Is a New War Against Public Education Being Launched?


Is a New War Against Public Education Being Launched? | Robert Parham, Public Education, Evolution, Creationism, GOP

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, left, said his state teaches creationism and evolution. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum called intelligent design "a legitimate scientific theory." (Photo credits from left: Ed Schipul, Gage Skidmore)
We are entering a new war against public education, according to an article posted Aug. 17 in Slate, a daily web magazine.

The headline read, "The GOP's New War on Schools."

As if on cue, Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry degraded public education the next day in New Hampshire, giving creationism the same billing as science.

When a young boy asked Perry how old the Earth is, Perry said he didn't know.

"I hear your mom is asking about evolution," said Perry, with folded arms. "It's a theory that's out there and it's got some gaps in it. In Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution in public schools because I feel you're smart enough to figure out which one is right."

The Truth-O-Meter in the Austin American-Statesman pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to teach creationism in public schools and that the Texas science curriculum standards don't mention creationism.

"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 as False," said Truth-O-Meter.

Could it be that the longest serving governor of Texas really doesn't know Texas state law or policy? Really?

Or could it be that Perry is helping to ignite a new war against public education with his dog-whistle message to the Christian Right that they can count on him to support the teaching of creationism in science classes?

If so, he wouldn't be alone.

In June at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)  said, "I support intelligent design."

Intelligent design is code for dressed-up creationism that doesn't sound like something straight out of Genesis.

"What I support is putting all science on the table and then letting students decide. I don't think it's a good idea for government to come down on one side of a scientific issue or another, when there is reasonable doubt on both sides," said Bachmann, sounding like a politician using the boilerplate language of one seeking the support of evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians.

Except Bachmann really believes in creationism.

The conservative Washington Examiner reported that Bachmann told her supporters before the Iowa straw poll about her creationism beliefs.

Slate journalist Dana Goldstein goes a step further. She sees in Bachmann's victory in Iowa a pivot in the Republican Party on education.

"[H]er growing popularity among the Republican base...signals something that's been less widely acknowledged: a sea change in the party's education agenda. It's safe to say that the political era of George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind is now officially over, even as the law's testing mandates continue to reverberate in classrooms across the country," wrote Goldstein.

"Now we are seeing the GOP acquiesce to the anti-government, Christian-right view of education epitomized by Bachmann, in which public schools are regarded not as engines for economic growth or academic achievement, but as potential moral corrupters of the nation's youth," Goldstein argued.

According to Goldstein, Bachmann, who home-schooled her five children, entered politics out of concern about public education. She saw the government as a threat to her Christian family and supported Christian organizations critical of public education.

Paralleling Bachmann's anti-public education agenda is former Sen. Rick Santorum, who is considered a long shot for the Republican presidential nomination.

"It is a parent's responsibility to educate their children. It is not the government's job...Of course, the government wants their hands on your children as fast as they can. That is why I opposed all these early starts and pre-early starts, and early-early starts. They want your children from the womb so they can indoctrinate your children as to what they want them to be. I am against that," said Santorum on the campaign trail in Iowa.

He went so far as to accuse the "educational establishment" of being "socialists."

The Des Moines Register reported that his seven children "have or will be home-schooled through about eighth grade."

A long-time anti-public education senator, Santorum said in 2002 that "intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes."

He claimed, "Proponents of intelligent design are not trying to teach religion via science, but are trying to establish the validity of their theory as a scientific alternative to Darwinism."

Back in 2007, in Iowa during the last Republican presidential campaign, Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee and Tom Tancredo all raised their hands showing their disbelief in evolution. Mitt Romney did not.

Saying that he believed that God created the universe, Romney said, "I believe evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body."

This time around, Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman distanced himself from Perry's creationism and denial of climate change.

"I think there's a serious problem. The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party – the anti-science party, we have a huge problem," Huntsman told ABC News. "We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012."

The former Utah governor said, "When we take a position that isn't willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Science – Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man's contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position."

Clearly, not all Republicans are part of a war on education. At least the two Mormons, Huntsman and Romney, have not sought to advance creationism as having the same scientific value as evolution.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.

Editor's Note: Two free resources on public education are available: Click here to download a resource for advocacy and action that supports public education. Click here for a worship resource.

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Tags: Creationism, Evolution, GOP, Public Education, Robert Parham