Student: How old do you think the earth is?
Perry: How old do I think the earth is? You know what? I don’t have any idea. I know it’s pretty old, so it goes back a long, long way. I’m not sure anybody actually knows completely and absolutely how long, how old the earth is. I hear your mom was asking about evolution. You know, it’s a theory that’s out there. It’s got some gaps in it, but in Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools, because I figured you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right.
In the background, we can hear the mother saying, “Ask him why he doesn’t believe in science.” MSNBC reports additionally:
On global warming to a local science teacher, he said, “We teach the straight out facts in Texas in our schools. You’ll have to pick those up in our classbooks.”
Indeed, the Texas standards for earth and space science have detailed coverage of climate change, including the fact that human emissions of carbon dioxide are causing significant global warming. The biology standards also cover evolution in detail, with no overt references to creationism.
If Perry is claiming that Texas schools are required to give equal time to creationism, he’s not just wrong, but advocating a policy struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court 24 years ago. Indeed, any requirement to teach creationism in public schools, would be an unconstitutional imposition of religious ideology on students. I don’t doubt that some teacher in Texas is teaching creationism, but to claim it as a statewide policy is simply false, and Perry’s been involved in Texas politics long enough to know better.
Indeed, before 1984, Texas did have a policy like what Perry describes. At a 1983 board meeting, for instance, rules were passed stating:
(a) All adopted textbooks shall meet the following content requirements and limitations: …
(5) Textbooks that treat the theory of evolution shall identify it as only one of several explanations of the origins of humankind and avoid limiting young people in their search for meanings of their human existence.
(A) Textbooks presented for adoption which treat the subject of evolution substantively in explaining the historical origins of man shall be edited, if necessary, to clarify that the treatment is theoretical rather than factually verifiable. Furthermore, each textbook must carry a statement on an introductory page that any material on evolution included in the book is clearly presented as theory rather than verified.
(B) Textbooks presented for adoption which do not treat evolution substantively as an instructional topic, but make reference to evolution indirectly or by implication, must be modified, if necessary, to ensure that the reference is clearly to a theory and not to a verified fact. These books will not need to carry a statement on the introductory page.
(C) The presentation of the theory of evolution shall be done in a manner which is not detrimental to other theories of origin.
In 1984, the Texas Attorney General reviewed those rules and issued an advisory opinion that:
The rules of the State Board of Education, concerning the subject of evolution, fail to demonstrate a secular purpose and are therefore in contravention of the first and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution.
He added: “Teachers of science in the public schools should not be expected to avoid the discussion of every scientific issue on which some religion claims expertise.” He added: “the board, in its desire not to offend any religious group, has injected religious considerations into an area which must be, at least in the public school context, strictly the province of science.”
Perry’s creationist ideas were as wrong and inappropriate for science classes 27 years ago as they are today.