December 13, 2017

Florida families don’t need scientific truths, says a recent law that makes banning books easier


So, this is how the story of 2017 ends: A Florida man is seeking to have his child’s school ban Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, citing “profanity and violence” as the main reasons. Either that Florida man has never read anything other than Fahrenheit 451, rendering that book a monolith of unrequited dreams and stagnation to such an extent that he can’t bear the thought of his own children following in that same path of fire and brimstone… or?

Our Florida man isn’t the only one, though. There’s a Florida mom, too. She’s sick of her children being exposed to the nonsense theory of global warming and is petitioning to have it removed from science textbooks. Then there’s the Florida uncle who has no kids but thinks Florida children are being taught too much (or too little) about the role of Islam in world history. All these disgruntled, faded-baseball cap-wearing, chino-shorted Florida people are coming to urge their legislators: Do something about it!

These stories are drawn from Terry Spencer’s recent Associated Press reporting on the Sunshine State’s* most recent attempts at book-banning. Just last July, a new bill was passed that allows any resident to petition for changes to school curricula. Spencer writes, “Under a bill passed by the Florida Legislature this year, any district resident—regardless of whether they have a child in school—can now challenge material as pornographic, biased, inaccurate or a violation of state law and get a hearing before an outside mediator.” According to CNN’s Nancy Coleman, this mediator would be “an ‘unbiased hearing officer,’ not employed by the school district, [who] would determine if a complaint has merit, requiring schools to take any controversial books or material out of the classroom.”

Under the bill, school districts must make lists of any reading materials and books assigned to students available. The provision, Spencer writes, was a response to an earlier situation in which “many districts ignored challenges or heard them with stacked committees, and didn’t consider residents who don’t have children in the schools.”

We have a name for the Florida man, it seems. Spencer lists the Florida Citizens’ Alliance as the driving force behind the law, and quoted managing director Keith Flaugh about his concerns over educational materials that “totally distort our founding values and principles. They are teaching our kids socialism versus free markets. They are teaching our kids that the government is our nanny, the government is supposed to protect them.” Spencer adds, “He also said children receive a biased presentation against freedom of religion and gun rights.”

In our weird, altered kind of universe, Flaugh’s arch-nemesis and humanity’s savior is Brandon Haught, spokesman for Florida Citizens for Science, and an environmental science teacher. Haught fears the law shows the side of ignorance winning in public schools, and intends to fight back the tide of censorship with the group.

Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie calls the new legislation “cumbersome.” Spencer summarizes Runcie’s perspective: “Districts have always encouraged parents and residents to voice concerns about materials and curricula, he said, and the mediator is an unnecessary step.”

Floridians have been questioning the bill’s wisdom since the summer. In an op-ed for Broward County’s Sun-Sentinel last November, Fred Grimm zeroes in the on the group’s obsession with disputing scientifically accepted facts like climate change and evolution. He cites one particularly ignorant complaint: “I have witnessed children being taught that global warming is a reality… Now that it is colder and the country is experiencing repeated cold waves, the new term is climate change.” Grimm also points out the hypocrisy of Florida lawmakers and representatives, like Republican Governor Rick Scott, who simultaneously accept money from cancer research institutes and science exploration initiatives. He writes, “Even while we support medical researchers worried about the evolution of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, and astronomers who measure distances by millions of light years, we’ve got politicians wanting Florida school children taught that our entire biosphere clocks in at just under 7,000 years old.”


*Disclaimer: The author is from Florida.



Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.