HB 1551, authored by Repesentative Sally Kern goes before the House Common Education Committee next Tuesday (22 Feb)
(this entry is based in part on information from NCSE) Representative Kern’s latest bill, the “Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act,” is an antievolution bill in the mold of the law passed in Louisiana in 2008. Under the guise of “academic freedom,” this bill would carve out a legal space for creationist teachers to bring non-scientific criticisms of evolution into the classroom. The full text of the bill can be found elsewhere on this website and at http://webserver1.lsb.state.ok.us/2011-12bills/HB/HB1551_int.rtf
In short, here’s why HB 1551 is a bad bill:
–Manufactured controversy - The alleged “controversies” described by this bill do not exist; scientists do not debate the validity of evolution.
–Harmful to education - This will create classroom confusion for teachers, because under this bill students cannot be marked down for certain types of answers on tests.
–Unneeded - Teachers are already free to discuss real science in science classrooms.
In more detail, here’s what’s wrong with HB 1551:
1.”… the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy.”
Evolution is not a scientifically controversial topic. Although this bill calls for teachers to promote “the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories,” these alleged weaknesses do not come from scientists; they are creationist fabrications. The only “controversy” here is manufactured by antievolution forces. And it is worth emphasizing that part of the language of this bill comes from a Seattle-based organization with a history of promoting “intelligent design” creationism.
2.One provision of HB 1551 reads: “…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.”
If this were applied literally, this means that if students answered biology test questions with, “Evolution is evil—that’s my position on your stupid theory,” such students could not be marked wrong. This would create chaos in the classroom, with teachers juggling respect for religious views with grading inaccurate answers. Religion does not belong in the science classroom, and this provision drops religious “position[s] on scientific theories” right into teachers’ laps.
3.”The provisions of the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act shall only protect the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine.”
This assertion is flatly contradicted by decades of religiously-based attacks on evolution. It’s clear that the effect of the bill would be to encourage creationist teachers to present unscientifically warranted criticisms of evolution, and that’s enough to make it unconstitutional. Simply saying that a bill does not promote religion does not make it so.
4.”The intent of the provisions of the act is to create an environment in which both the teacher and students can openly and objectively discuss the facts and observations of science, and the assumptions that underlie their interpretation.”
The “assumptions” language invites creationist teachers to attack well-established science; a creationist teacher might use this provision to say (falsely) that an assumption of evolution is “atheistic materialism.” In this manner, creationist teachers could disparage evolution while maintaining that they were simply following the law.
5.HB 1551 is virtually identical, word-for-word, to a bill introduced in 2009, SB 320 (Brogdon). Discussions of SB 320 suggest it was religiously motivated; Sen. Randy Brogdon described his bill as a way to “combat the secular humanistic indoctrination,” such as 2009’s “yearlong one-sided celebration of Darwinism [at] OU.” SB 320 also proposed to solve a non-existent problem; a school superintendent in Brogdon’s district said, “I don’t think our teachers are confused at all, and I’m somewhat puzzled because Sen. Brogdon and I have never had any dialogue on the subject.”
During Representative Kern’s interview last Tuesday on KWTV Channel 9 she re-stated many of the same points found in her recent letter to the Tulsa World (see the Twitter feed on the left). She emphasized that the teaching of evolution was not banned in the bill and emphasized that evolution would be enhanced by the proposed legislation because teachers could now feel free to teach ALL the science about evolution (whatever that means).
OSTA has published a position statement on an bill introduced several years ago that is spooky in it’s similarity to HB1551. That year’s HB1001, not to be confused with this year’s very similar HB 1001, (and what’s up with these palindrome bill numbers anyway?), was prevented from becoming law in committee. Go to http://www.oklahomascienceteachersassociation.org/?p=2553 to read our statement then as you determine how to respond to 1551 now.
The House Common Education Committee consists of the following members:
Rep. Ann Coody, Chair, email@example.com Rep. Jabar Shumate, Vice Chair, firstname.lastname@example.org Rep. Gus Blackwell, email@example.com Rep. Ed Cannaday, firstname.lastname@example.org Rep. Dennis Casey, email@example.com Rep. Donnie Condit, firstname.lastname@example.org Rep. Doug Cox, email@example.com Rep. Corey Holland, firstname.lastname@example.org Rep. Fred Jordan, email@example.com Rep. Sally Kern (bill sponsor) Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, firstname.lastname@example.org Rep. Jason Nelson, email@example.com Rep. Jadine Nollan, firstname.lastname@example.org Rep. Pat Ownbey, email@example.com Rep. Dustin Roberts, firstname.lastname@example.org Rep. Emily Virgin, email@example.com