Texas is violating the Constitution’s First Amendment to teach a myth as fact in publicly funded schools, Slate writer Phil Plait asserts. He goes on to explain that “Young Earth creationism—the idea that God created the Earth 6,000 to 10,000 years ago, borne of a literal interpretation of the Bible” is verifiably incorrect. Plait proceeds to drop jaws with facts about schools popping up in Texas, Arkansas and Indiana.
This revelation comes from Zack Kopplin, who wrote a devastating article here in Slate about his investigation of Responsive Education Solutions, a group of publicly supported charter schools that currently has more than 65 campuses with 17,000 students enrolled. Kopplin obtained a copy of Responsive Ed’s workbook for biology that is used throughout their charter system, and what’s inside is disturbing, to say the very least.
The workbook, called a “Knowledge Unit”, is loaded with creationist propaganda, both subtle and overt. A large fraction of the curriculum in it is devoted to creating doubt about evolution (and other scientific fields) and to promoting a completely false controversy about the scientific facts of biological evolution….
Creationists have been trying for years to teach their particular flavor of religious fundamentalism in public schools. And time and again, it’s been ruled not just illegal, but unconstitutional. Whether it’s straight up creationism, or its poorly disguised cousin intelligent design, judges have shown that teaching it with public taxpayer funds violated the First Amendment. In the famous Dover case, this ruling was brought by a conservative judge, so it’s hardly a liberal conspiracy, either.
It’s just a fact. Trying to teach a religion as truth in a public school is illegal.
So how does Responsive Education Solutions get away with it? They have what Kopplin calls a “secular veneer”—what looks like a nonreligious coating on their writing, but even a cursory glance at the workbook shows it for what it truly is. And perhaps doing this through charter schools makes it somewhat easier than if it were in the public schools. Louisiana has been doing something similar, by using public funding to create vouchers to get kids out of public schools and into private schools where creationism is taught. This action is illegal, but is endorsed by Louisana’s governor, Bobby Jindal.
Responsive Education’s CEO, Chuck Cook, has responded to Kopplin’s article in Slate, but as you’d expect what he says is just as bad as what’s written in the workbook. The Texas Freedom Network takes down his response, as does the Arkansas Times.
Oh, and it should be noted that on top of being unconstitutional and hugely draining on taxpayer money, Responsive Ed’s system had “less favorable” results than other charter schools as determined by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes. Needless to say, Responsive Ed had problems with that, and also needless to say, CREDO showed that response to be somewhat lacking as well.
So what can be done about this? Well, for one, spread the word. The more people who know about this, the better. Also, I want to put in a plug for Kopplin. This outstanding young man has been fighting the forces of anti-science for years and has done an astonishing job shining the light of reality on what they’re doing. His advocacy group, Second Giant Leap, wants to increase funding for science education, putting it on par with the efforts of the Apollo program. I think this is a fine idea, as is his effort to stop Louisiana from teaching creationism in its schools as well.
—Posted by Natasha Hakimi
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