The Oklahoma House could consider a bill today that if signed into law would undermine science education in the state’s classrooms, especially the teaching of evolution theory.
House Bill 1674, sponsored by Gus Blackwell, a Laverne Republican, is on the calendar for a House floor vote today. Amendments filed with the bill by Blackwell would make it similar to Senate Bill 1765, a bill called the Oklahoma Science Education Act, which allows students to “respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues” in science classrooms.
Both Blackwell and state Sen. Josh Brecheen, a Coalgate Republican, who sponsors SB 1765, have submitted previous legislation that defined some of the so-called “controversial issues” as biological evolution and global warming. Those bills eventually died in the legislature. I recently wrote about Brecheen’s bill here.
The bills’ and related bills’ voting history through the years is convoluted, but none of them have made it into law. The gambit this session among those pushing or supporting this type of legislation seems to be to present generic language that might be palatable to more legislators, especially in the Senate.
The intent of the bills, however, remains the same: Cast doubt on basic longtime scientific principles and research and insert religious ideas in classroom.
There is no real scientific controversy over evolution and global warming. There might be religious and political disagreement about these issues among some groups, such as right-wing, fundamentalist Christians and oil companies, but it’s not rooted in science.
Any version of these bills signed into law would damage the state’s education reputation and harm students. It’s not a stretch to say such a law would make Oklahoma’s public school students less prepared for college.
One of Blackwell’s amendments, for example, establishes that “. . . no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories.”
Allowing students to simply opt-out or criticize important course material with no consequences because of religious beliefs is terribly unwise in a state with a low college graduation rate.
Both the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE) are strongly opposed to these bills.