Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Motherboard: Florida Bills Would Let Citizens Remove Textbooks That Mention Climate Change and Evolution

First, lets get past the hyperbolic headline.  A bill just passed in Florida is addressing parental concerns about curricular material.  It reads, in part:
2. Each district school board must adopt a policy regarding an a parent's objection by a parent or a resident of  the county to the his or her child's use of a specific instructional material, which clearly describes a process to  handle all objections and provides for resolution. The process must provide the parent or resident the opportunity to proffer evidence to the district school board that:
a. An instructional material does not meet the criteria of 116 s. 1006.31(2) or s. 1006.40(3)(d) if it was selected for use in a course or otherwise made available to students in the school district but was not subject to the public notice, review, comment, and hearing procedures under s. 1006.283(2)(b)8., 9., and 11.
Here is Motherboard's take on it:
The bills are framed in as way to give communities power, but they are among 11 pieces of legislation debated in state houses this year deemed anti-science by critics, and which seek to change the way science is taught in US schools.

The Florida bills don't explicitly target climate change and evolution education, but Port Orange, Fla. science teacher Brandon Haught is worried nonetheless. "With this bill, we're giving a citizen—who can't believe evolution is being taught—more power and more weight, equalling out someone who actually knows what they're talking about," Haught told me.
Maybe. But it strikes me that the opposite might also be true. Look what happened in Dover, in 2005.  The Florida scenario might not be different.  We know that, in some instances, ID or creationist materials are brought into class by teachers, hoping to teach those ideas.  With this bill, an enterprising parent might be able to counteract that.

Conversely, this kind of legislation could open the floodgates to all sorts of mischief in the form of a large uptick in litigation that needs to be handled for every frivolous complaint.  I don't think that the legislature of Florida has done themselves any favors here.  Further, it is pretty clear that the supporters of these bills hope that the school boards will be deluged with complaints about the teaching of evolution.

And, of course, the problem of when people get involved in the process who have very little knowledge of the subject matter is ever present:
Keith Flaugh, co-director of the Florida Citizens' Alliance, a libertarian advocacy group, argued the bills are about transparency and giving communities greater say in school materials, which he said are currently being chosen by "politicized" school districts and "establishment" textbook companies.

"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."

For Haught, that's the kind of argument that raises red flags. "Theory," as a scientific term, is not the same as "theory" in common usage, he said: It denotes "a well-supported observation" offering "the highest level of understanding in science."
This is incorrect on many levels.  There is an incredible amount of evidence for evolution.  Mr. Flaugh simply does not know it or chooses not to learn about it.  My experience is that the latter is probably true. 

Secondly, you don't “prove” anything in science.You build support for one theory or another, based on observation of present events or reconstruction of past events.  You cannot have a “balanced” discussion of competing theories when one has little to no empirical support.

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