In 1987, the Supreme Court ruled that singling out evolution for criticism in public schools violates the doctrine of separation of church and state. To circumvent these rulings, critics of evolution have also begun to object to the teaching of climate change in schools. In doing so, they claim to be championing academic freedom, insisting that “all theories” be taught to America’s children.
Before I go further, I should state that I am a Christian who also accepts the overwhelming evidence in favor of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and the overwhelming evidence that suggests climate change is real. I see no incompatibility here. That said, I can understand and respect the right of others to reject these scientific findings, so long as they do so privately. However, the assertion that because some in society happen to hold these dubious and completely unverifiable beliefs privately it follows that they should be taught in our schools alongside tested and verified scientific reality is deeply troubling. Furthermore, it could in the future compromise America’s position as a military and economic superpower.
Educational policies like the one passed last year in my home state of Texas which mandate teachers to present “all sides of the evidence on evolution and global warming” treat verifiable science the same way they treat ideas that have no real world scientific support. At a time when American students are already falling behind the rest of the world in science and math proficiency, this just sends the message to young people, suggesting to them that science has little merit or truth. The scores from the 2006 Program for International Student assessment showed that American students trailed 16 of the 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in science knowledge. Americans performed even worse in math, trailing 23 countries.
One of the first steps towards closing this gap is to teach our young people that these subjects matter. Science can sometimes get the answers wrong, and those who disagree with its findings are entitled to do so, but to teach accepted science as just “theory” alongside unverifiable personal beliefs will only convince American students to not take this subjects seriously. And a nation that cannot educate its students can count on becoming irrelevant on the world stage.