Eastman: Ignorance is dangerous

The schools of Florida should teach, as 19th century poet and social commentator Matthew Arnold put it, “the best that has been thought and said” in our culture — not, as Sen. Dennis Baxley puts it, “different world views.”
Sen Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, is known as a lightning rod for contentious issues. Years ago, when he was a representative in Tallahassee, he joked about an editorial cartoon criticizing him for an “academic freedom” bill he was pushing in the state House. {Times files]
Sen Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, is known as a lightning rod for contentious issues. Years ago, when he was a representative in Tallahassee, he joked about an editorial cartoon criticizing him for an “academic freedom” bill he was pushing in the state House. {Times files]
Published February 4

Reading Republican state Sen. Dennis Baxley’s proposal for requiring Florida’s schools to teach “different world views” on such topics as evolution and climate change makes me wonder if the citizens of Ocala knew what they were getting when they voted for him. And then when I read that he would require that “government and civics content shall strictly adhere to the founding values and principles of the United States,” as if Sen. Baxley would know what those are, I am sure they couldn’t have.

Sen. Baxley has already shown he has no respect for America’s “founding values and principles” in a number of ways: His opposition to “free speech zones” shows he has no understanding of the First Amendment. His advocacy for forcing guns into churches ignores the separation of church and state called for by Thomas Jefferson. And certainly his “Stand Your Ground” bill violates a whole array of the principles and values of the founding fathers of the United States.

The price to be paid for this kind of nonsense is considerable. Not only will students suffer when they take standardized tests for entrance to college — which they will, because they won’t know the fundamentals of established science — but they will suffer long term as the climate of their state, country and world continues to erode because people like Sen. Baxley insist on playing politics with facts. Neither evolution nor human-caused climate change are “controversial theories”: They are, by scientists the world over, confirmed as truth, as fact.

The denial of facts, from the president of the country on down to state politicians, is a dark chapter in the history of our republic, and the continued denial of the facts of climate change will soon produce an even darker chapter if we do not wake up as a country and take steps to reduce the resulting ill effects. Ask the people of Miami and Mexico Beach about climate change. Ask the people of Paradise, Calif. But don’t ask politicians who don’t know the difference between climate and weather.

The schools of Florida should teach, as 19th century poet and social commentator Matthew Arnold put it, “the best that has been thought and said” in our culture — not, as Sen. Baxley puts it, “different world views.” Some people believe the moon is made of green cheese; that’s a different world view — but it’s not one we want taught in our schools.

Citizens of Ocala (and other communities throughout Florida), unite! Think of the injury you are doing to your children and your community and your world when you elect people who resist letting your schools teach established scientific fact. The truth is too important to let politicians play fast and loose with such important issues as climate change. Such politicians should have to wear a sign similar to the warning on a pack of cigarettes: “The proposals of this politician are a danger to your health, and that of your children.”

Donald R. Eastman III is president of Eckerd College, a private liberal arts college in St. Petersburg.

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