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Academic Freedom Resolutions — For Darwin Day, Another Valuable Option for Citizen Activists

Sarah Chaffee

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Charles Darwin affirmed the need to consider scientific questions from a balanced perspective. As he famously wrote, “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.” It’s a sad irony that his modern day followers have largely disregarded this advice, insisting that students learn only one side of the evidence about evolution.

With this in mind, Darwin’s birthday, aka Darwin Day, February 12, is celebrated around here as Academic Freedom Day. As that special occasion approaches, ask yourself: Are teachers and students in your state encouraged to evaluate and analyze, in a balanced and objective way, the evidence about life’s origins and diversity? 

Too often, textbooks present a dogmatic, one-sided view. What can you do to promote critical thinking and scientific inquiry in evolution instruction? 

Bills and Resolutions

You may already know about academic freedom bills — such as those passed in Louisiana in 2008 and Tennessee in 2012. These laws provide freedom for teachers to discuss the scientific controversy over evolution, and other debates in science, in an objective manner while adhering to the state’s curriculum. 

But since 2017, states have been able to opt for an alternative, academic freedom resolutions, which are simply statements of legislative support. Both are valuable in advancing the cause of freedom to teach and learn. 

Do you feel that new statutes could be a hard sell in the state legislature and with the governor? That’s where an academic freedom resolution proves its worth. These measures are not binding. However, they show support for critical thinking in evolution education. 

This moves a state in the right direction, signaling to the state board of education, as well as to districts, administrators, and teachers, that the legislature has taken a stand on this issue. Like academic freedom laws, resolutions do not attempt to encourage teaching about intelligent design — only about the mainstream scientific controversy over topics already in the curriculum. Resolutions like this have been adopted in Alabama and by the Indiana Senate, both in 2017. 

An Easier Option

Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture offers a Model Academic Freedom Bill and a Model Academic Freedom Resolution. For more information on legislation in this area, visit the Free Science website.

Citizen activists can attempt to influence evolution education in many ways — science standards, academic freedom legislation, district policies — but it is best when a state and/or district has taken multiple steps to encourage teachers to teach the scientific controversy over Darwin’s theory. 

Our model academic freedom resolution closely follows the wording of Tennessee’s academic freedom bill, with just a few changes. Please consider talking to your contacts and legislators about an academic freedom resolution. 

It’s a relatively easy way to potentially make a huge difference! Consider gathering some likeminded contacts in your legislative district and visiting your legislator together. As always, feel free to reach out to the CSC for recommendations and additional scientific and policy resources. Give Charles Darwin a birthday present that he’d appreciate: an academic freedom resolution in your state!