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As Senator, Santorum Waded Into Debate on Teaching Evolution

The sudden rise of former Sen. Rick Santorum in the presidential campaign, just eight votes shy of winning Iowa's Republican caucuses, means he's sure to get more attention—and scrutiny—in coming days. So, I figured I'd take this opportunity to highlight his run-in with some leading scientific and educational organizations when it comes to the teaching of evolution.

I got an email today from the National Science Teachers Association reminding me of an amendment he pushed a decade ago when Congress was writing the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The two-sentence amendment was sharply criticized by the NSTA, plus dozens of other scientific and educational groups, as a thinly veiled attempt to undermine the teaching of evolution. It was approved by the Senate, but ultimately was stripped out of the legislation.

You can see an EdWeek account of the debate here.

The nonbinding "sense of the Senate" resolution declared that "where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject."

In explaining the amendment, Santorum said it "deals with the subject of intellectual freedom with respect to the teaching of science in the classroom, in primary and secondary education."

He added: "It is a sense of the Senate that does not try to dictate curriculum to anybody. Quite the contrary, it says there should be freedom to discuss and air good scientific debate within the classroom."

But nearly 100 groups, including the NSTA, the American Geological Institute, and the American Institute of Biological Sciences, didn't see it that way.

"As written, the apparently innocuous statements in this resolution mask an anti-evolution agenda that repeatedly has been rejected by the courts," the groups wrote in a 2001 letter to Congress.

The letter continued: "The resolution singles out biological evolution as a controversial subject but is deliberately ambiguous about the nature of the controversy. Evolutionary theory ranks with Einstein's theory of relativity as one of modern science's most robust, generally accepted, thoroughly tested, and broadly applicable concepts. From the standpoint of science, there is no controversy."

For more analysis of Santorum's record on education matters, check out this post today from our Learning the Language blog, and a piece earlier this year over at Politics K-12.

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