“Controversial theories” science education bill filed in Florida senate”

We’ve got a live one.

This past Friday Sen. Dennis Baxley filed a bill in our state legislature concerning public education. Senate Bill 966’s purpose is to revise “the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards; providing that such standards are the minimum baseline core content standards for K-12 public schools.” In other words, Baxley would like the use of our state standards to be only the minimum school districts should strive for. They’re encouraged to consider adopting their own set of standards that are “equivalent to or better than these [state] standards.”

What is that all about? Baxley wants school districts to go beyond the basic standards. He wants to allow school districts to raise the bar, so the speak, and challenge schools and their students with more rigorous standards.

Well, that’s what Baxley is trying to sell us. But we can see what he’s really after by reading further into the bill. Go to page three, lines 62 to 66.

62 (b) Science standards must establish specific curricular
63 content for, at a minimum, the nature of science, earth and
64 space science, physical science, and life science. Controversial
65 theories and concepts must be taught in a factual, objective,
66 and balanced manner.

Ah, yes, good ol’ “controversial theories.”

Where did this bill come from? Baxley clearly is working closely with the creationist, climate-change-denying group Florida Citizens Alliance. They had announced last month they were working on this bill.

And they found a wonderful sponsor for their bill. Baxley has a history of disliking evolution lessons in schools. He was a representative in the state house back in 2005 when he sponsored an infamous bill titled The Academic Freedom Bill of Rights. That bill would have prevented “biased indoctrination” by “the classroom dictator.” In defense of that bill he related an upsetting personal story of a Florida State University professor ranting against creationism in class. You can read more about that bill in chapter 8 of my book Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom.

In 2008 I was deeply involved in the brawl over the inclusion of evolution in the new state science standards. Baxley was then executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida and he had a firm opinion about the issue:

“There is no justification for singling out evolution for special skepticism or critical analysis,” wrote Richard T. O’Grady, executive director of the American Institute of Biological Sciences in a Feb. 8 letter to the Board of Education. “Its strength as a scientific theory matches that of the theory of gravitation, atomic theory and the germ theory.”

The response from Dennis Baxley, executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida: “He’s in error.”

“At one time, the scientific community thought that for good health, you should attach leaches to your body,” said Baxley, a former state representative from Ocala. “We’re just asking them to leave the door open a little bit” for other evidence to be considered.

And that’s not all. Baxley also sponsored last session’s Religious Liberties in Schools bill that successfully passed into Florida law.

In the Florida Senate, her partner in this quest is State Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who owns a string of funeral homes and was the former executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida.

Baxley’s not a fan of evolution, and thinks it’s unfair that Florida’s public school children are being exposed to a science curriculum that doesn’t allow that the earth is just 6,000 years old.

They were the guiding hands that successfully passed a bill that would expand the role of religion in Florida’s public schools to levels that have alarmed the American Civil Liberties Union, the Florida Citizens for Science and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

There are plenty of other things in this new controversial theories bill about other academic subjects that could potentially raise alarms for those teachers and subject matter experts. But our focus is, of course, the clear attack on science education, specifically evolution and climate change. This Washington Post article from earlier this year briefly explains the purpose of these types of bills:

These bills are worded as “academic freedom” bills, but they really are efforts to present foundational science as controversial. For example, evolution is the animating principle of modern biology, but these laws attempt to allow creationism and evolution to be debated in a science classroom as though they had equal scientific basis. There is no scientific basis to creationist thinking.

This is developing into an all out war against science education in Florida. New laws about the challenging of textbooks (see our Instructional Materials bills ’17 blog category) and religious liberties (see our Religious Liberties Act ’17 blog category) are meant to chip away at classroom science instruction and now this newly proposed bill is trying to blast a hole right through its heart.