Last month, Montana once again tickled the nation's funny bone with the kind of antics that dominated our 2011 legislature. Rep. Clayton Fiscus, a Republican from Billings, requested a draft bill in advance of the 2013 legislative session to require schools to teach intelligent design alongside evolution. The proposal was unconstitutional on its face; the last time such an attempt was made, back in 2001, the bill died in committee.
But crazy is getting cagey now, too. Fiscus responded to the widespread criticism by tweaking the language of his bill, removing any reference to "intelligent design." Instead, he's now appealing to educators to "encourage critical thinking" when it comes to the origins of life. Fiscus' new proposal claims that it "only protects the teaching of scientific information and may not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine."
Problem is, Fiscus already let God out of the bag. He may have removed any direct reference to intelligent design, but his push to emphasize discussion of controversial theories appears to leave the door open for others to argue that religious teachings should be included in that discussion. Whether that's Fiscus' end goal, we're left to wonder where the line will be drawn.
Should lessons built around the fossil record be countered with the creationist notion that dinosaurs and man once co-existed? Should students be motivated to challenge Darwin's theory of natural selection with the concept that woman was created from man's rib, or that humans as they are today were brought to this planet millions of years ago by a galactic overlord in a fleet of Douglas DC-8s?
Forget that Fiscus already made his intentions clear. Our biggest concern with his revised language is the seeming insult it throws in the faces of Montana teachers. Encouraging critical thinking is already a foundational practice in primary education. If Fiscus' renewed intention is truly to emphasize as much in the state's code of law, he may as well introduce a bill requiring Jiffy Lube employees to be familiar with the concept of an oil change.
Maybe we just aren't critical enough thinkers for Fiscus. Perhaps our rebukes of intelligent design make us merely the equivalent of our ancient Cro-Magnon ancestors. Somehow, though, we doubt Fiscus would agree we have any.