April 09, 2008

Florida as Intellectual Ghetto: Another Brick Cemented in the Wall

Depending on who is reporting the story, the Orwellianly-named "Academic Freedom Bill" sponsored by members of Florida's increasingly influential First Baptist Church has cleared the state legislature's equally Orwellianly-named Judiciary Committee by a vote of either 6-3 or 7-3 and will now go on to a vote by the full senate. I find it telling that the state which had so much trouble counting votes in 2000 is still having trouble counting a much smaller number in 2008, but that's Florida for you. Clearly, solid education just isn't a big priority down there and I don't suppose it ever will be.

There are numerous stories in the press about this, but I've decided that I like the one in the Sun-Sentinel best today:

Florida Senate bill allows teachers to mention religious theories about origin of life
Teachers could talk freely about religious theories, too

Florida teachers could freely mention religious theories about the origin of humankind — including creationism and intelligent design — along with evolution without fearing retribution under a measure that passed a key Senate committee Tuesday despite sharp opposition from South Florida lawmakers.

The "Evolution Academic Freedom Act" was approved 7-3 by the Senate Judiciary Committee and now goes to the full chamber for consideration, although no date has yet been set. The measure awaits its first hearing in the House.

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, said she filed the bill after hearing cases of students and teachers who felt "muzzled" and unable to discuss alternate theories on the origin of life in the classroom. She said teachers have suffered retribution from school authorities and students have been the target of "denigrating comments" from other teachers.

While the measure does not allow any teacher to promote a specific religious doctrine, "you can hold to your own religious views without being attacked for it," Storms said. "This promotes the free flow of ideas..."

"I believe the purpose of this bill is to let people bring their religious beliefs into school," said Geller, the Senate's Democratic Leader, expressing concerns about keeping the separation between church and state. "We need to keep the wall."

The legislation was filed after the state Board of Education, by a one-vote margin, approved changes in February to the state science standards requiring the teaching of the "scientific theory of evolution..."

Despite Storms' claims of reprisals against teachers, according to the Florida Department of Education there has never been a case in Florida where a public school teacher has claimed discrimination based on their science teaching.

In South Florida, teachers say they have had no problems.

"I mention to my students that there are alternative theories, but I teach evolution," said Gerry O'Donnell, science department chairman at Eagles Landing Middle School west of Boca Raton. "The preponderance of evidence is clear and everyone seems to be on board with that. In 10 years of teaching this, no one has ever challenged it, neither parents nor students..."
Academic freedom is not now, nor has ever been, about preserving outmoded and discredited ideas, nor has it ever been about subverting the basic definition of an academic discipline. What the bill proposes would if applied to social studies classes instead of science, for instance, result in teachers having the freedom to tell students that America had lost the Civil War and that slavery was therefore still legal in the Confederate States. Why not? If you can ignore factual evidence in one discipline, why not ignore all of it and make up stories about any subject at all? The agents of the Disenlightenment in Florida, including but not limited to the Citrus Taliban Storms Troopers, certainly haven't been slowed down at all by the fact that there aren't any alternative scientific theories to evolutionary theory. Ignorance, willful or otherwise, of what the words "science" or "theory" signify only seems to work in their favor. I wouldn't be one bit surprised if this backwards thinking becomes law by a full vote of the state's legislature. In fact, I'd be more surprised if it didn't. That's Florida, too.

I know plenty of good, intelligent, non-ignorant people in Florida. I wish they'd move someplace else so that we could clip off that nasty tumor appended to the USA just south of Georgia and set it adrift. I still think it might not be a bad idea to see if Spain would take the thing back.

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