The battle to march the education of American children toward the 19th century continues. In Indiana, state senator Dennis Kruse is going to push what he is dubbing a “truth in education” bill.
As he puts it:
“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.”
Kruse isn’t disguising his true intentions here. A previous bill he promoted that would have allowed the teaching of “alternatives” to evolution in public classrooms died a painful death in the Indiana legislature. The bill was said to be “inviting lawsuits” which is the way politicians tell Creationists “Look, I’m totally on your side on this, but those damn activist judges will shut this thing down for sure.”
The advocates of Creationism have suffered defeat after defeat in the courts. They initially promoted Creationism in the classroom outright. When this was ruled unconstitutional, they switched the term to “Intelligent Design,” but covered their tracks so badly that they were again slapped down in the courts.
These days, Creationists are more cautious in their strategies. They are attempting to sneak Creationism into the classroom under the guise of “academic freedom” and “critical thought,” covering themselves in the mantle of the highest ideals of academia in order to try and undermine it.
The law Kruse is promoting is modelled on a a Tennessee law:
The Tennessee bill, which became law in April without Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature, encouraged students to question scientific theories and protects teachers from punishment if they teach Creationism.
The law states that “the teaching of some scientific subjects including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning can cause controversy.”
Students, the law states, should be encouraged “to explore scientific questions” and to respect differences of opinion, while teachers should not be prohibited from helping students analyze and criticize the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories.
According to the tireless warriors at the National Center for Science Education, the law traces its origins to the Discovery Institute, a hotbed of Intelligent Design. The law is meant to protect teachers if they bring up Creationism, as well as encouraging students to disrupt classes if they disagree with the material being taught.
Of course, students can already ask teachers for clarification or more information on a given subject, and a good teacher will make a good faith attempt to provide that, but this law isn’t about that.
When you tell a teacher they have to provide “research” proving any given point on a science lesson, you have essentially given students free reign to totally shut down a classroom, particularly when you’re likely to get nonsensical questions like “Well, how do you prove that something can come from nothing?”
The real point of this bill is intimidation of science-based teachers and encouragement of Creationist ones. Potentially more harmful than the Creationist teachers who are teaching biology (this is like having an Amish person teach aeronautical engineering) are the greater numbers of teachers who are not Creationists but who don’t want the hassle of angry parents, rebellious students, and non-supportive administrations. Bills like these send the message that such teachers are so on their own that their state governments are explicitly on the non-science side. So maybe you can skip the whole evolution thing this year and save yourself the heartburn, eh? The result will be students who are less and less exposed to one of the central cores of biology.
There is a sliver of good news, though.
It isn’t clear that this bill will go forward:
Rep. Bob Behning, the Indianapolis Republican who is chairman of the House Education Committee, said he wouldn’t prejudge whether he’d give this bill a hearing if it makes it through the Senate. But he said that “at this point” he’d probably be disinclined to pursue it, saying it seemed too broad and vague.
“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.
Here’s hoping sanity prevails in Indiana, and they can get to work promoting, not undermining, the education of their students.