A company called Responsive Education Solutions runs charter schools in several states, most of them in Texas. These schools receive millions in taxpayer support every year.
They are also teaching creationism. Church-state activist Zack Kopplin recently examined the science curriculum of Responsive Ed’s schools and found it wanting. As Kopplin noted in an article for Slate magazine, students in the schools are learning that the fossil record is “sketchy,” that the theory of evolution is “dogma” and “unproved” and that leading scientists disagree about the age of the Earth.
Wrote Kopplin, “Responsive Ed has a secular veneer and is funded by public money, but it has been connected from its inception to the creationist movement and to far-right fundamentalists who seek to undermine the separation of church and state.”
The curriculum, Kopplin found, is studded with common creationist canards: It claims that evolution can’t be tested in labs (which is false) and asserts, again incorrectly, that a lack of transitional fossils is a problem for the theory.
It also attempts to link Darwin’s scientific ideas to discredited “social Darwinism” concepts from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One quiz asks students, “With regards to social Darwinism, do you think humans who are not capable should be left to die out, or should they be helped?”
Rosalinda Gonzalez, Responsive Ed’s vice president for academic affairs, told Kopplin that the curriculum teaches evolution but merely gives a nod to “competing theories.” But just days after Kopplin’s piece ran, the head of Responsive Ed undercut those claims and went into much more detail about what is going on in these schools.
Chuck Cook, CEO of Responsive Education, issued a lengthy statement on the matter. It reads in part, “Our science curriculum does examine all sides of the scientific evidence relating to the theory of evolution – both for and against….” Cook asserts that Texas law requires this.
Cook goes on to quote directly from Responsive Ed’s curriculum. Here’s where things get interesting.
“In recent years, these two schools of thought – creationism and evolution – have been at conflict in schools, universities, and scientific circles,” the curriculum asserts. “Some scientists and educators have attempted to bridge them through ideas such as intelligent design and theistic evolution. However, none of these theories is accepted by every scientist, natural philosopher, or educator. In this Unit, you will be able to review the evidence for the theory of evolution and decide on your own position. You will want to analyze and evaluate the evidence and every statement made in the discussion….”
It goes on to say, “Still, for many, supernatural creation (either by God or some other supernatural power) of the first cell is a more plausible explanation. Some people think aliens brought the first living cell to earth or it came on a meteorite, but that still would not explain how that first living cell on earth came into existence. There is much research to be done in this area of origins. Until more concrete answers are found, questions on how life originated will continue….”
It doesn’t take much parsing to see that this is standard creationist claptrap. First the claim is made that evolution and creationism are on an equal plane. From there we get a reminder that not everyone accepts evolution (as if that were relevant). Students are told that they will get to choose (as if a choice between actual science and pseudo-science were a good thing). Finally, an attempt is made to pretend that there could be a range of explanations out there. (Yep – space aliens. They actually went there.)
Cook’s defense was picked up the Arkansas Times. The Little Rick-based publication noted that Responsive Ed already has three schools in Arkansas and plans to open several more with financial backing from – surprise! – the Walton Foundation (the family that owns Walmart).
Kopplin has posted Responsive Ed’s evolution curriculum online. Looking at it, I was struck by how deceptive it is. At first glance, it looks legitimate. But the more you read and the deeper you go, the more you see that the curriculum is littered with hedging terms and fudging language. Students are told that scientists can’t explain certain things or that evolution fails to account for details that are yet unknown.
Again, this is a standard creationist tactic. The fact that scientists may not have yet answered every question about evolution becomes an excuse to cast doubt on the entire theory. It’s a disgraceful ploy that shortchanges young people who desperately need and deserve a real science education.
Charter schools are public institutions. They are funded by the taxpayers. They may not teach religion – and that includes creationist ideas based in a literal reading of the Bible.
Someone should explain all of this to the owners of Responsive Education Solutions before they end up in court.