A bill introduced by Missouri legislators would make it mandatory that schools send out a warning to parents when the schools teach evolution, allowing parents to opt out.
The bill, known as House Bill No. 1472, is sponsored by Republican Representative Rick Brattin (55th District). The legislation is motivated by Brattin’s belief that schools are offering a biased version of the facts by “only” teaching the theory of evolution by natural selection.
In an effort to address this supposed problem, the bill proposes that:
Any school district or charter school which provides instruction relating to the theory of evolution by natural selection shall be required to have a policy on parental notification and a mechanism where a parent can choose to remove the student from any part of the district’s or school’s instruction on evolution. The policy shall require the school district or charter school to notify the parent or legal guardian of each student enrolled in the district of:
(1) The basic content of the district’s or school’s evolution instruction to be provided to the student; and
(2) The parent’s right to remove the student from any part of the district’s or school’s evolution instruction.
This is the first bill of its kind introduced with the specific aim of undermining the facts of evolution by allowing parents to opt their kids out of those lessons.
Brattin has said that the current, approved curriculum is “indoctrination because it is not objective approach.” He has defended the measure, telling KCTV5 that this legislation would not prohibit kids from learning about topics like DNA or cell structures. Then, of course, there’s the matter of Brattin’s religious beliefs: “It’s an absolute infringement on people’s beliefs,” Brattin is quoted as saying by the Kansas City Star. Brattin then goes on to seriously miscast all the scientific inquiry, methodical deduction and evidence that has supported evolution by natural selection, saying, “What’s being taught is just as much faith and, you know, just as much pulled out of the air as, say, any religion.”
Critics argue the legislation dramatically undercuts the teaching of basic scientific facts and reinforces the false notion that there is a valid debate about Darwinian evolution. David Evans, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, is quoted as saying that the idea that this won’t undercut biology classes is incorrect because ”evolution by natural selection is the unifying principle in the study of biology,” and that this legislation would impact America’s competiveness in science education.
Sadly this isn’t the only bill aiming to shore up creationist teaching. In addition to existing anti-evolution laws that are already on the books, there are currently a number of pending pieces of legislation in states including South Carolina and Oklahoma. The war on science education is perhaps not that surprising though, given that only a minority (43%) of self-identifying Republicans now accept evolution by natural selection. To put this in perspective, that’s a dramatic fall from 2009 when 54% (still shamefully small but at least more than half) agreed evolution is a fact.
The proportion of Young-Earth Creationists, those who believe that Earth is less than 10,000 years old per a narrow interpretation of the Bible, has risen steadily in recent years, but even so the power the group is capable of exerting over the American political scene is alarming. This in part seems to result from successful attempts to shoehorn anti-evolution rhetoric into the ever-widening bracket of “religious rights,” something that Republican lawmakers have made their go-to for everything from challenging gay rights to a woman’s right to choose.
In this case, however, the sought after religious “right” in question appears to be nothing more than keeping children in the dark about scientific facts. This kind of parental opt-out based on religious conviction sets a dangerous precedent. What’s next, opting out of lessons about the Earth being round? About the mathematics that undermine notions of creation? Of history that dates older than 10,000 years? This bill is profoundly flawed, and it’s something that should have all moderate conservatives just as appalled as their liberal counterparts.
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