Many things drive me crazy about creationists but a major one is how they pretend to be great advocates of scientific inquiry and learning when in reality, those are the farthest things from their minds.
Consider Sen. Dennis Kruse of the Indiana legislature, who last year proposed a bill that would have mandated the teaching of “creation science” alongside evolution in public schools. Kruse’s bill passed the state Senate but faltered in the House of Representatives after some lawmakers, in a rare bout with lucidity, pointed out that it was blatantly unconstitutional and would get the state sued back into the Stone Age. (That probably didn’t bother creationists, since they don’t believe there was a Stone Age.)
Kruse is back with a new proposal, a bill that he says will promote critical inquiry in the classroom. The Indianapolis Star reported that Kruse described the bill like this: “If a student thinks something isn’t true, then they can question the teacher and the teacher would have to come up with some kind of research to support that what they are teaching is true or not true.”
At first glance, that sounds harmless. After all, we want to encourage youngsters to be inquisitive in the classroom. But Micah Clark, executive director of American Family Association of Indiana, blew the lid off what’s really going on here, telling the Star that he interprets the bill as a form of protection for teachers who want to discuss creationism and intelligent design.
Bills like this have popped up in other states recently. They are designed to give legal protection to public school science teachers – and unfortunately there are some of them out there – who want to elevate biblical fundamentalism over science in the classroom. Additionally, these measures are a vehicle for students to disrupt classroom instruction about evolution and instill doubt about the validity of that concept.
A quick-witted science teacher would know how to handle a challenge like this in the classroom. (Handing a dissenting student a copy of On The Origin of Species would be a good start.) But Kruse’s law doesn’t seek to help good teachers. It is designed to create the impression that evolution is somehow controversial or in doubt, and thus special laws are needed so that it can be challenged. The idea is to encourage teachers to water down such instruction or not offer it at all.
Unfortunately, the creationists have been pretty successful with these gambits. Their attempts to mandate instruction in creationism alongside evolution have failed, but they have managed to create a climate of intimidation and fear in many classrooms. In a country where public education is decentralized and often subject to local control, it can be difficult to get an accurate national snapshot, but we know from experience that some public schools do a lousy job teaching evolution.
Gerry Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, put it well: “It’s fine for a child to have religion; it’s fine for a child to believe whatever he or she wants to believe,” he said. “But within the science classroom, if we’re going to produce the strong workforce we need for this country, we have to stick to science and we have to stick to the evidence behind science.”
Wheeler is exactly right. Kruse’s proposal is a distraction from real education. It deserves to be rejected.
Thankfully, the bill may face tough sledding in the Indiana legislature. Rep. Bob Behning, (R-Indianapolis) chairs the House Education Committee and says he’s not inclined to bring it up.
“I don’t want to do something that’s going to burden schools to the point where they’re going to spend their lives trying to validate what is assumed to be true,” Behning said.
That’s good to know. But it’s also possible that the situation may change, so Americans United intends to remain on the alert. We have to watch the creationists constantly. Their strategies are, ironically, always evolving.
P.S. Americans United’s Legislative Department is expecting a raft of dangerous legislation in the states next year, touching on issues like religion in public schools, private school vouchers, government endorsement of religious symbols and others. Stay alert and keep informed.