I’m Not Making This Up (But That Would Be Allowable, I Suppose)
“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”
You’ll probably be shocked to hear this, but the House Education Committee went to a strange place today. They discussed and passed HB 1674 – the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act. This bill is proposed by Guy Blackwell, whose district covers the Panhandle and Panhandle-adjacent areas. In part, it reads:
The State Board of Education, a district board of education, district superintendent or administrator, or public school principal or administrator shall not prohibit any teacher in a school district in this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theoroies pertinent to the course being taught.
Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to exempt students from learning, understanding and being tested on curriculum as prescribed by state and local education standards.
The provisions … shall only protect the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non religion.
Have you ever been around somebody who says, “I don’t mean to sound negative,” right before he or she sounds incredibly negative? That is how this bill sounds. For all the disclaimers about not promoting or discriminating against any particular belief, religion, nonbelief, or nonreligion, it sure sounds like it is doing exactly that.
The author – and the eight other committee members voting for this bill – are running a play straight out of the ALEC playbook. It’s designed to block intellectually honest discussion of two scientific phenomena: climate change and evolution. Blackwell’s bill would basically allow students to cover their ears, close their eyes, and yell “lalalalalala I can’t hear you lalalalala!” And the teacher would just have to look at the grade book and say, “Well, he didn’t do the assignment, but he did say ‘lalalalala.’ And he said it quite respectfully.”
During the committee meeting, Rep. Emily Virgin of Norman asked Blackwell about the theories he would like not to have taught in school. Feigning indignation he insisted not to have an agenda in proposing this legislation. Blackwell brought in expert testimony from Pastor Stephen Kern (Rep. Sally Kern’s husband) who reminded us that no great scientific advancement has ever come without someone questioning the commonly held scientific principles of the time. He also claimed that half of a group of teachers who answered a survey claim that they are scared to question the science curriculum. (Thanks to @OKCapSource for clarifying what he meant by this.)
He gets it partly right. When scientific advancement has been held back by the powers that be (often the government or the church), somebody had to question existing beliefs. This bill proposes a science education curriculum altogether devoid of facts, questioning, and critical thinking. In short, it makes science instruction as we know it irrelevant.
I understand that certain facts make people squeamish. We have entire industries in this country that are uncomfortable with the facts presented in climate change discussions. We have people whose religious beliefs are threatened by a discussion of evolution. At the same time, we also have a wide swath of people who have made peace with the fact that one of the joys of learning is that it moves you out of your comfort zone. You can reconcile your faith with science, and you can be a party to improving the environment while continuing to make money.
Honestly, I’m surprised the vote on this bill was as close as it was (9-8). If this trend continues, Oklahoma will become intellectually irrelevant. We don’t want to start down the path that other states like Louisiana have taken and then find ourselves using vouchers to send students to schools to learn about how man used to coexist with dinosaurs.
If you need proof of that, look no further than our legislature.