South Dakota is fighting to rise from the dubious title of last in the nation for education – so why are our politicians spending so much of their time trying to undermine science education around the state?
This isn’t the first time South Dakota lawmakers have tried to prohibit and undermine the teaching of evolution in its public schools in an effort to advance creationism, creation science, and other religious beliefs pertaining to the origin of life. But last year’s attempt, as well as this year’s, are different. For one, the bill's sponsors got smarter (or at least sneakier) with their language and have drafted the bill in a way that hides the underlying goal – to teach evolution as though it is a controversy, and not a scientific fact. In reality, there is no debate in the legitimate scientific community about evolution. Make no mistake, SB 55 is meant to open the door for teachers to introduce the alleged scientific evidence against evolution or to teach the (made-up) controversy.
The federal courts have been unequivocally clear that efforts to inject religious beliefs regarding the origin of life into public school science curricula are constitutionally impermissible no matter what form they may take.
In addition to the proposed legislation’s constitutional infirmities, SB 55 is simply unnecessary and may harm both the short and long-term educational and job prospects of our children and the state as a whole. No one, of course, doubts the value or import of critical thinking to any serious course of scientific study. Yet these measures are not aimed at developing students’ critical thinking skills; rather, they seek to subvert scientific principle to religious ideology by cloaking evolution in pseudo-science and injecting it into class curricula. Instead of this proposed ideological approach, the best way to instill critical thinking skills in our students is by implementing and following the science curriculum, which is already geared toward this very aim and has been written and tested by qualified educational specialists.
By allowing teachers to deviate from science curriculum regarding a key scientific principle like evolution, we take the risk that our students will be unprepared for advanced college coursework in scientific area, and we put them at a disadvantage in our increasingly global economy. Moreover, by creating a population with an inadequate science background, we render our state less appealing to companies and other employers offering science-based jobs that might otherwise locate their businesses here in South Dakota.
If passed, SB 55 is not only likely to embroil the state in lengthy and costly litigation over its constitutionality, but it could have serious consequences for the future well-being of our children, our economy, and our state overall. As the Supreme Court explained in Edwards v. Aguillard, “[f]amilies entrust public schools with the education of their children, but condition their trust on the understanding that the classroom will not purposely be used to advance religious views that may conflict with the private beliefs of the student and his or her family.”
Last year, a committee of legislators shut this bill down. Let’s ask our Senators and Representatives to do so again, and to spend more time on improving educational standards, instead of teaching pseudo-science theories.