An editorial was published in a few papers recently, including the Gainesville Sun, opining that Florida’s new instructional materials law isn’t something to get all worked up about: Needless fretting over textbook law.
The doomsdayers among us believe Scott and the measure’s supporters have thrust open an educational Pandora’s box, exposing school districts to the “anti-science” whims of flat-earthers and climate-change deniers.
To them we reply: Deep breaths, folks, deep breaths.
There are some elements of the editorial I agree with. I agree that this law won’t wipe science subjects like evolution and climate change out of the state’s public schools. I agree that a lot of the news coverage, especially the headlines attached to the stories, are overblown and sensationalist. I believe trouble will likely only pop up in a few spots around the state where small yet vocal groups are already causing headaches.
But I disagree with the overall tone of the editorial, which is essentially saying don’t worry, this is no big deal.
This law probably isn’t a big deal when you look at it from a statewide perspective. But it’s a huge deal when you look at it from the local school district perspective. Even if only one school district decides to allow anti-science instructional materials into their school (due to a sympathetic school board majority or relentless pressure that eventually forces a school board into compromise), that’s going to potentially impact the education of hundreds or thousands of students for years. This is not just alarmist hype. I wrote the book on this topic. It’s happened before here in the Sunshine State and the chances of it happening again are now very high with the passage into law of the instructional materials bill and the religious liberties in schools bill.
Keep in mind that the group mentioned in the editorial, the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, took credit for writing the bill. They took credit for recruiting legislators to sponsor the bill. They took credit for helping to successfully navigate the bill through all of its committee stops and votes. They took credit for helping it become law.
Why in the world would they go through all of that effort?
The law’s authors and supporters said:
“Darwin’s theory is a theory, and the biblical view is a theory, and our kids should be taught both in a balanced way,” [Florida Citizens’ Alliance’s Keith Flaugh] said.
And that goal was repeated:
“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.”
And it was repeated yet again:
“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.
Those quotes lead me to the next point I want to make. The editorial questions why nearly every news story focuses primarily on science education.
The whole reason why the media is fixated on the science aspect of this law is because Florida Citizens for Science — a group that specializes in science education, of course — is vigilant and aggressive. FCS brought the pitfalls of this law to the media’s attention and made it incredibly easy for them to report on it, having done most of their work for them.
I’ve lamented to a few reporters that no one has stepped up to defend the other academic subjects under attack. There apparently is no Citizens for Civics organization out there, for instance. And many reporters should shoulder some blame for not bothering to do their own digging and questioning about those other academic subjects. The Alliance is much more focused on civics and history and religion than they are on science.
But science became the media’s focal point because evolution and climate change lessons in schools are hot button topics and we constantly monitor those topics and immediately take action, such as alerting the media, when problems pop up. Florida Citizens for Science would likely have never been involved in this fight if the Alliance hadn’t included science topics in their long list of “objectionable materials.”
Whereas I agree that many news stories have gotten some facts wrong and over hyped the impact of the instructional materials law, I disagree that we’re engaging in “needless fretting.” I appreciate that the news coverage has highlighted this issue because now citizen science advocates across the state are aware of the laws and are ready to act if needed. FCS is flooded with correspondence, membership requests, and social media followers.
And the interest has led to yet more calls from reporters (I know that a few more stories are currently in the works). I make sure to emphasize to those reporters the facts of this issue, not the hype. We want reality-based awareness of this issue, not the-sky-is-falling screaming.
This is not “needless fretting.” This is citizen activism provoked by very real attacks on science education.