By Sandhya Bathija
With Darwin Day (Feb. 12) just around the corner, scientists, educators and citizens across the world are gearing up to celebrate the birth of Charles Darwin and his contributions to science.
As Bill Nye “The Science Guy” recently put it, teachers’ reluctance to teach Darwin’s theory of evolution is “horrible.” Scientific advances that benefit everyone could be at risk if students don’t learn sound science.
“People make flu vaccinations that stop people from getting sick,” he said. “Farmers raise crops with science; they hybridize them and make them better with every generation. That’s all evolution. Evolution is a theory, and it’s a theory that you can test. We’ve tested evolution in many ways. You can’t present good evidence that says evolution is not a fact. ”
Yet some Religious Right-oriented state legislators across the country want to derail the teaching of evolution and weaken science education in public schools. We are barely into 2011 and, according to the National Center for Science Education, already four states are pondering anti-evolution bills, including: New Mexico, Oklahoma (where there are two anti-evolution bills!), Missouri and Kentucky.
All of these measures are carefully crafted with creationist code language intended to sidestep decades of federal court decisions preventing creationism from being taught in public schools. These courts have ruled time and time again that creationism is religious dogma and our Constitution prevents our public schools from favoring any religious belief.
The latest bill, out of New Mexico, HB 302, would allow teachers to inform students “about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses” pertaining to “controversial” topics. The bill would protect teachers from “reassignment, termination, discipline or other discrimination for doing so.”
The Oklahoma Senate bill, SB 554, provides that teachers and administrators be free to inform students about “relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses of controversial topics in sciences,” where such topics “include but are not limited to biological origins of life and biological evolution.” The bill also ensures that teachers not be disciplined for teaching science in this manner.
Oklahoma’s House Bill, HB 1551, sponsored by the Religious Right favorite Sally Kern, an avid anti-evolutionist, requires that teachers be permitted to teach the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories.”
Missouri’s HB 195 uses similar “academic freedom” type language, calling on teachers to encourage students to explore “scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues, including biological and chemical evolution.” The bill also requires teachers to find “more effective ways” to teach scientific controversies.
Kentucky’s HB 169, the first anti-evolution bill of 2011, would allow teachers to “use, as permitted by the local school board, other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.”
Most of these bills are similar to legislation introduced in past years that have failed to become law. The bad news is that those who want our public schools to adopt poor science standards just won’t go away.
If you live in any of these states, let your state legislators know you want strong science standards in your home state.
As “The Science Guy” said, “”Science is the key to our future, and if you don’t believe in science, then you’re holding everybody back.”