Check the calendar: 2017, the year Florida relegated evolution to a tenuous supposition.
Some 92 years after a substitute high school teacher named John T. Scopes stood trial for exposing students to Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection, Florida intends to force local school boards to relitigate the old conflict between religious fundamentalism and modern science.
Last month, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that will allow any county resident to challenge public school teaching materials they personally find unsuitable, inappropriate or pornographic. The law requires school boards to hire hearing officers to deal with complaints.
Scott signed another throwback bill in May, making way for more Old Time Religion in public schools. Critics like the Anti-Defamation League warn that, along with a long list of other worries, the Religious Expressions Act would allow classroom teachers to “engage in proselytizing speech or prayer, or speech denigrating religion in the classroom or on campus during the school day with students as young as five years old.”
There’s no mention of evolution, of course, in the teaching materials law Scott signed June 26 (just three days before Turkey’s governing religious fundamentalists announced that evolution would no longer be taught in Turkish schools). The bill allows county residents — any local resident with a bug up his nose, not just parents — to challenge instructional materials. But affidavits filed in favor of the bill by the Naples-based Florida Citizens Alliance made it plain that Florida school districts will soon be forced to deal with objections to that evolution stuff.
One typical affidavit cited the “presentation of evolution as fact with no clarifying that this is an unproven theory, and that there are other beliefs as to the origin of life.” The complainant added, “Most Americans believe that the world and the beings living on it were created by God as revealed in the Bible.”
Textbooks and other teaching materials that broach global warming will also be targeted. “Contrary to the ‘conventional’ wisdom (which is, contrarily, NOT accepted by a vast majority of Americans, nor even by the vast majority of scientists! Look it up!), the ‘consensus’ is in fact that, while global warming (and cooling) has occurred and may be occurring (although literally no warming in the last 16 years), it is not caused by human actions.”
Brandon Haught of the Florida Citizens for Science worries that fervent groups of anti-science crusaders will use the law to essentially pester school districts into submission. Haught, a high school biology teacher from Volusia County and author of the 2014 book “Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom,” said that the activists behind the bill also intend to go after history and civics materials that don’t conform to their ultra-conservative, America First world view. It’s clear from the affidavits that they’re worried that anti-Christian Marxism and Islamic ideology have seeped into textbooks.
They also rave about school children exposed to “pornographic” reading lists, though their definition of pornography seems rather elastic. Toni Morrison’s Pulitizer Prize-winning novel “Beloved” and Cristina Garcia’s critically acclaimed “Dreaming in Cuban” were both the object of considerable pique.
So school boards are now required by law to find a hearing officer to handle these complaints. Haught said that the Florida Citizens Alliance told lawmakers they need not worry about the costs of hiring hearing officers. “They said their members would volunteer to hear the cases,” he said, with a weary laugh.
Vice News reported in April that at least five other state legislatures were considering measures designed to rid school curricula of inconvenient science, mostly material dealing with climate change. David Evans, executive director of the National Science Teacher Association, told Vice that anti-science legislators were using the same language they once employed in their crusade against evolution.
With Florida’s new law, the anti-science mob will be able to go after both. Censoring Toni Morrison, I guess, is just a bonus.