Teaching Controversy?

Image of Oklahoma Capitol and a church

Another bill now going through the Oklahoma legislative process would undoubtedly lead to the presentation of creationist ideas in the state’s science classrooms.

House Bill 1551, sponsored by controversial state Rep. Sally Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican, claims certain subjects, such as “biology, chemistry, meteorology, bioethics and physics can cause controversy.” It has passed a House committee. The bill was also introduced last year, but it didn’t make it into law.

According to the bill, "Educational authorities in this state shall also endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies."

The bill specifically targets “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” as the topics that can generate controversy, and specifically notes the bill does not “promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine.”

Under the bill, students could not be penalized for taking “a particular position on scientific theories.”

The bill is obviously another backdoor attempt to allow the religious-based concept of intelligent design or even creationism directly to be taught in science classrooms. Intelligent design, which has been discredited in a court case, argues the natural world is so complicated that a “designer” (wink, wink, a god) created it.

Here are the problems with Kern’s bill and why it should be defeated:

  • There is no scientific controversy over the topics it mentions. Note the word “scientific” in the preceding sentence. Certainly some religious folks in the country, primarily Christian fundamentalists, find elements of science to be controversial because they challenge their world view, but the scientific method, in itself, is absolutely not controversial and has led to huge advancements in modern medicine and other areas of knowledge. The bill argues it doesn’t promote religion, but religion is really at the very center of the “can-cause-controversy” argument. It violates the separation of church and state.

  • If the bill becomes law, high school science teachers will feel forced to open their classrooms up to religious ideas. There’s no other way to read the bill. Students could argue, for example, that creationism or intelligent design refutes the theory of evolution and large chunks of class time could be spent on material that belongs in a Sunday school class, not in an academic setting. Teachers would also feel intimidated by students and might try to avoid certain topics altogether.

  • The bill, if passed, could ultimately dumb down Oklahoma students and make them less prepared for the rigors of a college science classroom. This, in turn, would hurt the state’s development of potential physicians and researchers. Oklahoma already has a shortage of doctors in some areas and a low college graduation rate. Do we want to compound these problems?

  • The state’s image would suffer if the bill is signed into law. It would make it more difficult to expand the state’s medical research base as well.

I’ve written about a similar measure, Senate Bill 1742, sponsored by state Sen. Josh Brecheen.

Kern, a former teacher, is the wife of a Baptist minister and is widely known outside the state for her controversial statements. She once said homosexuality was a bigger threat than terrorism to the country. She also once said minorities and women don’t work as hard as men and therefore make less money. She was widely criticized for her remarks.