Sun. Feb 5th, 2023

To update: South Dakota’s bill has now died in the legislature, while Indiana’s resolution has passed the Senate. Decisions are not vetoed, so the vote is final.

Earlier this month, we covered a bill going through the South Dakota legislature. It’s the latest variation on a large collection of state laws that seek to protect educators from what’s been called “teaching the controversy.” If the bills pass, teachers would be immune from punishment for using outside material in instruction, so long as the teacher believes the material is scientific — even if it has overtly religious origins.

But in the meantime, similar bills have appeared in three other states, and a fourth state is considering removing references to climate change from its education plan. Science education looks set to be a busy year in the state houses.

We can start with Indiana, where Senate Resolution 17 has now been passed by the Education Committee. The resolution approvingly cites a proposed amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act to challenge evolution: “When teaching topics that may be controversial (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students understand the full range of scientific beliefs that exist. , why such topics can lead to controversy and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.” What it fails to note is that the amendment was rejected or that evolution is the only scientific view that currently exists.

The resolution then urges the state Department of Education to support “teachers who choose to teach a diverse curriculum.” Based on the earlier language, the “diverse” nature would presumably entail different understandings of evolution.

Continuing the theme of controversy, we move on to Oklahoma, where Senate Bill 393 has been passed by the Education Committee. This bill follows the script of the legislation outlined above: The state board of education, school district boards of education, school district superintendents, and school principals are prohibited from punishing teachers who criticize the “strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories.” Essentially, even if teachers spew pseudoscientific nonsense, if it is framed as scientific criticism, no one should be allowed to stop them.

A resolution in Alabama covers similar territory, noting that topics to be taught in that state, including “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning,” are all subject to controversy. It then reiterates the call to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories. Again, a long list of public education officials are advised not to penalize any teacher for this kind of criticism.

On the bright side, only one of these (Oklahoma’s bill) is actually a legal mandate; the other two are simply resolutions that the protections recommend. However, should any of these resolutions pass, motivated teachers will almost certainly view them as a green light for teaching whatever nonsense the teacher believes is scientific.

Meanwhile, the leading source for education law news, the National Center for Science Education, has noted that the Idaho state legislature has removed all references to climate change from the state’s science standards. These are temporary standards that will only be in effect for a year, but the move came after the Idaho State House decided it wanted students to hear “all sides of the debate” on climate science. These are probably also the parties that have no scientific basis for their arguments.

While the focus is on the federal government’s science policy, it’s important to stay abreast of what’s happening at the state level, as state legislatures have a lot to say about education policy.

List image by Flickr user Scott Jones

By akfire1

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