Oklahoma's Crypto Christian Homeschool 'Science' Fair
Oklahoma isn't the most welcoming place for science. Jim Inhofe, the senior senator from the state and an infamous climate change denier, notoriously threw a snowball on the Senate floor in February as "proof" that global warming is not real.
So it's in keeping with state tradition that the Oklahoma Homeschool Science Fair contained a little more than your typical examples of the scientific method. The exciting outline of the fair announces it is "helping kids discover science and engineering." That's where the requirements for this academic rite of passage comes in. According to the site, requirement number three reads:
All exhibits must include scripture and give reference pertaining to the subject matter of the project. Some ideas are not specifically mentioned in the Bible, but there are some verses that develop principles that can be related to your project. The intent is to relate all areas of science to the Creator of the universe.
That's right, your baking soda-and-vinegar volcano needs a quote from the Bible if it is going to be considered a valid entry. (Because conservative homeschool propaganda is exactly what MIT is seeking in its applicants.)
Just a few weeks ago, Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin spoke at the AT&T's Summer Bridge program at the University of Oklahoma. The program's goal is to pair incoming freshman with mentors who can help them adjust in the school of engineering. According to the Norman Transcript, Governor Fallin told the crowd Oklahoma has a shortage of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workers in the state.
The day before Fallin's impassioned speech about the need for a greater emphasis on science education for a higher skilled workforce, the conservative governor nominated a new member to the Oklahoma State School Board. The nominee wasn't a scientist, an engineer, a mathematician, or even an elementary school teacher who takes children on field trips to the zoo every spring. The nominee was the mayor of Claremore, Oklahoma, who has spent the last 35 years as an accountant.
"The current attitude fostered by the Republican majority in our state is counter-intuitive to creating a healthy and open science and research community in Oklahoma, a community that is vital to fill 21st century jobs in our state," said State Representative Jason Dunnington, who is also an ordained minister and professor. "Perhaps more importantly when students are educated about critical thinking, they learn the tools necessary to see through one-sidedness and make decisions based on fact rather than bias and propaganda, a truth all too inconvenient for current Oklahoma leaders."
According to the Institute of Education Sciences, three percent of school-age children were homeschooled in the 2011-'12 school year. Not all, but many of the curricula for homeschooled children not only lack accurate information, they can contain fundamentalist Christian propaganda.
A fascinating science fair entry might be to chart the potential success rate of a system of education that is led by experienced educators, funded adequately and includes accurate information on STEM — whether or not it is politically convenient to oil and gas CEOs donating to campaigns.