Science educators have recognized that teaching science as a large compendium of facts, without reference to the scientific process and theories that bind them together, simply leads to uninterested and uninformed students. So it's a bit mind-boggling to discover that an Ohio state legislator is attempting to ban educators for teaching anything about the scientific process. And for good measure, the bill's sponsor threw politics and creationism into the mix.
The bill, currently under consideration by the Ohio Assembly, is intended to revoke a previous approval of the Common Core educational standards, which target math and literacy. However, the bill's language also includes sections devoted to science and social studies. And the science one is a real winner:
The standards in science shall be based in core existing disciplines of biology, chemistry, and physics; incorporate grade-level mathematics and be referenced to the mathematics standards; focus on academic and scientific knowledge rather than scientific processes; and prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another.
Specifically prohibiting a discussion of the scientific process is a recipe for educational chaos. To begin with, it leaves the knowledge the kids will still receivethe things we have learned through sciencecompletely unmoored from any indication of how that knowledge was generated or whether it's likely to be reliable. The scientific process is also useful in that it can help people understand the world around them and the information they're bombarded with; it can also help people assess the reliability of various sources of information.
Prohibiting "political or religious interpretation of scientific facts," however, opens up a large can of worms. People who believe the Earth is less than 10,000 years old frequently claim that they work with the same facts as actual geologists and biologists; they simply interpret them differently. Although the wording of the bill is vague, it could be interpreted as blocking educators from pointing out how completely inconsistent with the data this interpretation is, or prevent them from describing how the evidence favors a four-billion-year-old Earth.
One of the bill's two sponsors, Rep. Andy Thompson (R-Lima), has gone back and forth about his intentions. Last week, he told The Columbus Dispatch that the bill would open the door to instruction on intelligent design: “I think it would be good for them to consider the perspectives of people of faith. That’s legitimate.”
This week, however, he told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the bill does nothing to put creationism into the classroominstead, he said it's all about the political interpretation of science. And his example of politicized science, naturally, was climate change. Confusingly, as evidence of climate change's political nature, he cites past estimates of agricultural productivity and the availability of fossil fuels.
The bill is still being considered, and Ohio residents have time to contact their legislators to try to prevent its passage. For those wishing to keep track of it, the National Center for Science Education has a page dedicated to news out of Ohio.