Florida State Senate Bill 2692: The We Have *NO* Scientific Standards Act
Florida Republican Ronda Storms has introduced the positively named Academic Freedom Act in the Florida State Senate. The bill concerns the rights of teachers and students with regard to education on, you guessed it, evolution. The bill proposes that teachers be able to “objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution in connection with teaching any prescribed curriculum regarding chemical or biological origins”. On the surface of it, this is absolutely fine. It would be great for students to learn about the scientific debates regarding the mechanisms of evolution. But of course this is not what Storms is referring to. Storms wants teachers to be able to lead students to believe that evolution is not the only real scientific account we have on species change, diversity, and complexity, though it is. And she wants teachers to be able to sneak in plugs for Intelligent Design Creationism, a nonscientific position which is based not on evidence but on religious dogma, and consequently is endorsed only by devout religionists.
Storms also wants students not to be “penalized in any way because he or she subscribes to a particular position or view regarding biological or chemical evolution.” This is just silly. If the evidence all points in one direction and the student still denies where it points without being able to pose a cogent argument for his/her position (if the Creationist activists can’t, I doubt many 16 year olds will be able to pull it off), why shouldn’t the student be penalized? This is science class, not “believe whatever you feel like” class. Science is not about protecting cherished beliefs. It’s about learning through rigorous investigation and intellectual honesty. If we allow students to not be punished for willful ignorance with regard to evolution, on what grounds do we stop the spread of this policy to other domains? Will a student be able to pull out the academic freedom card in physics class when tested on gravity (Q: Explain why objects fall to the earth. A: God pulls them down.)? When a student gets a mathematics question wrong because they did not apply the correct formula, are they entitled to full marks based on their academic freedom to believe in which ever mathematical formula usages they choose? No? Why not? Oh, right. Because there isn’t a mob of bickering parents who are *offended* by gravity or the pythagorean theorem because they view it as an affront to their cherished religious beliefs.
The National Center for Science Education writes:
Presumably attempting to avert the charge that it would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the bill also specifies that its provisions “shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.”
Although the bill explicitly states, “The provisions of this section do not require or encourage any change in the state curriculum standards for the K-12 public school system,” SB 2692 was introduced to satisfy the demands of Florida creationists disappointed by the state board of education’s February 19, 2008, vote to adopt a new set of state science standards in which evolution is presented as a “fundamental concept underlying all of biology.” At the blog of Florida Citizens for Science, Brandon Haught wrote, “Chances are that this bill will go nowhere, slipping into a soap opera coma. It’s typical grandstanding, and everyone knows it. … This bill was written in a way to make it way too obvious what the purpose is, and so it won’t be taken seriously.” But, he added, “It still wouldn’t hurt to write to your Florida legislators to let them know what you think of this.”