Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science discusses taking action concerning a Florida Senate bill about instructional materials. The bill codifies the heckler’s veto for instructional materials in Florida public schools. School districts currently are protected from random objections to materials in schools because they have undergone a statewide review by experts and public commentary. This new bill would change that. Each district would have to have a review process to handle individual complaints about instructional materials, with the possibility that such materials would have to be removed and replaced with different ones. The bill comes from religious groups who have long sought greater ability to determine public school curriculum content. The thing is, the bill had to be written quite broadly in order for it not to be something that would have a facial challenge; that is, that the wording would show an improper bias toward a sectarian religious viewpoint. The apparent reasoning is that their particular strain of religious belief is a majority in many places, and thus the likely effect, though not the explicit wording, would favor their viewpoint. This, of course, is not merely morally wrong, but also wrong in the sense that the bill won’t have the intended effect of establishing a majoritarian influence on instructional materials.
No, the instructional materials bills (both the Senate and House have versions) instead set up that libertarian ideal, that government must only do things with the unanimous consent of the governed. (See various novels by L. Neil Smith for the science fiction treatment of the topic.) Florida stands to implement this purest form of libertarianism with this bill, at least in the limited context of deciding what instructional materials can be used in our schools. Yes, certainly, the majority of people in each district might see a problem with something and change it, but there isn’t anything in the bill that limits kvetching about content to majority members. Any random person in any school district is entitled, under the text of the bill, to have whatever objection they care to make carefully considered by their district. Nor is there any limit to be found on how often any random person can make new criticisms of adopted materials. With a little coordination, a school district could find itself tied up in these review processes continuously. Think of someone in your community who you think of as having outlandish notions. That’s probably not difficult. You might be able to think of more than one. Now consider how many people you don’t know in your community, and just how common outlandish notions (in your estimation) might be. All of those people will be given the tools to make life difficult for school districts, each and every one, all across the state.
This is a great new chapter of governance that Florida is about to embark upon, if the way the bills have progressed through committees indicate anything. Where before some form of penny-pinching austerity appeared to be the overriding goal, this bill shows that mandating unfunded review processes whose costs will be borne locally, and whose benefits can accrue to any crackpot whatsoever, so long as they reside in a district (and every district has them, bless their hearts), is now looking likely to be the expressed will of the state. Good luck with that.