UPDATE: Don’t just stew in frustration. Do something about it.
As we have battled anti-evolution extremists on the Texas State Board of Education over the past year, we knew that a legislative assault on science was inevitable. On Friday, the last day for filing legislation at the Texas Capitol, a far-right lawmaker from East Texas filed the bill we’ve been expecting.
House Bill 4224 by state Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, is a full frontal assault on science education in Texas. The bill would open the door to teaching public school students almost any cockamamie concept that any crackpot wants to portray as “science,” regardless of what mainstream scientists and school administrators have to say about it.
The bill inserts directly into the Texas Education Code a requirement that students learn “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories. It also forbids any governmental entity from stopping a teacher who offers just about any argument he or she wants against a scientific theory so long as the teacher portrays it as based on “scientific evidence and information.”
The bill doesn’t mention evolution specifically, but that hardly matters — creationists have been trying for years to use such a requirement to force public schools to teach pseudoscientific “weaknesses” of evolution. The anti-evolution Discovery Institute specializes in promoting such arguments, even though mainstream scientists long ago debunked them.
But this bill’s potential consequences go far beyond what students could learn about evolution. What if, for example, a teacher decides to teach students that there is scientific evidence that Earth really doesn’t revolve around the sun after all? The teacher could point to a Web site — www.fixedearth.com — that makes that very argument. He or she could also point to state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, who in 2007 endorsed and circulated a memo to fellow Texas lawmakers that promoted the fixedearth.com Web site. Rep. Christian’s bill, if it passes, would prevent school district administrators from doing anything about the teacher and the nonsense he or she would be teaching.
The current draft of new science curriculum standards, currently under consideration by the State Board of Education, leaves out the “strengths and weaknesses” requirement. The state board’s final vote on those standards — and another attempt by creationists to put “strengths and weaknesses” back in — is expected at the end of this month. But Rep. Christian’s bill, if passed, is a legislative end run around the standards. It would make the entire process for adopting science standards a sham.