State Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland) had only just begun circulating a memo to find co-sponsors for his academic freedom legislation when the criticisms started.
Bloom’s planned legislation supports the discussion and questioning of scientific theories in the classroom including, but not limited to, evolution, chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.
“I’ve seen already the response just to the fact that I’ve circulated this memo,” Bloom told Media Trackers. “It’s been a vitriolic, angry response from the secular left — swearing, personal insults, just vicious responses. That indicates to me the exact types of attacks teachers and students face in the classroom.”
But Bloom said he has also been pleased with the support he has received. He had six co-sponsors as of Wednesday, a good number considering the House is on recess, he said.
Questioning the existing theories is a major part of science education, Bloom told Media Trackers.
In fact, it’s a concept they teach in science classrooms across the nation: the scientific method. Check out this chart if you’ve forgotten:
“This is not an anti-science initiative — it’s pro-honesty and pro-reality,” Bloom said. “It’s the thinking that good science should prevail. You look at the theory and ask, ‘Does the data fit the hypothesis?’ That’s how science works.”
He said theories such as evolution have become “sacred cows” no one can criticize. He added he has heard from his constituents and even his own son about failed attempts to bring up questions in class only to be hushed.
“Students aren’t able to even bring up criticisms,” Bloom told Media Trackers. “It’s an atmosphere almost of speech codes and oppression. But I think there is a place for respectful dissent in the classroom.”
Andy Hoover, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told The Inquirer ACLU will most likely oppose the measure.
“Let’s leave science education to educators, and not pastors and legislators,” he said.
Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in California, said these academic freedom bills are simply a different way to promote creationism and bring religion into the classroom. She added global warming and cloning are not controversial scientifically, only socially.
“It’s not another point of view, it’s bad science,” she said. “Why would you deliberately teach kids bad science?”
But Bloom said his bill does not specify a type of teaching or say creationism should be taught. It merely opens the door for free inquiry and critical thinking, he said.
Bloom modeled his bill closely after the academic freedom bill that passed in Tennessee in 2012. Another similar bill in Louisiana passed in 2008. Other states such as Arizona, Indiana, Missouri, and Oklahoma have academic freedom bills in committee.
He also said he took special care not to “impinge on certain court cases within the confines of existing law.”
Critics have also pointed to the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision by a federal judge in Pennsylvania. In his 2005 ruling, Judge John E. Jones III said public schools may not teach intelligent design in the classroom because that violates separation of church and state.
Bloom reiterated his bill does not mandate any specific idea or theory be taught, just that free discussion be available to students and teachers.
“This bill makes sure speech codes and politically correct attempts to silence any criticisms are not allowed to prevail in the classroom,” he said.