TEA’s Ambiguous Creationism Statement

by Jose Medina

Is the Texas Education Agency (TEA) climbing out on the limb with Gov. Rick Perry? The agency’s statement regarding Gov. Perry’s  claim that creationism is taught side-by-side with evolution in science classes is a little ambiguous. And more than a little alarming.

Our science standards require students to analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations, so it is likely that other theories, such as creationism, would be discussed in class. Our schools can also offer an elective course on Biblical history and it is likely that creationism is discussed as part of that class too.

This is a clever bit of sophistry, with a bit of half-truth tacked on. Of course, if a student brings up the topic of creationism in science class, a teacher can address it. That is true of any topic in any class. But that does not speak to the matter at hand — whether science classes can include instruction on creationism or any other religious idea as a viable scientific theory alongside evolution. That is out of bounds in science classrooms and is not a part of the Texas science curriculum. And the reference to discussing creationism in Bible history courses is another evasion. While it is true that creationism does commonly make an appearance in Bible courses — as TFNEF’s own research definitively documents — that does not mean this information is appropriate. Or constitutional. Promoting one religion (or one set of religious beliefs about the origin of life) is just as problematic in a Bible class as in a science class.

At this point, TEA and Perry seem to be the only ones out on that limb. As we made very clear in our blog, teaching creationism alongside evolution is not allowed under the state standards or under the U.S. Constitution. And in a story published late last week, PolitiFact Texas backed us up in a thorough takedown of Gov. Perry’s assertion.

Even people who would like to see creationism in schools, like the evolution-deniers at the Discovery Institute, agreed that Gov. Perry got it wrong.

As Lisa Falkenberg of the Houston Chronicle points out, TEA’s statement is “eerily similar” to one she received from a governor’s office spokesperson. And a call to TEA to clarify the statement wasn’t much help, leading Falkenberg to write:

There you have it, science teachers of Texas. On the subject of teaching creationism in class, the education department won’t say it’s wrong, and the governor thinks you’re already doing it.

We’ll reiterate what we said last week. Offering a sort of wink-and-a-nod to teachers that creationism is allowed as science in public schools — as Gov. Perry did last week — or vacillating on the issue as TEA did thereafter, irresponsibly erodes confidence in Texas education system and could open up the state’s school districts to potential lawsuits.