Legislation introduced in Ohio's House of Representatives would, if passed, rewrite the state's education standards by encouraging teachers to teach "both sides" of the "debate" on evolution and climate change. And, on top of that, an initial draft of the bill would have banned major works of thought and literature.
The 58-page bill, HB 597, would "prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another."
One of the bill's sponsors, State Rep. Andy Thompson (R-District 95) told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that this clause prevents teachers and schools from only presenting one side of a political and scientific debate without also presenting the other side. In practice, he says, that means school districts and teachers would have the freedom to introduce religious interpretations of scientific issues into classrooms — with creationism taught alongside evolution, as well as varying views on the actual age of the Earth and whether humans and dinosaurs co-existed. Likewise, the arguments put forth by climate-change deniers could be included in science lesson plans.
As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports:
"It gives some flexibility to districts to pursue what they think is most appropriate to their students," Thompson said. "We want to have the ability to share perspectives that differ. Teaching one thing to the exclusion of anything else limits the discussion."
Thompson said faith involves belief even when evidence cannot prove something…and that all scientific beliefs are open to challenge. He pointed to ancient beliefs that the sun orbited the earth - a belief widely accepted, but which was eventually challenged and disproven.
"In science, the debate is ongoing," he said.
By requiring multiple sides to be presented, he said the bill will take the "pure politicization" of any issue out of classrooms.
"The problem here is that there simply isn't a debate within the scientific community over evolution or over climate change," retorts Ann Reid, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education. "By encouraging local school districts to misrepresent the overwhelming scientific consensus, HB 597 is a recipe for miseducation."
The legislation also created a stir because its changes to Ohio education standards required that "at least 80% of literary works taught in grades eight through twelve be complete works of classic British and American authors published prior to 1970." That would nearly eliminate all modern authors and most foreign ones, which, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, would include:
Greek works by authors like Aristotle, Sophocles and Plato or tales like The Iliad and The Odyssey; Crime and Punishment or anything else by Fyodor Dostoevsky or fellow Russian Leo Tolstoy; Dante's Divine Comedy; Machiavelli's The Prince; and anything from French authors like Victor Hugo or Albert Camus.
Following the news report, Thompson said that the requirement would be removed from the bill. He attributed its inclusion to a "drafting error."