Earlier this week, a key legislative committee in Colorado voted down a bill that would give teachers at the state’s schools and colleges legal cover to teach the questioning of climate change and other subjects that “cause controversy” in the classroom. The bill directed teachers to:
… create an environment that encourages students to intelligently and respectfully explore scientific questions and learn about scientific evidence related to biological and chemical evolution, global warming, and human cloning.
This bill is not a curriculum change that would force educators to teach intelligent design or creationism. It simply provides legal protections to those teachers who would like to provide their students with a complete education on both the strengths and weaknesses of these hotly debated scientific subjects.
The Colorado House Education Committee, of which Democrats are the majority, voted down the bill on a party line vote.
Colorado is not the only state to see such bills, even if their radical anti-science message did not gain traction there. Legislators in five other states have introduced bills allowing teachers to deny evolution and climate change. Interestingly, they all bear resemblance to “model” legislation that has been promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative corporate front-group that puts together draft bills for use by state legislators.
In the past, ALEC has drafted model bills such as the “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act,” which requires teachers to “encourage an atmosphere of respect for different opinions and open-mindedness to new ideas.” ALEC has also been behind bills that block putting a price on carbon, turn over public lands to states and private companies, and roll back state renewable electricity standards. One of the co-sponsors of the bill in the Colorado Senate is a dues-paying member of ALEC.
The Heartland Institute, an extremist group that once compared people who believe in global warming to the Unabomber, has also been linked to these types of bills. Heartland is still a member of the ALEC task force that originally wrote the Environmental Literacy Improvement Act, and is also designing climate-denial curriculum.
The fight over teaching climate change denial in schools has just begun. As Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education put it:
This victory in Colorado was too close. People in Colorado and elsewhere need to understand that these bills would be nothing but trouble: scientifically misleading, pedagogically unnecessary, and likely to produce administrative, legal, and economic headaches.
Jessica is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Center for the Center for American Progress Action Fund.