Attacks on science education intensify — push back, Florida
Attacks on science education intensify — push back, FloridaBrandon Haught, Guest Columnist, Orlando Sentinel 1/19/2018 - originalScience education in Florida’s public schools is facing an unprecedented assault that started last year and has the high potential to escalate this year. Evolution and climate change are the targets of a coordinated attack as detractors of these concepts seek to balance lessons with some forms of creationism or denial of human-caused climate change.
Our governor approved a new law last year that expands the ability of citizens to challenge public school instructional materials that they don’t like. The law burdens school districts with the new mandate in some circumstances to appoint a hearing officer who conducts a formal hearing when a citizen brings forth a challenge. The hearing officer then makes a recommendation to the school board. Finally, the board members make a decision.
One such hearing has already taken place. In November, a hearing officer was appointed in Nassau County to address complaints from a citizen about evolution’s prominence in three textbooks. He stated: “I’m proposing to the Nassau County Board that we stop the teaching of Darwinian evolution as fact. This matter is of utmost importance to the education of our children. … They do not have the scientific background to challenge this evolutionary teaching. It can crush their faith in the Bible.”
The School Board eventually voted against his proposal but not before hearing from the district’s chief of legal services and superintendent that they both personally agreed with the citizen’s views. And a School Board member made the suggestion that students and their parents could perhaps request to opt out of evolution lessons.
That’s a single example. Media reports indicate that other challenges are cropping up. The Associated Press found that in Brevard County citizens complained about social studies textbooks. “They say authors frequently ignore American exceptionalism and the books’ assertion that global warming is caused by human activity is ‘blatant indoctrination.’” Another media report said the Marion County superintendent “was receiving complaints about the district’s science and history books ….” And a TV station in Palm Beach County reported that “there is currently one challenge of a science textbook that deals with evolution.”
The problem is expected to get worse with the filing of new bills for the 2018 legislative session. A pair of them, Senate Bill 1644 and House Bill 827, propose to cause even more complications for instructional materials review and approval. The bills would allow citizens to propose their own recommendations for materials, and the Department of Education or school districts would then be required to solicit bids from the publishers. Could this open the door to soliciting bids from creationist publishers?
Another pair of bills is a much more direct attack on science education. Senate Bill 966 and House Bill 825 propose allowing school districts to adopt their own sets of academic standards as long as they are equal to or more rigorous than the state’s standards. There are no clear instructions in the bill on how to determine the standards’ rigor. The assault on science comes later in the bill when it makes this requirement of any newly adopted science standards: “Controversial theories and concepts must be taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner.” No list of controversial theories is provided in the bill, but that phrase has been seen in many bills proposed in other states. Deceptively called “Academic Freedom” bills, the clearly intended targets are evolution and climate change, according to the National Center for Science Education.
Furthermore, one of the bill sponsors, Sen. Dennis Baxley, has been quoted several times in the media stating anti-evolution views. He claimed that a college professor who teaches evolution but not creationism is a “classroom dictator” and that public school classrooms should “leave the door open a little bit” for other concepts to balance the teaching of evolution.
As I already stated, science education in under unprecedented assault here in the Sunshine State. It’s important to stand up in support of sound science education. Will you stand with us?
Brandon Haught, a public high school science teacher and founding board member of Florida Citizens for Science, is the author of Going Ape: Florida’s Battle over Evolution in the Classroom published by the University Press of Florida.