Education under fire

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have a good idea of the kind of stuff I was writing about in college. Here is the second of my opinion columns, Education under fire, originally published March 28, 2006.


Science education is under attack again. And this time, it’s not in Kansas, Utah or other distant, faraway lands; it’s right at home. Last month, two bills were introduced in the Maryland General Assembly attacking the teaching of evolution and other scientific theories in public schools and universities, including this university, and permitting the teaching of Intelligent Design Creationism.

House Bill 1228, introduced by Emmett C. Burns, Jr. (D-District 10), ostensibly outlaws the teaching of IDC in science classes, but at the same time, requires the State Board of Education to “permit the teaching or discussion of the theory of intelligent design in humanities or philosophy classes.” In addition, it requires funding be provided to develop an IDC curriculum and instructional materials.

House Bill 1531, introduced by the same delegate, states that public school teachers and college professors “shall have the affirmative right and freedom to present scientific information to the full range of scientific views in any curricula or course of learning.” This bill adapts language from a proposed addition to the No Child Left Behind Act by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) that was struck down before the act was passed.

If these bills seem very confusing and possibly contradictory, it’s because they are. After the defeat in Dover, Penn., elected officials wishing to see their religious views taught in public schools are forced to be very sneaky in trying to get their attacks on science to pass constitutional rules. But don’t let the wording fool you; as Judge Jones ruled in Dover, it’s the intent behind these bills that really matters, and the real intent is anything but secular.

The First Amendment to the Constitution was enacted to ensure the separation of church and state and protect religious freedom. Because HB1228 requires the state to spend money on religious instructional materials, it is crossing the barrier between church and state.

The wording of the phrase “full range of scientific views” is specially concerning because IDC does not actually fall within the realm of science. Despite the public controversy manufactured by right-wing think tanks such as the Discovery Institute, there is no real scientific controversy over the basic validity of the theory of evolution. The word theory means something entirely different in the scientific realm than it does in colloquial usage. Gravity is also “just a theory,” but you wouldn’t walk out of a skyscraper window, now would you?

These latest bills introduced into the Maryland legislature are nothing more than the latest in a series of attempts to attack science education and illegally insert religious teachings into the curriculum. It was shot down in the late 1980s with “creation science,” and we’re now seeing it again with “intelligent design,” which merely replaces the word “God” with “intelligent designer.” It’s still no more scientific. At best, it’s a weak philosophical conjecture, though some philosophy professors might resent the association.

There are movements against this latest round of anti-science legislation. A petition is being circulated by the Alliance for Science (allianceforscience.org). The National Center for Science Education (ncseweb.org) provides in-depth information about the defense of teaching evolution in public schools.

Fundamentalist Christians who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible have every right to their beliefs – but they do not have the right to force their views into public schools, where they will be foisted upon kids who don’t hold the same religious views. Religious instruction should remain in churches and secular private schools and should not interfere with the teaching of real science in public schools and universities. When we allow religion to pre-empt science we all lose.

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