By: Frederic Murray
Once again the corruption of language and thought is manifesting itself in the Oklahoma State Legislature.
The Oklahoma Science Education Act, Senate Bill 393 , is appropriating First Amendment rights to promote religiously motivated, anti-science material into Oklahoma science classes. In seeking to allow the personal views of teachers on “scientific controversies” into the classroom, it argues that the intellectual freedom of teachers, and their First Amendment rights, will be strengthened. It implicitly believes that teachers are unduly restricted by having to adhere to state standards reflecting scientific consensus and analysis.
This bill has nothing to do with First Amendment rights or intellectual freedom. It is ideological and anti-science. In other words, climate is weather, evolution is theory, the world is flat, and teachers in public Oklahoman classrooms should have the right to say as much.
This current battle in 2017 for the integrity of the classroom isn’t new for Oklahoma or the nation, but this particular bill feels like a retread. The author of Senate Bill 393 is state Sen. Josh Brecheen, District 6. Sen. Brecheen has authored similar bills (six in fact) since 2011. This is his seventh attempt. Every spring there is a legislative attempt to commandeer the classroom: Senate Bills 554 (2011), 1742 (2012), 758 (2013), 1765 (2014), 655 (2015), and 1322 (2016) all died in committee. Senate Bill 393 met with the approval of the Senate Education Committee on February 27, and passed the Senate by a vote of 34-10 on March 22, 2017.
Sen. Brecheen has a degree in animal science from Oklahoma State University. At some point, one would hope, he studied biology, genetics and botany. Where his animus toward the rigor of scientific inquiry comes from is a mystery. Oklahoma’s primary industries are in energy and agriculture, both heavily dependent in the 21st century on the methodologies of science. We need our students in the K-12 public schools to have the same opportunity to excel as students elsewhere. It isn’t fair to our teachers or our public schools to have to deal with the ideological posturing of anti-science legislation every year. And to couch such legislation as a First Amendment issue is as insulting as it is pointless.
Since 1999, Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE), a non-profit educational organization, has been promoting the methods and values of science and advocating for excellence in science curriculum for our public schools in the Sooner State. OESE came together because in 1999, the Oklahoma State Textbook Committee attempted to have creationist textbook disclaimers inserted into any textbook used in public schools that discussed evolution.
Sen. Brecheen’s own words make his anti-science intentions abundantly clear. In 2010 he stated in the press (that he would), “introduce a bill to place creationism into public schools”; and later, “I have introduced legislation requiring every publicly funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution using the known science, even that which conflicts with Darwin’s religion.” He has indeed introduced such anti-science bills every year since 2011.
On March 6, 2017, the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) sent a letter to the Oklahoma state Senate care of Mike Schulz, president pro tempore, and Greg Treat, the majority floor leader, to rebut the First Amendment arguments being advanced to support the legislation.
It was ignored. And now SB 393 is moving forward.
In 2014 when Sen. Brecheen introduced SB 1765 (v. 4.0), the American Institute of Biological Sciences described the bill as “bad for science and bad for science education,” and the National Association of Biology Teachers warned that it “could easily permit non-science based discussions of ‘strengths and weaknesses.'” It will now pass to the House Common Education Committee. Oklahoma needs its educational allies to contact Governor Mary Fallin via email or telephone (405-521-2342) and tell her to reject Senate Bill 393 should it land on her desk.
It is a great irony that Oklahoma is home to the South Central Climate Science Center, “a regional partnership of researchers, land managers, and tribes working collaboratively to develop science that addresses climate impacts on natural and human communities.” Oklahoma has good universities, and good K-12 schools scattered throughout the state. It has dedicated teachers and curious students.
SB 393 has nothing to do with intellectual freedom or First Amendment rights. It has little to do with education. SB 393 needs to be stopped.
Frederic Murray is the head of Instructional Services at the Al Harris Library, Southwestern Oklahoma State University. He is a tenured faculty member and as an academic librarian has initiated the growth and expansion of information literacy classes across the campus curriculum. He has presented at state, national and international conferences in the areas of library pedagogy, digital textbooks, and the development of curriculum for Native American Studies. He serves as the managing editor for Administrative Issues Journal, a peer-reviewed, open access journal in its sixth year of publication. He believes deeply in the value of books and the inherent strength found in the human voice. Among his favorite authors are Lenny Bruce, Jimmy Santiago Baca and Carson McCullers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org