The Texas State Board of Education and Department of Education are in the middle of their science standards streamlining process (Jonathan Witt wrote about that here). In that context, Representative Valoree Swanson has filed an academic freedom bill.
This legislation, if passed, would protect teachers who wish to discuss the “scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories included in a course taught in accordance with the curriculum framework developed by the State Board of Education.” The press release quotes Representative Swanson:
Scientists are trained to observe and learn from nature in the course of explaining and modeling it. That often includes evaluating competing explanations and models of natural processes, events, and data….Teachers should have the freedom to investigate and teach evidence-based science, including strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories, in order to instill scientific critical thinking skills in their students.
HB 1485 takes a strong stand on science education. It instruct local and state level educational leadership to
(1) create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to:
(A) explore scientific questions;
(B) learn about scientific evidence;
(C) develop critical thinking skills; and
(D) respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific subjects required to be taught under the curriculum framework developed by the State Board of Education; and
(2) assist teachers in finding effective ways to present scientific subjects required to be taught under the curriculum framework developed by the State Board of Education that may cause controversy.
The bill identifies two of these potentially controversial subjects as biological evolution and the chemical origins of life.
Representative Swanson also makes clear that the new legislation does not add new topics like intelligent design to the curriculum, nor does it authorize the promotion of religion:
The bill only applies to teaching scientific subjects included in the curriculum framework approved by the State Board of Education. It explicitly cannot be used to promote religious or non-religious doctrines.
The Texas Board of Education is off to a good start with its streamlining procedures; but this bill demonstrates that they are not the only ones in Texas concerned about critical thinking and quality science education.
Swanson’s press release notes, “HB 1485 represents a major step towards academic freedom for both our teachers and students.” And that is true.