needs to dedicate their three minutes to explaining the Gish Gallop.

    Not that all board members will need it, of course: I have no doubt that Rebecca Negron received advanced training in G.G. Theory and Practice not too long ago.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says:

    Negron cites “The Tale of the Whale” by Kevin Padian of the National Center for Science Education as saying “Fossil experts are convinced that none of these animals descended” — and they’re talking about I think (intelligible) – “from animals portrayed before them.”

    You can read that article yourself here: My browser’s find function strikes out on “Fossil experts”, “convinced”, “none of”, “animals descended”, and “portrayed” in that article; perhaps Negron has powers of discernment to read words and meanings beyond us normal mortals.

    Padian does describe how paleontologist Michael Novacek had his work distorted by creationists Philip Johnson and Michael Behe:

    … microbiologist Dr Michael Behe, who responded by citing a single sentence in Novacek’s 1994 article (listed above): “Ambulocetus, Rodhocetus and other more aquatically specialized archaeocetes cannot be strung in procession from ancestor to descendant in a scala naturae.” … The excerpted sentence, which begins the last paragraph of a nearly full-page commentary, is classically taken out of context. Novacek spends the entire article explaining the traditional problem of the lack of fossil intermediates between land mammals and whales, then shows how recent discoveries are morphologically, functionally, and stratigraphically intermediate. Novacek’s quoted sentence means only to say that we do not regard these things as successive direct ancestors.

    Dr. John Sanford’s work does not seem to have been similarly twisted (allowing some slack for transcriptionist’s interpretations). Negron and her, ahem, advisors, had no reason to do that, since Sanford (described here) provides his own funhouse-mirror version of reality:

    … one of his main pieces of evidence for devolution is the decline in lifespans among Noah’s descendants, as described in the Bible – according to Sanford this “is one of the strongest, as a scientist, one of the strongest evidences for me that Scripture is telling us, not speaking figuratively, not speaking creatively, but telling us history. And it speaks of a decline.” Indeed. No paper promoting Sanford’s concept of “genetic entropy” has ever made it through peer review …

  3. Pete Dunkelberg says:

    The Fl Standards passed by 3 to 2. That must be as good as it gets.
    If Negron is any indication, creationism has not improved since the 1990’s.
    But science has. For instance on the embryo issue:

    Richards updates Richardson

    I had Richardson’s embryo photos on my computer in 1997-1998.

    It now appears that
    a) more attention should have been given to yolk sacs
    b) Haeckel’s first edition embryo drawings were not the best, but he kept improving in subsequent editions
    c) Only creationists say that “Darwin’s theory” calls for embryos to be most similar in the very earliest stages.

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