It’s 2013, and Pennsylvania’s still debating creationism in schools
In a classic episode of Seinfeld, the title character argues that the United States never should have invested in the space program.
“We never should have landed a man on the moon,” Seinfeld notes in Season 5, Episode 13. “It’s a mistake. Now everything is compared to that one accomplishment. I can’t believe they could land a man on the moon . . . and taste my coffee! I think we all would have been a lot happier if they hadn’t landed a man on the moon. Then we’d go, They can’t make a prescription bottle top that’s easy to open? I’m not surprised they couldn’t land a man on the moon. Things make perfect sense to me now.”
Similarly, it’s almost like the world moving into 2013 was our most recent man on the moon moment. It’s 2013 and the LGBT community still doesn’t have the same rights as the rest of us, advocates often say. When Joe Groh of the former Chink’s Steaks changed the name of his shop to Joe’s Steaks and Soda Shop, citing the store’s derogatory name, he was quoted as saying, “It’s 2013. It was time to do it.”
Those of us living in the past would probably be a little happier if it weren’t 2013.
Which doesn’t mean some aren’t trying to ignore the “It’s 2013” mantra. Using religious ideas to legislate has become the norm both in Pennsylvania and throughout the country in recent years. We’ve seen it with the recent spike in abortion-related legislation in state legislatures, a “Year of the Bible” resolution last year, and now a new Pennsylvania bill is being written that’d allow for “academic freedom” surrounding the teaching of science in the classroom.
State Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland) has written a memo and released an attachment of proposed — and extremely vague — legislation that would, according to some opponents of the memo, promote creationism in the science classroom.
“Academic freedom in the classroom is an essential educational value treasured by generations of teachers, students, and parents in Pennsylvania’s public K-12 schools,” writes Bloom. “Nonetheless, efforts to squelch and stifle free critical inquiry in the classroom have too frequently arisen, often in the context of the teaching and debate of controversial scientific theories and paradigms. The irony in this, of course, is that the very means by which good science advances is through rigorous debate and creative challenges to the status quo.”
Bloom goes onto to say that “free discourse” in the classroom is “under threat” and that he wishes to produce legislation which will help “students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the courses being taught.”
Like I said earlier: It’s 2013, and this stuff is pretty vague.
Delaware Valley Americans United, the local arm of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has an idea: “This bill wrongly claims to “protect teaching of scientific information,” but in actuality, it encourages teachers to emphasize the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution, inventing a false controversy to invite religious discussion into science classrooms.”
As is argued by DVAU President Ed Joyce, an evolutionary pathologist, the theory of evolution isn’t actually controversial. “[N]o one is questioning these theories,” he writes in a statement. “The problem is that evolution raises questions concerning deeply held religious beliefs that some people are uncomfortable with.”
He goes onto call Bloom’s memo an attempt to sneak creationism into public schools.
In an attached draft of what the legislation may look like when introduced, nowhere are the words “creationism” or even “intelligent design,” which was the going phrase when former President Bush attempted to tip his hat to the Christian Right soon after they helped him get re-elected, used.
Rather, as alluded to in a recent story at AlterNet, Bloom’s memo and draft legislation uses the same terms several lawmakers have picked up as of late. They include, according to the AlterNet article, “pretending to teach kids ‘critical thinking’ skills,” “urging teachers to ‘go rogue,’” and (drumroll, please) “calling it academic freedom.”
Bloom’s memo and draft hit just about all the points.
According to that list’s author, who published about three weeks before Bloom’s memo was available on the State Legislature’s website, academic freedom sort of goes with the idea that teachers have the right to question theories they teach which they deem controversial—which, nevermind evolution; that could be the least of our worries and a nightmare to the Christian Right who’ve fought for more “academic freedom” in schools.
“A common creationist ruse is to assert that teachers have the right, under academic freedom, to introduce material that undercuts evolution. They do not. Over the years, several public school teachers have made this argument in court. All have failed,” the author, Rob Boston, writes. “Imagine if this argument were taken to its logical extent. What’s to stop a teacher from espousing 9/11 conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial, claims that we never landed on the moon, etc.?”
We assume the state Representative from Cumberland County would not be in favor of teaching 9/11 conspiracy theories in the classroom, no matter how fun they are to watch on YouTube.
But given the vagueness of the language he and other legislators have used to sneak this stuff through (one part reads that principals and administrators should “promote an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues”), it’s hard to imagine anything would be there to stop them. Assuming it would hold up in court. Which it would not.
Still, it would certainly make biology a bit more…interesting.
Now, kids: I think an elite cult of lizard people—which we’ll call “Reptilian Humanoids”—control the world from various spots in the world, including the Vatican and underneath the Denver Airport. They force pop stars to put references to that cult in their songs and music videos. They created 9/11 in order to speed up the process of enslaving humanity.
Any questions? And remember you have to respond appropriately and respectfully.
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