Challenges to evolution & climate change in textbooks


A new law passed by our state legislature and signed by our governor in 2017 now allows any citizen, not just a parent, to protest to local school boards about instructional materials and those protests could then force the school board to appoint a hearing officer to collect evidence about the complaints. This has led to several challenges already (detailed at the bottom of this page), some of them blatantly targeting evolution and other science topics.

Why this law threatens science education:

The law originated with a group in Collier County called Florida Citizens’ Alliance. They spent several years fighting against what they believe to be bias in textbooks used in their local schools. They eventually expanded their scope to the entire state and met with some success in the state legislature in 2017. For a full write-up of the lengthy history of this fight, which isn’t over yet, see the blog post Creationist-enabling bill passes; what can you do now? Here was Florida Citizens for Science’s official statement after the legislature passed the bill but before the governor signed it:

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.

Florida Citizens for Science launched opposition to the Alliance’s efforts in December 2015 when research revealed that among the Alliance’s many complaints about textbooks were complaints about the teaching of evolution.

The Alliance typically concentrated on history textbooks, but some of those books have sections explaining human evolution. In this December 22 post, they say that there is a problem with how evolution is presented:

“Florida History: People and Nations” Collier County 6th grade History: These two pages teach the children that we descended from apes. This is stated as a fact not a theory. Nowhere in the material is a balanced discussion of the biblical explanation.

textbookskullsIn a December 15 post they publish a full report on Modern World History, 9th Grade Teacher Edition Year: 2013. Here is one of their critiques:

Study of Darwin’s theory of evolution

Very biased section and Darwin’s conclusions presented as fact and the biblical theory as ludicrous

– Poses the question “how can the earths tremendous variety of plants and animals be explained?” states as fact millions of species exist and fossil records document changes over time. Darwin proved species compete for food and only fittest survive and pass off traits to their offspring.

-while the biblical explanation claims all species created by God on the same day

This is a totally superficial and disingenuous comparison. No reference of fact that both are theories or offer students references like the well documented series called “ The Truth Project” by Focus on the Family.

The Alliance went on the record with many, many other complaints about evolution and climate change. For a full list of those complaints, be sure to read the history write-up linked above.

Additionally, a news article about the bill, Florida Bills Would Let Citizens Remove Textbooks That Mention Climate Change and Evolution, featured this alarming quote:

Keith Flaugh, co-director of the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, a libertarian advocacy group, argued the bills are about transparency and giving communities greater say in school materials, which he said are currently being chosen by “politicized” school districts and “establishment” textbook companies.

“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.”

When the bill passed its final vote in the Senate, another story, Florida lawmakers pass bill making it easier to challenge textbooks, reaffirmed Flaugh’s stance:

Similar measures have been considered by dozens of state legislatures in recent years, typically backed by conservative organizations and politicians, and viewed by critics as targeting evolution, climate change and sexually explicit material.

“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.

Outside help:

The Alliance teamed up with the climate change denying activists at the Heartland Institute and conservative textbook watchdogs Truth in Textbooks. To read more about their partnership, see the post: The Heartland Institute, Truth in Textbooks, and Time magazine are interested in Florida.

Fallout from this new law:

Nassau County: The first school district to face a challenge based on this new law was Nassau County. A citizen complained about evolution’s prominent place in the textbooks and asked that a disclaimer sticker be placed in all of the textbooks. The citizen got a hearing with an appointed hearing officer and then the findings were presented to the school board. The school board voted down the proposal to use the disclaimer stickers but likely only because of the high potential for an unwinnable court challenge. The superintendent and a legal adviser both stated during the meeting that they agreed with the complainant but felt that the legal hurdle was too high.

Read these blog posts for the full story:

Martin County: Six residents submitted official complaints to the school district, triggering a hearing. At the hearing (May 9, 2018), one of the textbook protesters said:

“Florida Statutes declare that materials recommended for instructions should be accurate, objective, and balanced. Within the scientific community, the origin of species is a debated topic. Since there is controversy within a scientific community it is unbalanced to present evidence from only one side. And to present that one side as seemingly factual is also not accurate.”

At the June 5 school board meeting, the board members debated the complaints and eventually approved adoption of new science textbooks without modifications on a narrow 3-2 vote. This was the goal of one of the board members on the losing side of that vote:

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.

Read these blog posts for the full story:

Collier County: Four citizens had filed 220 objections to the textbooks and cited in their written objections filed with the school district many creationist sources but then claimed during the hearing that their complaints had nothing to do with religion. The marathon five-hour hearing and board member deliberation (June 18, 2018) eventually resulted in a narrow 3-2 vote in favor of adopting new science textbooks without any alterations or supplemental materials. One school board member on the losing side claimed that it’s okay for the concept of intelligent design to be taught in science classrooms and the other school board member who voted no accused the books of pushing a political agenda concerning climate change.

Read these blog posts for the full story:

Clay County: Clay County did not have any official citizen complaints and so did not have a hearing. But as the school board considered adopting new science textbooks, they engaged in some lively debates about evolution in the classroom. Once board member said:

But my difficulty lies in the narrow scope as it relates to the theory of human and species origin in that the only theory mentioned is evolution. And all that is expected for students to know is its supporting evidence and none of its flaws. At best, this limited level of exposure for students to the highly contested views on the origin of life and species is negligent. At the worst it’s intellectually deceptive.

And the district superintendent said:

“In no way, shape or form do our textbooks or will our textbooks ever reflect evolution as a fact because the fact that our state standards does not allow us to do so.”

Read these blog posts for the full story:

Other Counties?: Are there other counties that have faced opposition to evolution and climate change in their science textbooks? There is a high chance that there are, but we aren’t aware of them yet. That’s were we need your help. Research your own school district and your neighboring districts. Were there any complaints filed about the textbooks? Were there any hearings? Let us know if you find any!