On the Prospect of Intelligent Design in Montana Public Schools, Let Us Be Clear
A newly elected Montana lawmaker, Rep. Clayton Fiscus, has filed a request with legislative services for a draft bill that would, if passed into law, put intelligent design into Montana's public schools. The news caught the notice of the Huffington Post and our friends at the National Center for Science Education.
As in the past, let's be clear: However well intentioned this draft bill request, the best place for mulling intelligent design is in the labs and lecture halls that host the scientific community and its activity, and in books and journals read by scientists and non-scientists alike -- not in public schools, statehouses or courtrooms, as these tend to turn science into politics. Our priority is to see intelligent design advance as a science, as well as to promote unhindered public discussion on the issue. None of this is to say that we think intelligent design is unconstitutional -- hardly. Rather, we think that intelligent design should not be pushed into public schools because that would politicize the debate and prevent ID from gaining a fair hearing in the scientific community.
There is, however, always room for more critical thinking about scientific controversy within public school science class. To that end, we urge lawmakers in statehouses across the country, including Montana, to consider following the recent example of Tennessee.
Earlier this year, the state of Tennessee passed into law an academic freedom bill that protects from administrative retaliation the scientific, objective teaching of multiple sides of scientific controversies including climate change, biological evolution, and human cloning.
So, for example, teachers in Tennessee can without interference or fear of termination or sanction now teach more about evolution than before academic freedom became state law, more than just one narrow view of what it is, how it works, what it can do, etc. This is provided that the discussion stays within the confines of state-mandated curricular standards and does not veer into religion or personal views.
Although academic freedom expands teacher rights, trusting teachers to do their job and to use their trained professional discretion, the true beneficiaries of academic freedom law and policy are students who will be challenged to think outside the box of orthodoxy, and to perform something like comparative analysis on the received wisdom blandly rehearsed in textbooks.
Nothing dampens a love of learning like rote memorization of one-sided dogma, and nothing stokes a love of learning like daring students to see things a little differently.
Lawmakers: expect more from your state's students. Push for academic freedom in your schools.