Thursday, December 13, 2012

Kentucky state Sen. Mike Wilson says he won't push creationism on education committee

Representative Kathy Stein owes the new Senate Education chair an apology for accidentally saying what she really thinks, out loud. Stein referred to Mike Wilson (R-Bowling Green) as a "narrow-minded nimrod." Wilson is one of a few legislators who have flirted with issues related to the teaching of creationism in the schools, but he assures C-J's Tom Loftus that he has no plans to pursue that goal. None of the state's policy leaders (who need his support)  seem inclined to ruin Wilson's honeymoon by expressing any concerns. Stay tuned.

This from The Courier-Journal:
The new chairman of the Senate Education Committee said Wednesday he has no intention of using his new role to help push his personal belief in creationism into the curriculum of public schools.
“I have no plans for doing anything like that or focusing on that,” Sen. Mike Wilson said in a phone interview. “We already have a lot of things that we are working on in education ... more than enough to keep us busy.”
Wilson, a Bowling Green Republican, is in his second year in the Senate and for 15 years he has been general manager of WCVK Christian Family Radio. Last week the new Senate Republican leadership team appointed him chairman of the Education Committee, succeeding retiring Sen. Ken Winters, R-Murray.
During a discussion about student testing last August before the Interim Joint Education Committee, Wilson and other Republican lawmakers encouraged the teaching of the biblical account of creationism along with biological evolution.
“My concern is that our students are indoctrinated into one way of thinking without allowing them to have intellectual freedom,” Wilson said at the meeting. “And that really bothers me.”
But on Wednesday, Wilson said that, while he personally believes in creationism, he has no plan to push the issue.
“Number one, I don’t think there’s sufficient support for it within the General Assembly. Number two, I don’t think that’s the most important thing by any means that we need to be focused on right now.”
Several education leaders expressed no concerns about Wilson’s chairmanship.
Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said through a spokeswoman that he “feels very positive and is looking forward to an excellent relationship with Sen. Wilson.”
Sharron Oxendine, president of the Kentucky Education Association, said, “There has been some concern about this, but I’m going in with the belief this will not be an issue and with an attitude of trying to help Sen. Wilson.”
Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said, “We’ve had a good relationship with Sen. Wilson and we have no indication that he has any agenda other than trying to improve public schools.”

The C-J Editorial Board weighs in:
Clearly, it was inappropriate for state Sen. Kathy Stein, a Lexington Democrat, to refer to the Senate Education Committee’s new chairman as a “narrow-minded nimrod.”

Sen. Stein apologized, as she should, for the comment she said inadvertently appeared on her Facebook page.

But there are some troubling questions about the recent appointment of Republican Mike Wilson of Bowling Green to head one of the most important committees in the Kentucky General Assembly — in particular, his argument that “intelligent design” should be included in public school science education.

Outgoing education chairman Sen. Ken Winters, a retired educator and former college president, had the credentials — if not always the courage — for the job. His failure, in the face of partisan obstruction, to advance a bill raising the state high school drop out age to 18 was disappointing.

But overall, Sen. Winters, a Murray Republican, exhibited a respect for the state’s mission to provide a sound education to its children.

Sen. Wilson, general manager of Christian radio station, has not.

He was among several lawmakers at an August meeting of the joint House-Senate Education Committee calling on state officials to include in science curriculum the notion of intelligent design, a belief similar to creationism that the world was created by God or a supreme being.

Intelligent design, generally an evangelical religious belief, is not to be confused with evolution, the well-established scientific explanation that human life developed from a common ancestor and has evolved over time by natural selection. Evolution is what’s taught in Kentucky’s science classrooms and what students must understand to score well on college admissions tests.

Sen. Wilson, however, does not accept the scientific explanation.

“You cannot prove evolution,” he said at the August committee meeting. “It’s a subject I have done a lot of research on personally.”

In support, he cited a 1996 book, “Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution” — a book advancing intelligent design over evolution that was widely rejected by the scientific community.

Sen. Wilson, a Baptist, argued that science education should be expanded to include such concepts, asking “What are we so afraid of?”

Here’s what we’re afraid of:

Kentucky is already suffering from a paucity of educated, skilled citizens and the last thing the legislature needs to do is water down science instruction.

It is the responsibility of those in charge of public education in Kentucky, now including Sen. Wilson, to strive for excellence and intellectual rigor at every level. It is the state’s best shot at lifting people out of the poverty and poor educational attainment that permeate every other one of the state’s sorry indicators — high rates of smoking, unemployment, disease, substance abuse, domestic violence and child abuse.

Religious ideology has no place in public education.

Sen. Wilson needs to park his personal beliefs outside the committee room if he truly wants to use his new chairmanship to make a difference in Kentucky.

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