Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Intelligence and State Legislatures
The dogmatic elitist view about intelligence and state legislatures is that never the twain shall meet. Some would like to have the academic freedom to explore alternative views about the origins of legislators' thinking. Unfortunately for the latter, the Florida legislature today may have definitively demonstrated that legislative intelligence is no less a myth than The Incredible Shrinking Man, who these legislators resemble in many ways.
In any event, the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee, in a 6-3 vote, approved the Malaprop Memorial Neologism of the Year Award winner, the "Evolution Academic Freedom Act," which will now go to the full senate. Given that this is a year Florida is looking to sharply cut popular state programs due to a budget shortfall, a measure that is rabidly (in all senses of the word) supported by a sizable portion of the public and that won't cost the state any money (up front, anyway; it may be a different result once the legal costs are finally totaled up), is a prime candidate to get passed as a sop to an electorate that is doubtless looking leaner and hungrier to the budget cutters.
There is still the question raised by this:
Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, said she filed the bill after hearing cases of students and teachers who felt "muzzled" and unable to discuss alternate theories in the classroom.But she is also on record as saying:
"There will be no presentation of creationism or intelligent design under this bill," said Storms. "It expressly declines to promote religious doctrine."So, if creationism, intelligent design and religious doctrine are ruled out (not to mention that the bill supposedly only protects "scientific information"), just what "alternate theories" are the supporters of this bill talking about?
Update: Florida Citizens for Science has an account of the committee hearing and vote that includes a possible explanation of what "alternative theories" they are talking about and (surprise, surprise!) it might just be creationism, intelligent design and religious doctrine:
Storms was sharply questioned by Senator Ted Deutch about the documentation for teacher discrimination and Storms repeated that some teacher felt discriminated against, but she never did provide any actual proof. Deutch also asked if this would prevent the teaching of intelligent design and Storms did not answer the question. Senator Don Gaetz asked the question in reverse: does the bill support the teaching of intelligent design and her answer then was no. Note the difference between supporting and preventing. They are key words here. It appears through the careful phrasing of Storms and other senators that intelligent design won’t be mandated, but it might not be prevented either. It seemed that Gaetz’s question was purposely loaded to elicit the appropriate response from Storms.Legally, it is an interesting but, ultimately, I think, losing strategy. In some cases, a distinction can be made between permitting religious activity and endorsing it (think if permitting religious clubs in schools) but allowing teachers to present objections to evolutionary theory from ID or "creation science" as if they are legitimate scientific alternatives to evolution would amount to endorsement by a government employee that the school district would be responsible for if it permitted it to go on. Perhaps more interesting will be if a teacher offering ID or creationism in the classroom sues the school board under the law if he or she is made to stop. Then the matter might turn on the issues raised in Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District and the question of whether a state can immunize a government employee from committing a First Amendment violation. I doubt that will fly either but there's a lot of wiggle room in individual fact patterns.