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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Why Maryland HB 1531 stinks

A colleague of mine has come up with a lengthy dissection of why HB 1531 in Maryland is a bunch of tripe.

Read on...
Critique of HB 1531

Note: Line numbers refer to the draft of the bill available on 3/15/06

Page 1: Lines: 20-23 Refers to Edwards v. Aguillard. The point of this statement in the original decision was that teachers were already protected when and if they presented scientific critiques of prevailing scientific concepts. Simply, this bill merely affirms an existing principle and is redundant. The key point, however, is that the critiques must follow the methodological principles of contemporary science and are neither motivated by nor in support of a specific religious doctrine that would violate principles established by Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971).

Page 2: Lines 5-7: Although this bill refers to a specific case related to science curricula, it is not clear why special protections should be extended to only science instructors. For example, shouldn't the same academic freedom protections be extended to a Social Studies teacher who would choose to discuss a Marxist perspective on socioeconomic issues, or to an American History instructor who proposes to debate the question of the role of slavery as a root cause of the American Civil War? It should be noted that Del. Burns is a co-sponsor of a bill that applies to Humanities courses (HB 1228). It would seem that the specification of
academic freedoms should be broader.

Page 2: Lines 8-13: Teachers are expected to follow the established curricular framework and certainly do not need protections for doing so. This section, however, then specifically mentions Intelligent Design. The teaching of Intelligent Design in public school Science classes is opposed by a substantial number of major scientific societies on the grounds that it does not follow the methodological principles of
contemporary science and is motivated by a particular religious perspective. Furthermore, the judge in Kitzmiller v. Dover (2005) was asked to rule on the scientific status on Intelligent Design by both the plaintiffs and the defendants. After extensive expert testimony by witnesses for both sides, he ruled that Intelligent did not meet the criteria of the methodological principles of contemporary science. As a result, specific inclusion of Intelligent Design would seem to violate the intent of this bill, would not fall within the boundaries set by Edwards v. Aguillard and may have ramifications with respect to Lemon v. Kurtzman.

p. 2: 14-16: Although the intent of neutrality with respect to the religious implications of Intelligent Design would appear to be possible in the abstract, the reality of any discussion is quite different. Proponents of Intelligent Design admit to the clear metaphysical implications of the concept, and several have freely admitted in print that it supports their individual religious convictions. Furthermore, supporters of adding Intelligent Design to the curriculum of Dover PA, Ohio, Kansas, and elsewhere, freely admitted the religious motivation for their support. Inclusion of Intelligent Design, regardless of how it might be discussed in the classroom would clearly be interpreted as support for a specific sectarian position.

p. 2: 17-24: This section is at least partially redundant. The description of evaluation methods is exactly what is currently practiced in the Maryland schools. A student may disagree with a scientific principle (e. g., the age of the Earth) on religious grounds, but must still be assessed on his or her understanding of the principle. In this case, understanding of the concept does not require acceptance and does not infringe on religious beliefs. There is judicial precedent in support of this point, but it is at the State level. This section does bring up an issue that is not addressed by the proposed legislation and cannot be addressed by any form of legislation. Intelligent Design and other forms of Creationism are often promoted by inaccurate resentation of scientific principles and specific cases of scientific research. Unfortunately, some have encouraged students to "challenge" their teachers with criticisms based on this inaccurate information. The bill does not address this situation, and could be interpreted as preventing a teacher from dealing effectively with a student who initiates a discussion based on inaccurate information that he/she thinks supports a particular religious belief.

p. 2: 29-34: This section has two contradictions. First, it says that the bill does not require a change in curriculum standards. The implementation of the bill, however, will require the development of lesson plans, professional guidelines for class discussion in order to meet restrictions on religious questions, and possibly allocation of funds for the purchase and/or duplication of materials.

The second contradiction is open to some interpretation. The proposed legislation does not "protect as scientific a view that lacks published or empirical or observational support". The is exactly the point made by the statements on Intelligent Design issued by, for example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences. The conclusion reached by these organizations is that Intelligent Design is not a scientific concept in terms of its methodology, empirical support, or record of scholarly publication. Obviously, proponents of Intelligent Design would disagree, but materials appearing on websites, in print from publishers whose books are largely religious materials and communiquis from political advocacy organizations are not accepted avenues of "published scientific debate".

p. 3; Subtitle 9; lines 7-34: This section not only has all of the flaws of the preceding sections, but is further redundant in that Academic Freedom in higher education is even more broadly protected by tradition, existing administrative procedures associated with the evaluation of faculty and students in higher education institutions in the State of Maryland and carefully monitored by faculty organizations throughout the state higher education system.

p. 4; Section 2; lines 9-10: The proposed legislation cannot be effectively implemented on October 1, 2006. The Maryland State Board of Education should be asked to provide a timetable and cost estimate for the implementation of this legislation.

Final Note: No additional action should be taken on this bill until the Maryland Attorney General offers an advisory opinion on this bill in view of Kitzmiller v. Dover and Lemon v. Kurtzman.


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