Thursday, February 23, 2006

Legislators shouldn't set curriculum policy

Evolution bill may lose its 'origins of life' wording, as the "devine design" bill faces choppy waters in conservative Utah:

A controversial bill challenging the way evolution is taught in Utah public schools is evolving again.

SB96's House sponsor, Rep. Jim Ferrin, R-Orem, wants to substitute the bill a third time, taking out all references to the "origins of life" but still aiming to keep teachers from telling students they evolved from apes. …

The changes didn't win over school officials who oppose the bill, primarily because it treads on the state school board's authority to set curriculum.

But a new poll shows Utahns support the Legislature's move to regulate evolution lessons.

Fifty-five percent of Utah residents surveyed by Dan Jones & Associates somewhat or strongly favor legislation requiring public school teachers to "teach that evolution is not indisputably proven and there could be other reasons for human development."

Forty percent said they strongly or somewhat oppose such a measure, and 5 percent didn't know.
In entirely unrelated news, students and parents called on the legislature to pass the Abstinence Plus Education Act:

The bill would require schools to provide age-appropriate human sexuality programs taught by trained instructors.

The program would emphasize sexual abstinence but also inform students about sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.

To reduce teenage pregnancy and the spread of STDs “we must make sex education a long-term part of our goal,” said Angie Blair, a Lawrence school nurse.

“Kids want to know and need to know how to protect themselves,” she said.

The coalition also said the state needed the opt-out policy, which gives parents the option of removing their children from sex education classes.
It's no secret that I support comprehensive sex ed, and I support calling it that. "Abstinence plus" feels wishy-washy and fails to reject the conservative framing of the issue. Furthermore, Ms. Blair is absolutely right that good, accurate sex ed is a vital part of education, and it saves lives.

But curriculum decisions shouldn't be made by the legislature. If the legislature can require "Abstinence Plus," what stops them from requiring "abstinence only"? If the legislature can forbid creationism, what's to stop them from mandating it? This is why there are state boards of education.

And in news that is totally and thoroughly unrelated:

The federal government has agreed to stop funding a Pennsylvania-based abstinence-only program for teens that a civil liberties group claimed was using federal dollars for Christian evangelization. …

The Silver Ring Thing… uses music and comedy skits to promote premarital abstinence. The ACLU claimed in a May lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Boston that the program was crossing the line by using federal grant money to urge teens to commit their lives to Jesus Christ.

During the past three years, the federal government has awarded more than $1 million to the Silver Ring Thing.
I know, you're shocked. Shocked that an abstinence-only program is a thinly veiled attempt at evangelism. You're doubly shocked that Senator Santorum is a big backer of the program.