March 27, 2008

Florida's Shame: Orwellian Academic Freedom and the Citrus Taliban Storms Troopers

The Orwellian Academic Freedom Bill written by Ronda Storms, Dennis Baxley and the Discovery Institutes Ministry of Theocracy has been passed by the Florida Senate's PreK-12 Education Committee by a vote of 4 to 1. The vote did not include the chair and vice chair of the committee who, in what was almost certainly an instance of wise political CYA, stayed away entirely. The sole dissenting vote was Ted Deutch; it should be noted that one of the votes in favor of this Fundamentalist-sponsored garbage was Larcenia Bullard, a Democrat. The name "Larcenia" sounds quite a bit like Larceny, and in this case it's a fitting moniker. What these people have done is practically criminal, which I'll explain below. First, some excerpts from an article on the matter from The Tampa Tribune:

Evolution Dissent Advances

It's not about letting religion creep into science classrooms, Sen. Ronda Storms insisted.

It's about protecting the rights of students and teachers who don't agree with the science behind Darwinian evolution, the Republican from Valrico argued before the Senate's pre-k through 12 education committee voted 4-1 Wednesday to approve the bill.

Despite her argument, religion kept coming up anyway, as Storms pressed for her "academic freedom" act. Her bill would allow public school teachers to present science-based alternatives to Darwin's theory of evolution, a theory written into Florida's curriculum standards and one that is held as a fundamental concept of biology by most members of the science community.

Although professors spoke in opposition to the bill and a representative from the American Civil Liberties Union said it would open the door to teaching creationism, the committee voted to move the bill forward.

"Evolution will still be taught as a matter of law. This bill does not undo the current standard," Storms said. She added, "It's interesting for me to note that the only folks who brought up religion today have been those in opposition..."

Those who oppose Darwin's theory of evolution aren't all religiously motivated, backers said Wednesday, although Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami... told the committee of her own experience in college, where she refused to answer a science exam question about evolution with the accepted Darwinian answer and instead copied down the creation story in Genesis, Chapter 1.

Sen. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, who cast the lone dissenting vote Wednesday, echoed what a staff analysis of the bill said - that there have been no complaints about teachers or students saying they were discriminated against because they presented an alternative scientific theory of evolution.

"What we heard today was the suggestion that there are people of faith who have some objections and they're not permitted to raise them," Deutch said.

Although he thinks students should be allowed to debate things philosophically, those debates do not belong in the science classroom, he said.

The bill's next stop is the Senate judiciary committee.
How Floridian students will be envisioned when they apply to universities, thanks to Ronda StormsNone of the proponents of this bill has yet been able to point to a scientific theory competitive with modern evolutionary theory. Despite Storms' nonsense about this not being religiously motivated, one of the other state senators who voted in favor of this felt compelled to testify about refusing to answer a question on an exam at the post-secondary level with the material taught in that class. Can there be any doubt that this is the educational circumstance that lies behind Bullard's vote? Given her way, students would be allowed to come up with any religious nonsense and refuse to learn biology. Every fingerprint on this bill traces back to a religious organization of some sort, whether the militantly theocratic First Baptist Church or the Discovery Institute (remember, "The intelligent designer is ultimately the Christian god," William Dembski has told us.) These people are liars. Ronda Storms, a person who has attempted on numerous occasions to curtail civil liberties in the name of theological correctness, is perhaps the biggest liar of them all. Any one of these people who flaps their gums long enough to claim that this Academic Freedom idiocy is anything more than a bald-faced attempt to insure that their fellows from the Ministry of Truth have an opportunity to present their theology as science to impressionable children is lying. There is no other word for it, and anyone blind enough or stupid enough to fall for that lie who isn't already a member of Storms' Party of God doesn't deserve to have their voice heard on this issue one way or the other. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, of course, but some opinions are wrong, ill-informed and dangerous.

