Colorado Democrats derail assault on science education
Members of the right-wing fringe in the state Capitol must be growing frustrated as their cherished agenda falls before their eyes. First Democrats told them they couldn’t authorize teachers to pack guns to school. Now they say teachers can’t bring their Bibles into the classroom either.
The Academic Freedom Act (House Bill 1086), introduced in the House by Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Weld County, and sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Weld County, would have permitted Christian dogma to compete with science in K-12 science classes, according to Rep. Claire Levy, Chairman of the House Appropriations committee, to which the bill has been referred.
Calling the bill “D.O.A.,” Levy told a Denver radio reporter, “I think it’s safe to say it’s not going to make it to the governor’s desk. The bill looks innocuous enough when you read it; it purports to advocate objective scientific analysis and teaching of all sides of issues and encouraging students to inquire, but when you look beneath the surface it’s pretty obvious that it’s asking science teachers or allowing science teachers to teach creationism and deny global warming.”
Along with the bill introduced in Colorado, almost identical bills were also introduced in Oklahoma and Arizona. The one in Arizona was introduced on the same day as Colorado’s.
These bill reflect what L.A. Times writer Neela Banerjee calls “a flash point … in American science education that echoes the battle over evolution, as scientists and educators report mounting resistance to the study of man-made climate change in middle and high schools.”
In spite of increasing scientific evidence showing a cause and effect between the burning of fossil fuels and climate change, Banerjee says, “The issue has grown so politicized that skepticism of the broad scientific consensus has seeped into classrooms.”
The source of the seep is not hard to find. The Academic Freedom Act is the work of the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, and the closely-linked Heartland Institute, another corporate “bill mill” financed largely by fossil-fuel energy corporations.
Sen. Renfrow is a dues-paying ALEC member and has attended at least one ALEC meeting at Colorado taxpayers’ expense, according to a report by Steve Horn on DeSmogBlog.
Renfroe’s Oklahoma counterpart who introduced the bill there is also a dues-paying ALEC member. In Arizona, all six legislators who sponsored their version of the bill also are ALEC members.
In a Boulder Daily Camera story, documentary film producer Jim Butterworth, whose film, “The Revisionists,” won a best documentary award at last year’s Tribecca Film Festival, linked the model for the bill to Seattle-based Discovery Institute. The DI describes itself as an “interdisciplinary community of scholars and policy advocates dedicated to the reinvigoration of traditional Western Principles.”
Butterworth’s film showed the Discovery Institute as the driving force behind earlier efforts to introduce “intelligent design” into classrooms. “The Discovery Institute,” he said, “is behind this and behind other bills in other states.”
“They’re professionals, and very good at what the do,” he added.
Thanks to the vigilance of the Democratic House leadership, they were not good enough this time to slip their Trojan Horse full of fundamentalist dogma into the Colorado’s K-12 public-school curriculum.
Unfortunately, our oblique neighbors, Oklahoma and Arizona, may not fare as well. Republicans are stronger in those states, and Democrats may be more reluctant to incur the wrath of the religious right.
In that case, the future of their K-12 science may produce results like Texas, where laws like these have been in effect for several years.
As the Huffington Post, citing a study of religion in Texas education by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, reported recently, “Students in Texas’ public schools are still learning that the Bible provides scientific evidence that the Earth is 6,000 years old, that astronauts have discovered ‘a day missing in space and elapsed time’ that affirms biblical stories of the sun standing still and moving backwards, and that the United States was founded as a Christian nation based on biblical Christian principles.”
Maybe so, but we don’t call that science in Colorado. Nor history, either.