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Oklahoma Evolution

Just in time for the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, Oklahoma legislators took up a bill that would have allowed students to "analyze, critique, and review" scientific theories, including evolution. Lawmakers, by a narrow margin, weighed and measured the proposal and found it wanting.

The state's Senate Education Committee rejected the "Science Education and Academic Freedom Act," sponsored by Republican Sen. Randy Brogdon, by a 7-6 vote, according to this story in the Associated Press. The bill's language bore a resemblance to "academic freedom" measures considered in other states. It asserts that scientific subjects such as evolution, global warming, and human cloning can "cause controversy" and that teachers are unsure of how to approach those topics.

Much of the debate in Oklahoma seems to have followed the traditional script in evolution fights. But interestingly, one provision in the bill seems to have worried a Republican on the committee, Sen. Jim Halligan. The lawmaker worried that the bill's language would have allowed students to have refused to have answered test questions because they didn't believe the material presented in textbooks.

Halligan may have been referring to wording in the bill saying that while students could be "evaluated based on their understanding of course materials," they could not be "penalized in any way because [they] subscribe to a particular position" on scientific theories, presumably including evolution.

The notion that students could opt out of particular test questions because of their philosophical objections to evolution seems like a new twist. Of all the things that teachers and district officials have to worry about with high-stakes tests, I can't imagine that they'd be eager to add that one to the list. Of course, lawmakers tend to adjust the language of evolution-related bills to overcome legal and political objections of this sort, so expect similar proposals in the future to take a slightly different shape.

A link to the proposal, SB 320, can be found here.

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