Nov 22, 2016

This month, we witnessed an election upset that shocked the nation. It led to many fearing for the future, including people of color, women and LGBTQ Americans.

But there is another potential casualty of a Trump presidency: science education.

The fundamentalist Religious Right, which backed Trump in droves has consistently demonstrated a contempt for science over the years, namely by trying to peddle young-earth creationism in public schools instead of the accepted theory of evolution. In addition, research has shown that the Religious Right, especially those who are more prone to teach biblical literalism, are less likely to favor established science in other areas.  

Trump, since announcing his candidacy and especially since winning the election, has surrounded himself with Religious Right leaders who cling to forms of biblical literalism as opposed to scientific inquiry. And now that Trump and Mike Pence are headed to the White House, these views could become the backbone of our country’s national policy, which terrifies me.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but it’s Pence who worries me the most. A self-professed creationist who in 2002 attacked the teaching of evolution during a speech on the floor of the House, Pence has repeatedly disparaged evolution, arguing that it should be presented alongside creationism because it’s “just a theory.”

Children attending public schools deserve real science education, not fundamentalist dogma.

Now, why is Pence’s stance on science dangerous for the country? Let’s take a look at Trump’s 100-day plan. One provision calls for bringing education supervision to local communities and letting them decide the curriculum. “Local control” has been Trump’s mantra.

That sounds great, except it can be problematic. Public schools are, of course, answerable to local school boards, but doing away with state and federal standards can create problems. Not all decisions made at the local level are good ones, and some people get the idea that they can interject religion into the schools as so-called “intelligent design theory,” which they can’t legally do.

Furthermore, while federal courts have done a pretty good job striking down efforts to teach overt creationism in public schools, that doesn’t mean all schools do a good job teaching evolution. Some avoid the topic for fear of offending fundamentalists. Under a policy of extreme local control with little state or federal standards, Religious Right groups at the local level would have free reign to push for watering down instruction about evolution or advocate for removing it altogether from science curricula. This would do generations of children an educational disservice.

If that wasn’t bad enough, though, as Rokia Hassanein wrote earlier today, Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University and a creationist, is being considered for some role in the U.S. Education Department.

So, while there is a lot to fear for in the future under Trump, I’m really worried about the potential damages his win could do to science. Creationists are likely feeling empowered by Trump’s victory, meaning the long-running struggle to teach sound science in our public schools will only intensify.