Mike Mayo has an interesting column in today's Sun-Sentinel, and it deals with a subject near and dear to my heart--the teaching of creationism in the public schools. Although I have some issues with the way Mayo argues his case (which I'll get to in a moment), I'm really glad he brought this up, because I hadn't heard about this bill.

The proposed Academic Freedom Act would protect public school teachers who "present scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical origins." The bill also would prohibit students from "being penalized for subscribing to a particular position on evolution."

The bill is written with so much mumbo jumbo and wiggle room, you wonder what the true motives are.

"The bill does not allow or authorize the teaching of creationism or intelligent design," insisted Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, who filed the House version of the bill.


Hays said the bill would allow discussions about "competing theories," along with "weaknesses" in Darwin's theory of evolution.

"This protects the freedom of speech for teachers in the classroom," Hays said. "I want teachers to be able to show those holes in Darwin's theory of evolution without fear of chastisement."
Mayo is right to be skeptical, if for no other reason than that there are no "competing theories" about the development of life on this planet. There are religious beliefs, and ancient myths, but there are no other theories.

Often, disagreements like these are trivialized as "mere semantics" or "arguments over words," but words matter, and I'm sick and tired of crap like creationism or Intelligent Design being given the status of a theory. The word theory has a very specific definition in the scientific community, and to denigrate it by attaching it to beliefs based on ancient writings, often of questionable translation, aggravates me to no end.

Which is why I'm a little disappointed in Mayo's argument in this column. He wants to expand the playing field, which I can understand, but he's taking an awful chance in doing so.
Then why not have provisions covering teachers in all subjects, such as health teachers who want to discuss a full range of information in sex education classes, like birth control and abortion.

"That's more of a parental responsibility than a school responsibility," Hays said.

What kind of academic freedom is that?
Okay, so Mayo knows who he's talking to in this case, and knows it's a non-starter, but the problem is that there might be some people willing to make the trade-off, and that's a problem. I want there to be full-on sex-ed in the schools, mind you, but not if it means we have to allow creationism into a science classroom.

That's not to say there isn't a place for it in the schools. A comparative religions class would be a terrific idea, and both creationism and Intelligent Design would fit right in there alongside the creation myths of all early societies, from the Egyptian to the Celtic to the many variants of Native American and everything in between.

Just not in a science classroom.

Let's also remember that academic freedom has its limits, as well--no freedom is absolute. If I got in front of my drama class and spent all day talking about Hootie and the Blowfish, I'd get canned, and rightfully so, because I wouldn't be living up to the requirements of my job. And any science teacher who wants to talk about creationism should be treated the same way, because creationism has about as much to do with science as Hootie has to do with drama. Maybe less.

Mayo is right to point out the inconsistency in Hays's position, but he's cracking open a door that needs to be sealed shut. Religion in the humanities classes, and science in the science classes, and let's leave it at that.

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