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West Virginia, Florida takes action to undermine science education Story-level




Alexander Nakic

Two recent bills introduced at the state level could spell trouble for science education. One of them is in West Virginia, where the state Senate passed a bill that would allow teachers to tell students that the Universe is the result of intelligent design, an idea that was developed to avoid bans on the teaching of creationism. . While a court held that teaching intelligent design was an unconstitutional imposition of religion, a recent Supreme Court decision weakened the legal grounds for that ruling.

Florida, meanwhile, is thinking a lot more, with the House considering a bill that would say the legislature disapproves of college courses covering “theoretical or exploratory” topics that are used to fulfill general education requirements. That seems to rule out most science classes.

First, second Virginia

The bill under consideration in West Virginia, Senate Bill 619, is a truly strange hybrid. Two of its provisions are basic housekeeping functions regarding the role of teachers in changing final grades and determining whether students are promoted to the next grade level. But then there’s the third provision: “Teachers in public schools, including public charter schools, which include one or more grades kindergarten through 12, may teach intelligent design as a theory of how the system came to be.” universe and/or humanity.

A school board in Pennsylvania had instructed its science teachers to tell students that intelligent design was an alternative to evolution. This led to a lawsuit by the parents of several students. The resulting decision called kitzmiller v. dovers He compiled an extensive record showing that intelligent design was simply a new label for creationism, which had already been found to be an unconstitutional imposition of religion. Not surprisingly, the court ruled that teaching intelligent design was also an unconstitutional imposition of religion.

In recent years, a handful of state legislators typically introduced bills promoting intelligent design, apparently unaware of the legal risk it would expose schools to. But the willingness of the current Supreme Court to strike down precedent has some lawmakers crafting bills in the hope that they can get the court to strike down precedent they didn’t like.

Indeed, the Supreme Court has already struck down a precedent that might give proponents of teaching creationism in public school science classes some hope. In reaching his decision, the judge kitzmiller v. dovers relied on the Supreme Court precedent called the lemon test to determine whether the school board’s policy violated the United States Constitution’s prohibition against state establishment of a religion. But last year, the court throw your own precedent and got rid of the lemon test.

Instead, as it has in other cases, the court now wants determinations to be made based on legal standards from hundreds of years earlier: “In lieu of Lemon and the endorsement test, this Court has directed that Clause of Establishment must be interpreted by ‘reference to historical understandings and practices.’” How that would apply to instruction in biology when the theory of evolution was not even developed until the mid-19th century is anyone’s guess.

So it is possible that the bill is intended to exploit the current legal uncertainty. However, when we asked her, Senator Amy Grady focused on one aspect of the problems in kitzmiller v. dovers that was not at issue when determining its constitutionality. “In [Kitzmiller v. Dover]teaching Intelligent Design was a requirement,” Grady told Ars. “In SB 619, it just allows a teacher to present it as a theory.”

Grady was also not impressed with the historical record of kitzmiller v. dovers, which showed creationism and intelligent design being treated as pronunciation. “Intelligent design is not religion-specific,” Grady said. “It’s different from biblical creationism.”

As of Saturday, the bill had approved by the state senate in a vote of 27-6 and will now be considered by the state House.

Who needs a theory anyway?

Meanwhile, science education may accidentally end without realizing Florida’s ongoing war against its own higher education system. HB 999 it recently ran to the state legislature and continues many of the general themes of the state’s ongoing efforts to stop teaching what it views as “divisive concepts.” The bill focuses heavily on topics like gender studies and critical race theory and would essentially eliminate them as viable majors at any state-supported institution. In the process, it would strip academic departments of their ability to hire new faculty and instead leave them in the hands of senior administrators.

But the bill is positively inconsistent when it comes to science education. It calls for state-funded schools to provide general education classes on various subjects, including the natural sciences. And it specifically requires that classes cover the use of hypothetical models as a central part of the scientific method: “Natural science courses must provide students with the ability to critically examine and evaluate the principles of the scientific method, model building, and the use of the scientific method to explain experiences and natural phenomena.

And then, a few paragraphs later, he completely undermines it by saying that things like science don’t belong in general education classes at all. “Courses with an untested, theoretical, or exploratory content-based curriculum,” the project suggests. of law, “are better suited to fulfill the prerequisite credit requirements of elective or specific programs, rather than the general education credit requirements.”

The way you cover “model building” while avoiding all “exploratory content” is apparently left as an exercise for the faculty.

At this time, this bill has not passed either house of the Florida Legislature, so there is a reasonable chance that it will be changed before it is voted on. But, the bill contains a batch of the ideas that have given the governor of Florida great political traction. Therefore, he is likely to get a lot of support from the governor’s supporters in the legislature.

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