New bill gives Oklahoma science teachers the freedom to question their textbooks

OKLAHOMA – The debate over how science should be taught in Oklahoma classrooms is back.

Lawmakers say teachers need more freedom.

The Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act makes its way on the agenda every year. It gives teachers the freedom to talk about hot button issues like evolution and climate change.

The author, Representative Gus Blackwell believes science is wide open to a range of theories, while science educators disagree.

“This bill really is misunderstood by a lot of people,” says Blackwell.

Blackwell says the bill’s current language doesn’t mandate teaching creationism in the classroom, but instead gives teachers the right to talk about scientific evidence that challenges Darwinian evolution.

“We just say a lot of people say it so it must be true and that’s it and you need to accept it,” says Blackwell.

Blackwell says his law is needed to protect educators who want to explore what he calls controversial scientific issues, like evolution and climate change.

“Many times they just say, ‘I don’t want to do anything that might rock the boat. I’m worried about it,” says Blackwell. “I think this bill says no you do have the academic freedom to explore.”

The Oklahoma Science Teachers Association is concerned. They say current text-books describing evolution and climate change are more than wild theories that you can pick and choose.

Board member Bob Melton says, “There is no doubt, or discussion, or controversy about evolution or climate change.”

Melton says this bill opens a door for teachers to stray far from accepted science.

“Established theories are that. They are explanations of how the world works and they’re based on solid evidence and that should be the focus of our science and structure,” says Melton. “Any controversy is actually a political controversy.”

The bill will not allow teachers to teach their own opinion unless they use existing scientific theories.

It also specifically states teachers do not have the freedom to promote a certain religion or religious doctrine.

If passed, it will be in effect by next school year.