Another politician is being smeared for his religious beliefs and stance on creation. Representative Stephen Bloom of Pennsylvania’s 199th Legislative District is seeking cosponsors for a bill that would protect academic freedom and encourage the kind of thinking that leads to good science.
The bill wouldn’t require religious texts be taught, but critics insist it would allow creationism into the classroom and would “muddy the waters” of the public school curriculum.
Students in grades 8-12 would be allowed to question and debate scientific theories like evolution. Bloom says, “With free discourse in the classroom under threat, I will soon be introducing a bill to preserve academic freedom in Pennsylvania’s schools.” He says, “Efforts to squelch and stifle free critical inquiry in the classroom have too frequently arisen.” And “If a student wants to discuss a criticism, he or she should be able to.” In responding to critics he said, “I don’t see this as being an anti- science initiative at all- It’s actually to encourage the kind of thinking that leads to good science.”
Andy Hoover, legislative director for the Pennsylvania branch of the ACLU says, “We do think that ultimately it will lead to some teacher somewhere- or students- bringing religious doctrine into public school classrooms.”
Bloom says he didn’t intend to insert religion into the classroom, but rather expand students’ academic freedoms. “The free exchange of ideas was being quelled by these very strict speech codes in school. And, so for me … it’s just something from the heart.”
Louisiana and Tennessee already have such academic freedom laws in place.
In an opposing letter to the editor at pennlive.com the headline began, “Ok, Rep. Bloom, let’s have kids study the myths of all religions and cultures.” The reader was “horrified” with the thought of humiliation and scorn brought onto the state of Tennessee by the 1925 Scopes trial, but then he proposes introducing a variety of creation stories from every other ethnicity, including the American Indians and Australia- that way we’d be fair and would avoid discrimination, opening them all to scientific scrutiny.
It’s comments like this that demonstrate a basic misunderstanding (intentional or not) of science and creation, and Stephen Bloom’s bill would go a long way towards combating this type of ignorance. Allowing students to question, discuss, and debate scientific theories would encourage them to think for themselves and provide an opportunity for them to make up their own minds on these important issues, rather than forcing them to accept a secular worldview that many believe to be false (as many as 1/3 of all science teachers believe in creation or Intelligent Design).
And the fear that creationism would be taught in the classroom is a weak excuse to oppose student’s rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The bill doesn’t require the teaching of religious textbooks, so religion isn’t being taught. The concept is to allow teachers the freedom to teach good science and expose bad science. If students are allowed to question and understand what they’re being taught, they will have a greater opportunity to learn and understand the world around them. Such freedoms wouldn’t “muddy the waters” at all, as some have complained. I think the real worry is that students will reject evolution in favor of Christianity or other religions. But if there’s enough evidence that would cause a student to reject evolution, then perhaps evolution isn’t that great of a theory after all. Perhaps if an alternative makes better sense then students would accept that. And since when are these really critics worried about muddying the waters? These same critics would love to pull students away from their family’s religious beliefs and indoctrinate them with secular creation myths- like evolution. I’ve had discussions with plenty of students who attend secular schools after growing up in a Christian family, only to be confused and led astray by the public school system. I’d wager that these same critics would be overjoyed with such conversions. But when the opposite possibility exists they’re afraid and publicly outspoken in their attempts to stifle such inquiry. So what Bloom is doing is very encouraging and welcome.
And what if a student does bring religious doctrine into a public classroom? Well, that’s why we have the constitution- so that students can do so without congress (or courts) making laws prohibiting such free exercise (see the First Amendment).
Finally, do we really need to worry about multitudes of “creation stories” being introduced into science class? Well, if that’s a fear, then perhaps all creation stories should be prohibited from science class- including the secular evolution story. However, if a student thinks there’s evidence to support one of those stories and wishes to discuss it, I suppose the teacher could address that in the classroom, as well as counterevidence. I’m not sure how often something like that would come up, but why should anyone fear it? If there’s no merit to the story, then there should be nothing to worry about, except maybe a little wasted time, but if a student is serious about it, then address it without fear. If I were the teacher I’d respect the students comments and offer my thoughts.
The only criticism that comes to my mind is that teachers who accept evolution wouldn’t be equipped to handle student’s objections to evolution. Such teachers certainly wouldn’t do any justice to creation, and would probably misrepresent it entirely, and would do everything in their power to save evolution from criticism. But at the very least students would have a better opportunity to learn, and that’s what’s important.