Parents have fought successfully over the years to ban books like the Harry Potter series and Catcher and the Rye from public schools. Now in Florida, residents could possibly do the same with textbooks about the science behind climate change and evolution.
Last week, Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation that makes it easier for any Florida resident to object to classroom materials they don’t like.
The statute, which took effect on Saturday, requires district school boards to hire an “unbiased and qualified hearing officer” who could deem things like textbooks, movies, and novels as unsuitable and require they not be used.
Before this legislation, residents could only take their complaints to local school boards.
Proponents of Florida’s measure have argued that state-approved textbooks are “too liberal,” and that some books in school libraries are inappropriate.
In a Feb. 1 affidavit to lawmakers, one supporter asked to remove books about Cuba from elementary school libraries, complaining that they “glorified” Fidel Castro’s Communist ideals. As a certified teacher, she said she’s witnessed “children being taught that Global Warming is a reality.” Yet when “parents question these theories, they are ignored,” she wrote.
Another woman lamented in an affidavit that evolution is “presented as fact,” when she believes it’s fiction.
Teachers, scientists, and free speech advocates who oppose the new statute have said they’re worried the measure will allow school districts to shape curricula around people’s beliefs — not the mainstream scientific consensus.
“School boards will become inundated with demands that certain books be outright banned and that schools must discontinue using textbooks that don’t mesh with a vocal minority’s ideological views,” said Brandon Haught, a high school science teacher and member of Florida Citizens for Science, the Orlando Sentinel reported in April.
Florida’s statute is one of 13 measures proposed this year that the National Council for Science Education considers to be “anti-science,” the Washington Post recently noted.
Alabama and Indiana, for instance, both adopted non-binding resolutions to promote the “academic freedom” of science teachers in the state’s public schools. Educators are encouraged to “teach the controversy” around “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”
Legislators and parents aren’t the only ones putting pressure on public school teachers.
This spring, the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank, mailed books and DVDs to 25,000 U.S. science teachers that speak falsely about a “disagreement” among scientists on global warming. The campaign ultimately aims to reach more than 200,000 K-12 science teachers, PBS’s Frontline reported in March.
Haught, from Florida Citizens for Science, urged residents to “stand up for sound science eduction.”
“The fight will now be won or lost where you live,” he wrote in a June 26 blog post.