Yesterday, Rick Perry commented “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.” It got a lot of play, including my own post on the matter.
We wondered whether he’s correct that creationism, the biblical explanation of human origins, and evolution, the scientific theory, are both taught in Texas public schools.
The U.S. Supreme Court has said that teaching creationism in public schools is unconstitutional because it amounts to the endorsement of religion…
We looked at the state’s current science curriculum standards, which make no mention of creationism while indicating that evolutionary theory should be covered in high school classes. …
According to the standards, biology classes are to present evolutionary theory as a “scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life.” Instructional details in the standards touch on fossil records, natural selection, adaptation and genetic mutation, among other topics.…
we wondered what teachers are actually teaching in science classrooms.
Penn State University political scientist Eric Plutzer, who helped conduct a 2007 national survey of more than 950 science teachers in 49 states, including Texas, told us in an interview that in any state 10 percent to 20 percent of science teachers are “endorsing creationism in their classrooms, often devoting one to four class hours to creationism over the course of the year.” …
Plutzer told us: “One thing you can be certain of is that large numbers of public school science teachers in Texas are endorsing creationism.”
In separate interviews, two advocates for science teachers agreed that some Texas teachers could be teaching creationism, but they stressed that the state doesn’t require or even authorize that.
“It is false to say that is how it’s supposed to be done,” said Josh Rosenau, an analyst for the California-based National Center for Science Education.
Chuck Hempstead, executive director of the Science Teachers Association of Texas, said the Texas curriculum standards “require the teaching of evolution. Creationism is not science and is not addressed in Texas public schools.”
John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, told us that the science standards don’t call for the teaching of creationism or intelligent design. …
As we looked into Perry’s statement, his spokeswoman, Catherine Frazier, said by email: “It is required that students evaluate and analyze the theory of evolution, and creationism very likely comes up and is discussed in that process. Teachers are also permitted to discuss it with students in that context.”
The Texas Education Agency sent us a similar statement.
Our sense: No doubt, some Texas teachers address the subject of creationism. But it’s not state law or policy to intermix instruction on creationism and evolution. We rate Perry’s statement False.
Perry’s office’s claim (apparently echoed by TEA) that “teachers are permitted to discuss [creationism] with students” if the students bring it up is dubious at best. Teachers are certainly not required to remain mum when asked a direct question, but established law and professional ethics do not require or indeed authorize a teacher to use that question as an opportunity to proselytize for creationism, as Perry suggested Texas teachers do routinely.
In response to my own query, TEA responded with the statement they also sent Politifact:
Our science standards require students to analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations, so it is likely that other theories, such as creationism, could be discussed in class. Our schools can also offer an elective course on Biblical history.
This, of course, assumes that creationism is “another theory,” a position rejected by the scientific community and implicitly rejected by the science standards themselves (which state clearly that theories must rely on “natural” explanations, not supernatural phenomena like divine creation). A discussion of creationism might be acceptable in a Biblical history class if the full range of theological views on Genesis were also presented. But creationism could not be presented as science in a Biblical history class, any more than it could be presented as science in a science class. It is not, and I’m certain TEA staff know that.