Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

December 11, 2012

Districts weigh in on ‘truth in education’

Legislator set to address issue of creationism in public schools

By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer

— Indiana lawmakers are again set to take up the issue of creationism in classrooms, at least indirectly, but local educators say it’s still too early to tell how it could impact their school curriculum.

“It’s mostly conceptual at this point,” said Maconaquah School Corp. Superintendent Doug Arnold.

Senate Education Committee chairman Dennis Kruse said he will introduce a measure that encourages students to question a broad range of topics in the classroom, including evolution.

Kruse led a failed effort during the 2012 session to allow teaching of creationism. He said this new proposal won’t say that religion should be taught or evolution questioned.

But under the proposal, teachers would be protected from sanctions if they teach against the established scientific principle of evolution.

Josh Youngkin, program officer for public policy and legal affairs for the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, is helping Kruse and lawmakers in other states promote the measure.

He said students would be allowed to press teachers to present evidence and facts for statements about issues like the shared origins of mammals.

“The teacher would not be barred from saying, ‘Let’s look at both sides of the evidence, and you guys can basically make a judgment,’ rather than just accepting passively or memorizing by rote these facts and stating back these arguments on a test which would eventually determine where you go to college,” he said.

Arnold said this measure likely wouldn’t change anything in his classrooms, even if it passes.

Arnold said his teachers don’t bring up creationism in their curriculum, but if students bring up the topic during lessons on evolution, teachers will “diplomatically” answer their questions.

Arnold said that seems to be the goal of the new measure: allowing children the freedom to ask about the hot-button issues.

“Simply put, our science teachers are already doing this,” he said. “It’s good to be open and allow those types of questions. You present the facts, and kids decide for themselves their position on it. I don’t see this as significantly controversial legislation.”

Eastern Howard School Corp. Superintendent Tracy Caddell said he supports the measure.

It’s good to foster open discussions in the classroom, he said. Caddell said he doesn’t see any harm in talking about creationism. Students should be provided multiple explanations about the origins of humanity, he said. Then they decide for themselves what they believe, the superintendent said.

“I’m biased,” he said. “I’m a Christian. But there’s lots of creation stories that could be used in the classroom.”

It’s not just limited to creationism, though. Caddell said there other contentious issues that deserve a place in the classroom, like stem cell research and climate change.

“Creationism or other controversial issues still have educational value,” Caddell said. “There’s more to education than the three Rs.”

Some of these issues can teach values and morals, something he’s a proponent of, he said. That’s probably not the popular stance in today’s society, though, Caddell said.

The superintendent said he is a little concerned about the part of the proposal that allows students to question teachers about lessons and ask for proof and evidence to back it up.

“I don’t know how far they will take it,” he said.

It’s one thing to ask for evidence about creationism or climate change.

“But there are scientific concepts that are well-established,” Caddell said “For example, it’s a well-known fact that the world is round. Could a teacher be challenged by a student to prove that?”

If that’s the case, Caddell said he can see where students might challenge teachers often to get out of doing classwork.

“That would take up a lot of resources and time,” he said.

Other educators were a little more hesitant to weigh in on the issue.

“This topic sure has some history,” Taylor Community Schools Superintendent John Magers said. “I don’t really care to get into it right now. My role is to do whatever state statute allows me to do.”

Arnold said he will have to sit back and wait until the legislation is introduced and he can read the language for himself. But he’s not all that concerned about it, he said.

“I don’t see a piece of legislation improving what we do now,” he said.

The Associated Press also contributed to this story.