Didn’t we solve this with “Inherit the Wind”? Nearly 95 years after the infamous Tennessee Scopes Trial on which the play “Inherit” is based pit a man accused of teaching evolution in a public school against creationists, and 32 years after the Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard that teaching creationism violated the separation of church and state, Florida has picked up the anti-science, anti-fact mantel. It seems another day, another education official claiming evolution is an opinion, not actual science.
Meet the newest culprit: Andy Tuck, Florida’s new chairman of the State Board of Education. Yes, this is the chair – the head of the board overseeing all public education in a state of 20 million. According to Florida Citizens for Science, in 2008 Tuck said, “As a person of faith, I strongly oppose any study of evolution as fact at all.”
Of course, it’s perfectly within Tuck's right to say whatever ludicrous thing pops into his head, including denying the scientific reality of evolution, but because his opinions might affect what public schoolchildren learn, we need to be concerned.
And Tuck didn’t stop there. “I’m purely in favor of it staying a theory and only a theory,” he continued. “I won’t support any evolution being taught as fact at all in any of our schools.” Perhaps more worryingly, the board is “rising in influence,” says the Tampa Bay Times.
As I previously wrote in regard to another Florida school official who had trouble keeping his facts straight, public education must not be tainted with fringe or religiously tinged belief systems. Otherwise, students will be subjected to indoctrination by way of poor science and literalist biblical interpretation. The effort of religious extremists to drive their aggressively political agenda into the classroom, including by proselytizing for their narrow interpretation of religious tomes, is absolutely unacceptable.
Instead of appointing new directors of education and curriculum focused on force-feeding public school students fundamentalist religious doctrine masquerading as science, perhaps Florida should be focused on increasing the quality of its K-12 public school education – in which Florida ranked 27th in the nation in U.S. News and World Report – to match the quality of its public higher education, which was ranked first. Otherwise, Florida education systems will be instituting curriculum harmful to students’ development and their understanding of the world.
Unfortunately, the problem is not relegated to just Florida. Texas’ State Board of Education voted just two years ago to mandate the inclusion of theories challenging evolution in public school educational curriculum. “Teachers are practically begging the board to stop forcing them to waste classroom time on junk science standards that are based mostly on the personal agendas of board members themselves, not sound science,” said Kathy Miller of The Texas Freedom Network.
I’m sure many teachers in Florida would agree as well.