An Indiana senator is pushing a proposal that would require science teachers to provide evidence of what is being taught when students challenge the truth of it.
But educators say it's a ploy to bring religion — aka, creationism — into the classroom.
“This one’s fairly new,” Gerry Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, told the Indianapolis Star. “This is a creative new evolution that the creationists are going to.”
Sponsoring Sen. Dennis Kruse, Republican chairman of the Senate Education Committee, was behind a failed attempt last year to allow Indiana schools to teach creationism alongside evolution. He says his "truth in education" proposal is a different approach from last year. “It won’t mention religion. It won’t mention creation. It will just basically try to establish truth in our public schools.”
The website God Discussion says the effect of the new measure would be the same. "While the bill will not mention religion, deity or doctrine, it will allow students to challenge the science of evolution and force teachers to prove its validity. This will no doubt thrust creationism into the argument, forcing a discussion of religion in the public classroom."
Under the headline "Prospective anti-evolution bill mutates in Indiana," the National Center for Science Education said the bill was "drafted by the Discovery Institute, presumably along the lines of the bills enacted in Tennessee in 2012 and Louisiana in 2008, encouraging teachers to misrepresent evolution as controversial."
It may not be controversial to science teachers, but for politicians a bad answer to a question about evolution can be near-fatal. A report on CNN Wednesday said Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida attempted to clear up his controversial answer to a question about the earth's age last month — a response that was largely interpreted as a chink in the political armor of the possible GOP presidential contender in 2016.
"Science says (the earth) is about 4.5 billion years old. My faith teaches that's not inconsistent," Rubio said at a Politico Playbook Breakfast in Washington. "God created the heavens and the earth, and science has given us insight into when he did it and how he did it."
"The more science learns," he continued, "the more I am convinced that God is real."
TheAssociated Press reported that Josh Youngkin, program officer for public policy and legal affairs for the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, is helping Kruse and lawmakers in other states promote the measure. He said approaching the issue as an academic freedom proposal gets around constitutional questions. He cited a 1987 Supreme Court decision that found teaching creationism on a parallel footing with evolution constituted a violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause.
"It frees teachers to teach both sides of scientific controversies in an objective fashion," said Youngkin. "The teacher would not be barred from saying 'Let's look at both sides of the evidence, and you guys can basically make a judgment,' rather than just accepting passively or memorizing by rote these facts and stating back these arguments on a test which would eventually determine where you go to college."
Some educators and lawmakers, even if they oppose the measure, say Kruse's bill won't do much but add to the "myriad of hoops that teachers have to jump through now that take away from actual instruction."
Democratic Sen. Tim Skinner told Think Progress that students don't need to be told by lawmakers to ask questions.
“If Senator Kruse had education experience he would know that students across the country are already doing that every day in the public school classroom,” Skinner says. “They question everything, and I think a teacher who’s actually doing their job will answer those questions.”
Rep. Bob Behning, Republican chairman of the House Education Committee, told the Star that the bill was too vague and he wasn't interested in pursuing it.
The Huffington Post offered some helpful historical context.
"Creationism legislation has been on the rise nationally in the last year, with Tennessee passing a bill similar to Kruse's proposal, and several other states also proposing (though failing to pass) bills to teach creationism. Louisiana passed a 'truth in education' bill in 2008. Earlier this year, former New Hampshire state Rep. Jerry Bergevin, R-Manchester, suggested that the teaching of evolution led to the Columbine massacre and the rise of the Nazi Party. Bergevin left office Wednesday after losing a bid for a second term. New Hampshire lawmakers overrode Democratic Gov. John Lynch's veto earlier this year of a bill that would allow parents to object to any part of the school curriculum and allow the teaching of an alternate curriculum."