Evolution Icon Evolution
Free Speech Icon Free Speech
News Media Icon News Media

Associated Press Article Showcases Misleading Claims Against South Dakota’s Academic Freedom Bill

David Klinghoffer

AdobeStock_41606385.jpg

The South Dakota academic freedom bill (SB 55) is taking to the national stage with an Associated Press article today that is replete with the usual distortions. We even saw it here in the Seattle Times.

The National Censor Center for Science Education weighs in with the expected scaremongering about “creationism.” Do they never tire of this?

South Dakota is one of at least three states, along with Texas and Oklahoma, considering such a bill. Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee have enacted similar laws, according to Glenn Branch, deputy director of the California-based National Center for Science Education, which opposes the proposal.

Branch said there are concerns that such a bill would embolden some teachers to start presenting creationism in their classrooms.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Jeff Monroe, is allowed to respond that creationism is a red herring since “it’s not included in South Dakota’s science content standards.” One might add that the bill’s clear language only permits teaching in an “objective scientific manner” about “scientific information” which obviously would exclude a religious, not scientific, doctrine like Biblical creationism.

Why a teacher would be “emboldened” to do something the text of the law excludes is left unclear. As it always is.

One teacher is quoted as saying she worries the law “would protect educators who teach things that aren’t ‘truly science.'” That suggests that she hasn’t read the bill as written or considered its language, which emphasizes the requirement of scientific content.

Another teacher says “one high school senior told her that he wouldn’t come to her class if she dropped evolutionary theory and picked up intelligent design” (ID). The reporters, James Nord and Hannah Weikel, might have added, but of course do not, that this is a total non sequitur. The bill addresses only “courses being taught which are aligned with [already established] content standards.” The theory of ID isn’t in those standards, so intelligent design is thoroughly irrelevant to the discussion.

Nor, again obviously, is “dropping evolutionary theory” up for consideration. This is the most absurd untruth of all. Steve Matzner, a biologist at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, adds, “The biggest effect of the bill would be that it could underprepare high school students if their science education is being watered down.”

But it would do just the opposite. “Beefed up” is more like it. Teaching the “strengths and weaknesses” of Darwinian theory assumes a significant deepening of a student’s knowledge of evolution. Understanding how mainstream scientists themselves debate the issue negates any approach of dumbing down the material. (See our coverage of the recent Royal Society conference “New Trends in Evolutionary Biology,” where the cutting edge of the evolution debate could be observed. Yes, that’s the Royal Society in London where Isaac Newton once presided.)

If some students “struggle [in] grasping evidence-based teaching,” as Dr. Matzner also says, then SB 55 is a solution to the problem. Challenging them to weigh competing arguments and evidence, not spoon-feeding them with a single monolithic and dogmatic viewpoint, is the best possible way to strengthen their grasp of how to handle scientific evidence.

The reporters press the litigation panic button (the bill, critics assert, “could subject school districts to litigation”). But that hasn’t been the case in Tennessee or Louisiana. Quite simply, “Neither has faced any litigation,” as Sarah Chaffee has pointed out here.

Are we missing any deceptive talking points from the NCSE?

The article cites the views of Gov. Dennis Daugaard echoed by teacher Deb Wolf that the bill is “unnecessary” or “superfluous,” presumably meaning that it would do nothing to change or add to the status quo. But that doesn’t square with all the handwringing about injecting “creationism” or “intelligent design.”

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Monroe, testifies to the way teachers can at present be pressured to teach politically correct science. He

said he has heard from concerned teachers, including one who was chastised for discussing how embryos develop and another who was frustrated that she was forced to teach climate change as a fact.

The bill as written would protect teachers from political pressures (“No teacher may be prohibited…”).

And frankly, the whole article by the Associated Press testifies to the need for this bill. Look at all the axe-grinding for evolutionary orthodoxy that can be crammed into a brief news report from the AP. Without the bill, any teacher considering getting a little creative with her pedagogy and challenging students with a taste of conflicting mainstream scientific views would face “chastisement” and “frustration,” at best.

The bill seeks to protect instructors from intimidation that doesn’t hesitate to mislead. That makes it necessary and not superfluous in the least.

Photo: South Dakota State Capitol, © dustin77a — stock.adobe.com.

I’m on Twitter. Follow me @d_klinghoffer.