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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Florida's "Academic Freedom Act"

A state Senate bill that looks an awful lot like the Discovery Institute's "Academic Freedom Act," and that was introduced by Republican Senator Ronda Storms at the end of February, will come before the Florida Senate's Committee on Education Pre-K–12 tomorrow. Senate staff who reviewed the bill for the meeting packet (section 5) see it as vague, but describe it as claiming to protect "public school teachers who objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution" as well as "students from being penalized if they ascribe to a particular view regarding the theory of evolution." (According to the Department of Education, cited in the packet, there has never been a reported case in which a Florida public school teacher or student was discriminated against based on their science teaching or course work.) The staff also describes the bill as arguing that in order for teachers to develop and encourage "critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, innovation, collaboration, and communication skills" in their students, these teachers have to "address controversial subject matter and alternative theories, albeit in a professional and object manner, that allow students to consider and debate a wide spectrum of ideologies and theories in all subject areas." ("Alternative theories," of course, is often code for "intelligent design" and creationism.) The bill, which claims it does not intend to promote any religious belief, was introduced just days after the Florida's Board of Education adopted revised science standards that use the word "evolution" for the first time. Stay tuned. —Heather Wax