Florida’s legislature last year passed a law that allows any resident of a county to challenge material being presented in textbooks. It also establishes a cumbersome process by which school boards must handle such complaints.
An interesting example of how that’s playing out on the ground occurred recently in Collier County, where four residents decided to oppose the way evolution was discussed in some new science textbooks. The result was a five-hour hearing before the Collier County School Board. In the end, the textbooks, which teach evolution as well-grounded scientific fact, were approved on a 3-2 vote.
The Naples Daily News reported that four people submitted 220 objections to content in 18 textbooks. They asserted that the books weren’t balanced, in part because they present evolution as a fact.
One woman, Melissa Pind, insisted that evolution is “a total indoctrination of liberal ideas.” She went on to complain, “Very disgusting and disappointing that this is included and no other viewpoint is even mentioned! What a shame that kids’ minds aren’t opened up to other possibilities.”
Another objector, Keith Flaugh, co-director of a statewide Religious Right group called the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, told the board that there are “many very credible scientists” who have debunked evolution. Flaugh was apparently not asked to name one, which I believe he would have had a hard time doing, but he did refer the board to several fundamentalist Christian ministries that promote creationism if they desired more information.
Thankfully, defenders showed up to stand by the books. Brandon Haught, a high school biology teacher and one of the founders of Florida Citizens for Science, told the board that many of the complaints against the tomes were groundless.
“If you actually take a look at each individual fact you’ll find that they’re hollow,” Haught said. “They’re based on misinterpretations and wishful thinking and religion.”
Haught’s last point is especially important. The people attacking these books aren’t trying to get better science in the schools, despite what they claim. They’re on a religious crusade. They certainly don’t have any actual science on their side, and millions of Christians dispute their theological claims as well.
They have the right to teach their religious views in their homes and in private academies, but that’s never enough for this gang. They want public institutions to sponsor, promote and push their religious beliefs as well. Americans United won't stand for that.
One thing we’ve learned about creationists is that they’re tenacious – most zealots are. Witness how they keep changing the name of their big idea, which over the years has been called creationism, creation science, the theory of abrupt appearance, evidence against evolution and intelligent design. When one gets rejected by the courts, they simply rename it, slap a new paint job on it and push it back out on the road. (If I didn’t know better, I’d say their political strategy is evolving!)
As the experience in Collier County proves, alert citizens who value sound science education and separation of church and state can block the creationists’ march of anti-science. Yes, sometimes that means sitting through a five-hour meeting. Our kids are worth it.