Christian fundamentalists in Texas are out to destroy your child’s education again. The state is one of the biggest textbook buyers in the country, and because of this, they can force textbook publishers to rewrite entire portions of the books that will land not just in the hands of Texas children, but children around the country (the school board is currently deciding on new science textbooks). The state school board, which is stuffed with right-wing ideologues who cheerfully reject any science they feel is in conflict with fundamentalist Christianity, are once again trying to use that power to try to teach your kid their religion in the science classroom.
The strategy, as it has been in the past, is to force textbook publishers to teach something that is simply untrue: That there’s significant controversy in the world of science over whether or not humans and other species evolved over millions of years or whether or not a couple of people made from mud ate an apple in a mysterious garden 6,000 years ago.
The Texas Freedom Network, a group that advocates for church-state separation in Texas, obtained notes from the state school board and found that the board members even went so far as to claim that the Garden of Eden myth is “science,” and the equivalent of the theory of evolution. One of the board members, a nutritionist at Texas A&M named Karen Beathard, explained the strategy of smuggling in religious instruction into the science classroom: “Students should have the opportunity to use their critical thinking skills to weigh the evidence between evolution and ‘creation science.’”
“Creation science” is a misleading euphemism for teaching that woman brought all sin into the world through her disobedience. It’s so nakedly an attempt to teach the Old Testament as if it’s science in the classroom that the Supreme Court banned so-called “creation science” in 1987—nine years before the oldest high school students affected by this were even born. As recent attempts to end legal abortion in Texas show, the religious right in the state is increasingly confident that they don’t have to listen to the rulings of the Supreme Court.
Inevitably, the creationists try to play off their attempts to teach creationism in the classroom as a matter of academic freedom, often employing the phrase “ teach the controversy. However, since there is no controversy in the actual world of science, by “teaching the controversy,” you are teaching students a lie. It’s no different than bringing kids into a classroom and telling them there’s a legitimate scientific debate over whether or not water is wet. There isn’t one, and “controversy” isn’t a catch-all word that shields you from being rightfully accused of lying to children.
Another favorite tactic of creationists is to claim that without printing lies about a controversy that doesn’t exist, children in classrooms will be silenced and unable, for some reason, to ask questions. Jonathan Saenz of the group Texas Values likes to trot out the accusation that without the creation myth in science textbooks, questions cannot be asked. But as Ryan Valentine of the Texas Freedom Network pointed out, having lies in textbooks does not actually preclude a student from raising her hand and asking about her religious beliefs that conflict with the facts.
In fact, as any biology teacher in a high school—or college!—can tell you, they frequently encounter students who have been coached in what creationists portray as killer arguments that will shut down any so-called evolutionist. Students are often quite free to bring these arguments up, and the “controversy” will be discussed.
What the students will inevitably find, however, is that what they thought were awesome arguments against evolutionary theory are, in fact, paper-thin and easy to dismiss. The intent behind rewriting textbooks to include the creation myth is to avoid having free discourse where students learn the hard lessons about the difference between a good argument and a bad one. The hope is that students who want to “debate” this issue will be able to turn to the book and say, “But but but the book says there’s a controversy," so they can avoid actually hashing out the facts with a teacher.
This points to the larger agenda that creationists and the Republican allies are advancing with these attempts to get the Christian creation myth taught as science in the classroom: They want to teach young people at a young age that it’s okay to believe lies and nonsense, as long as it suits your political goals. This lesson, if properly learned, will pay out for decades. Witness how glibly conservatives tell easily refuted lies about things like what’s actually in the Affordable Care Act. Being willing to just dismiss the truth if it doesn’t suit your agenda is a learned skill. By getting young people to accept the non-existent “controversy,” they can mold them into people who believe that facts are less important than simply believing what you wish to believe.
The Discovery Institute, the main group organizing efforts to teach religion as if it were science, gave away the game recently. The New York Times did a fairly straightforward piece on the battle over the textbooks, and in it they refused to advance the lie that there is a scientific controversy about the theory of evolution. The Discovery Institute threw a fit, blogging:
Regardless of whether one thinks there is a genuine debate in the scientific community over Darwinian theory, there most definitely is a political and educational debate in Texas over how evolution should be covered in science textbooks. If the Times still wants to be considered an impartial news source, its reporters ought to fairly represent the different sides of that public debate, not suppress the viewpoints they disagree with.
In other words, the Discovery Institute basically admits that the battle is “political” and not about the actual science, and they believe that as long as you invoke politics, the New York Times is obliged to tell your lies for you. That’s the sort of larger mindset that is being advanced here: That everyone is entitled to their own “facts,” and that the media and the schools are obliged to present lies and facts together without giving any indication to readers or students which are lies and which are truths. It’s about a larger war on truth itself, and our kids are on the frontlines of the battle.
Amanda Marcotte co-writes the blog Pandagon. She is the author of It's a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments.