A charter school operator with contracts to teach at two Austin high schools has come under fire for questioning evolution in its science curriculum — the latest in a long line of clashes over Christianity in Texas classrooms.
Advocates for the separation of church and state allege that Responsive Education Solutions — one of the state’s largest charter operators, which the Austin school district partners with at Lanier and Travis high schools — is pushing creationism and could be violating the First Amendment.
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AT ODDS: The theory of evolution
Critics say Texas curriculum standards that require students to critique scientific theories by “examining all sides of scientific evidence” open the door to teaching creationism. Advocates of church-state separation are accusing a charter operator that teaches in two Austin high schools of doing just that, in violation of the U.S. Constitution, by using a science textbook that includes a Bible quotation in its “Origins of Life” chapter.
Is that teaching creationism, or critical thinking?
Curriculum in question
Responsive Ed’s science curriculum has been at the center of controversy over whether the charter school operator is pushing creationism. Responsive Ed’s CEO, Chuck Cook, says the curriculum teaches evolution, noting, but not exploring, the existence of competing theories. Some of the portions that have been called into question include:
- A section called “The Controversy of Evolution” that says “many leading scientists are questioning the mechanisms of evolution and are disputing the long timeline required for evolutionary processes.”
- The workbook says that “the mechanics of evolution still need to be discovered, holes in the fossil record still need to be filled, and the overall theory needs to be better supported by hard evidence.”
- A section called “Origin of Life” begins with the statement “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth,” and is followed by three other alternatives, including a meteorite hitting the Earth, aliens visiting Earth to “try a new experiment” and free-floating molecules spontaneously organizing to form the first cell.
The Supreme Court says
A landmark 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found a Louisiana law, which prohibited teaching evolution in public schools except when accompanied by lessons on “creation science,” to be unconstitutional. The court ruled the law was advancing a religious belief and therefore violated the First Amendment. The court also found that the provision of a comprehensive science education is undermined when evolution can only be taught along with creationism.