Opening the floodgates for ideological fights over classroom content, a new Florida law is about to give climate change-deniers and evolution skeptics a fresh round of weapons to heave against science in the state’s classrooms.
In fact, it will help all kinds of people with axes to grind about what’s taught in the public schools.
Gov. Rick Scott signed House Bill 989, into law on Monday. It goes into effect July 1. An overhaul of the state’s policy on instructional materials, it allows any county resident — not just parents — to challenge materials used in the public schools.
According to PBS’ Frontline, Florida is “the first state to pass something like its classroom materials bill.”
A group called the Florida Citizens Alliance pushed for the measure. “We were getting a lot of complaints about religious indoctrination, political indoctrination, revisionist history and even pornography in the textbooks,” says its managing director, Keith Flaugh.
Among those complaints: books that teach that “global warming is a reality” and that “humans are just another animal.” Economics and history texts that criticize Ronald Reagan’s economic policies and fail to credit the former president for the breakup of the Soviet Union. Explicit sex in novels, including Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” and “The Bluest Eye.”
“Purchased at taxpayer expense, these materials teach our children that European Socialism is better than free markets and that the government is the answer to every problem,” the group’s website says. “They make use of sexually explicit material which tears down family values.”
The new law doesn’t mention climate change, evolution or any other topic, but it requires school districts to set up a formal process to field complaints from any resident about the content of educational materials, including anything in the school library or on a reading list.
The complaints must be heard by an “unbiased and qualified hearing officer” who’s not “an employee or agent of the school district.”
To help residents keep their eye out for material to object to, each district must post on its website “a current list of instructional materials, by grade level, purchased by the district.”
Who will sign up to be a hearing officer? Flaugh says members of his group would be happy to volunteer.
What this means is that every whackadoodle with an ideological ax to grind will get the chance — at taxpayer expense — to attack the school curriculum, and educators will have to defend modern scholarship.
Or as science teacher Brandon Haught has put it, hearing officers will have to consider nonsense complaints, “in essence giving protesters on a crusade nearly equal weight in the instructional-materials selection process as education and subject matter experts.”
Haught, who teaches in Volusia County, has written “Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Education in the Classroom,” which he summarizes as “a book about the many times our state became a national embarrassment when the teaching of evolution was challenged.”
This looks like another embarrassment in the making.
But wait. It gets worse. Another new law, signed by Scott on June 9, protects students and educators who wish to express their religious beliefs in school from discrimination.
According to Frontline:
Flaugh said his group will use [the religious discrimination law] in conjunction with the instructional materials bill to contest textbooks that demonstrate “bias toward Islam and seldom mention Christianity,” and promote those that push for a Christian view of the origins of life.
“Darwin’s theory is a theory, and the biblical view is a theory, and our kids should be taught both in a balanced way,” he said.
So this isn’t just about removing so-called objectionable material from impressionable young minds. It’s about advancing a particular set of religious ideas.
That doesn’t belong in science class.
Congratulations, Florida. You’ve just opened a can of worms that’s bound to make public education more contentious. And, in all likelihood, dumber.