What is going on in Florida is nothing less than a consolidation of power under the auspices of the intellectual equivalent of Afghanistan's Taliban. Sad to say, there's more than enough dumb to go around in the state's governance to support their efforts all the way to making it law. Just as the Taliban did everything possible to isolate Afghanistan from modernizing influences, so the Florida Taliban is taking advantage of its influence to isolate the next generation of leadership from contamination with modern, liberal, non-theological ideas. These are people who know in their hearts that their fundamentalist, literalist ideas about religion and society cannot survive the scrutiny of genuine critical analysis. These are people frightened of the big, bad world who want to carve themselves an insulated bubble out of an entire state. These are the would-be builders of an educational and intellectual ghetto, as witnessed by their further attempt even while "Academic Freedom" moves to the next committee on the way to a vote buy the full state senate, have proposed a constitutional amendment that would transfer money from public funds that might otherwise go to schools instead into the hands of religious organizations — a prohibition against which has been on the books in Florida since just after the Civil War. These people don't even qualify as 19th century fundamentalists in this regard. In terms of American history, one would need to look much further back to find their equivalents dwelling sometime in the late 17th or early 18th centuries.

The real intellectual motivation behind Florida's Orwellian Academic Freedom BillWhat will happen to Florida's students under the rule of these miscreants of millennial proportion? I can tell you what I've heard from the academic community outside of Florida. What will happen is that students who have received an education through the high school level in Florida will find themselves facing a playing field tilted sharply against them should they apply to science programs outside of their home state. They would be under a black cloud, as it were, because nobody would be certain that they'd received a solid background in science to begin with, no matter how good their grades might appear to be. I will tell you flat out that universities are not willing to invest resources in remedial education for new students when there are so many applicants who don't need it. Coming from Florida will be a strike against Floridian students unfortunate enough to grow up under a Southern Taliban regime. Is it their fault? No; they didn't vote these jackasses into office. Is it fair that they be discriminated against? College admission is a process based on discriminating among academic records; both the school and the student get something out of the relationship. Yes, it's fair to pass by suspect students in favor of those with a good education. And what will students who have no other option but to attend a Florida university do? They'll go to universities that have had budgets cut to the bone, from which experienced educators are already departing and which are already cutting admissions. That will be the product of this new Banana Republic of Talibanized Florida, and that is why the parents of Florida students must act to make sure that people like Ronda Storms and Larcenia Bullard don't wind up with the futures of their children in their hands ever again. No matter what happens with this Academic Freedom slag, whether it makes it through the Senate or not, people who care about the future of Florida and its children have a responsibility to relegate these mullahs to the dustbins of history that is their rightful and well-earned place every bit as much as Iraq and Afghanistan and Iran need to do the same with their own brands of homegrown theocrats.

On the other hands, many students will benefit from Florida passing this Academic Freedom Bill. For every would-be science major from Florida, there are ten more waiting in the wings from states that teach good science. The loss suffered by a Floridian student is an advantage given to a student from North Carolina, Washington or Maine. That's the ghetto, and just as economic ghettos concentrate and institutionalize poverty for most of their inhabitants, so will an educational ghetto foster multigenerational ignorance and competitive disadvantage. This is what the Storms Troopers are willing to trade off for preservation of their extremist religious belief as a basis for government and the intellectual life of their constituents.

I hope that this bill dies in Florida's judiciary committee. If it becomes law, make no mistake that Florida will garner for itself a reputation as a provincial backwater fit only for a tourism-based service sector at best and a place to be avoided altogether at worst. Florida will become, and deservedly so, a worldwide laughing stock, just as happened to Kansas a couple of years ago. If that's what the people of Florida want, then they can have it. The walls they will build by continuing to elect people like Storms, Bullard and Baxley will keep things out just as surely as they lock them in. The rest of the world will go on without North America's newest Banana Republic no matter what the Citrus Inquisition accomplishes here. If the people of Florida want to make a future in which children can grow up to contribute to the sum of human knowledge, to improve and understand the world through knowledge and application of the principles of solid physical sciences that have given us surgery, medicine, genetic counseling, population ecology, and a million other benefits that have extended lifespans and improved the quality of life, then they will send these dullards packing. That's the choice; if we have learned one thing from this shameful and ludicrous chapter of Florida's history, it is that there can be no middle ground when religious fundamentalism inserts itself into government.

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