Alabama Representative Mack Butler has introduced House Joint Resolution 78, an academic freedom resolution that would protect teachers who help “students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.”
This resolution would advance high-quality, active, and engaging science instruction.
And Alabama’s proposed resolution is right in step with the rest of the country. A national poll conducted last year revealed that “fully 93 percent of American adults agree that ‘teachers and students should have the academic freedom to objectively discuss both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution.’”
Both the nationwide poll and Alabama’s proposed resolution are also in line with what Discovery Institute has advocated for science education for the past two decades. Discovery’s Science Education Policy states that
evolution should be fully and completely presented to students, and they should learn more about evolutionary theory, including its unresolved issues. In other words, evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can’t be questioned.
HJR 78, sponsored by Representative Mack Butler and 28 of his colleagues in the House, takes much the same approach. The resolution would simply support academic freedom for teachers who wish to discuss scientific evidence for and against evolution, and other scientific theories already in the state curriculum.
Unfortunately, the media have distorted the legislation. So what else is new?
Yellowhammer News, for one, claimed the bill would introduce intelligent design in the classroom:
House Joint Resolution 78 was filed by Rep. Mack Butler (R- Rainbow City), who served as a school board member of Etowah County Schools for 10 years. The legislation aims not to remove discussion of evolution in the classroom, but to broaden scientific conversations to include conversation over intelligent design. Related subjects that are addressed by the bill include global warming and human cloning.
No, HJR 78 is not about introducing intelligent design into classrooms. It applies solely to theories already in the curriculum — and intelligent design is not in the curriculum anywhere in Alabama.
Representative Butler defends the resolution and explains that it would add nothing new to the existing curriculum.
Certainly, when teaching on controversial topics, classroom discussions already may touch on theories and ideas that are not part of the curriculum. That just comes with free speech and we should welcome such discussions. HJR 78 doesn’t change that.
Discovery has always maintained that students’ questions are protected free speech, but that is very different from mandating that a teacher insert entirely new material into the curriculum. The resolution wouldn’t support that.
Butler is clear about what the resolution would do:
The real focus of HJR 78 is on “scientific subjects required to be taught under the curriculum framework developed by the State Board of Education.” So the resolution does not change the curriculum.
HJR 78 does expressly support teachers in engaging their students in examining the scientific strengths and weaknesses of those topics currently being taught. Science is characterized by open-minded critical analysis of data, and Alabama students will benefit from gaining more knowledge about subjects being studied and learning to reason like scientists.
To head off further media misinformation, let’s say it again. What specifically would the resolution call for? It says educational leadership and teachers
should endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, develop critical thinking skills, analyze the scientific strengths and weaknesses of scientific explanations, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific subjects required to be taught under the curriculum framework developed by the State Board of Education.
Moreover, educational leadership
should refrain from prohibiting any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught within the curriculum framework developed by the State Board of Education.
It is all too common for teachers to feel intimidated and thus simply avoid teaching scientific information about origins. This poorly serves the interests of students. The resolution would support protecting teachers and advancing education — something approved by the overwhelming majority of Americans.
None of this is difficult to understand. Why is it so challenging for the media to simply report the basic facts?
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the resolution had passed the Alabama legislature. In fact, the resolution has simply been introduced for consideration.
Photo: Alabama State Capitol, by Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.