Alabama wants your children to know it doesn’t go in for all that science hokum. The GOP-dominated state has recently announced it’s adding a disclaimer to all textbooks featuring the theory of evolution. The full disclaimer is several paragraphs long and reminds students that “Instructional material associated with controversy should be approached with an open mind.”
The state board of education insists that the theory of evolution has been taught in public schools for more than fifty years. However, multiple sources claim otherwise, and some go further suggesting that those textbooks that do feature evolution have always required disclaimer stickers. The disclaimer stickers imply secular knowledge in and of itself is toxic, and the latest example looks like something off of a pack of cigarettes.
This guarded approach to scientific thinking is no doubt a primary reason why only 1 in 5 10th graders meet or exceed national testing medians for grade-level scientific knowledge. That’s why even with the disclaimer still present the new curriculum approved by the state’s board of education is designed to get students actively participating in classroom scientific experiments (all but confirming they weren’t doing so before).
Because of these dismal standards in science, opponents of evolution are finding it harder to force their beliefs down the throats of public school children in a coordinated and state-sanctioned matter. The state’s new scientific curriculum standards which went into effect last Fall call evolution established scientific knowledge (and to think it only took until 2015 for them to say that!)
And yet the indoctrination of students into creationism still persists at an alarming rate. The combination of indoctrination at home and in school can lead to what one former Alabama student called in a personal essay ” a fog that the most basic principles of biology could barely cut through.” This environment, at least for students brought up in fundamentalist homes, is so pervasive it demonstrates that any minor changes the state board might make to a science curriculum are lip service at best.
While an underground state-sanctioned system to teach creationism is a problem in other states like Louisiana, Alabama is the last state to still actually require warning labels on textbooks regarding evolution. And its state legislature has a habit of promoting laws designed to promote creationism, like a bill submitted to the State House in spring 2015 that would allow science teachers to tell kids whatever they damn well pleased about the yankee monkey theory.
What the Alabama curriculum review does show is that conservatives are finding new ways to attack evolution. Their new way to do so without tipping off progressives is via use of the phrase “academic freedom” in the same way that homophobes use the phrase “religious freedom.” The Seattle based creationist group Discovery Institute released a textbook specifically designed to sneak creationist doctrine into science classrooms via academic freedom laws.
Both secular progressives and progressives of faith should be looking at this news for what it really represents: a conservative takeover of state legislatures we have done surprisingly little about. In 2013 (and this is just one example), creationist bills appeared in six different state legislatures. A study names 65 creationist bills in 16 states.
Objective thinking in public schools, or at least thinking influenced by fact and not opinion, is under attack in states across the country, and progressives need to be doing more about it at the state level.
Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia