Rep. Stephen Bloom has an educational idea he hopes will blossom.
Bloom (R-Cumberland) has begun seeking co-sponsors of legislation that would require Pennsylvania's public schools to allow debate on scientific theories.
Bloom says his proposal, dubbed "academic freedom," would open up the classroom atmosphere so that a student or teacher could express doubts or concerns they might have about existing theories.
Students and teachers could debate current teachings on biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning, among other issues.
Andy Hoover, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said teachers are not qualified to go beyond the state-approved curriculum.
"Certainly, a biology teacher is in no place to discuss religious theory," Hoover said.
As it stands, Bloom's bill would require a school to assist a teacher when addressing such "controversies" in science classrooms.
Hoover said if the bill would ever become law, the state would open up a can of worms. He said implementing an open discussion format into a 500-school curriculum would be nearly impossible.
"We do think that ultimately some teacher somewhere or students ... will bring religious doctrine into public school classrooms," he said.
Hoover said many schools already offer religious studies or philosophy classes that could or should debate such issues, just not in science-based classrooms.
Many in the midstate may remember the intelligent design trials that took place in Dover, York County nearly 10 years ago. A lower court judge ruled no religious teachings in school.
Bloom maintains his bill does not require religious teachers, but rather the opposite. He said his proposal would prohibit any focus or teaching on one particular religious doctrine.
Bloom said he got the idea for the bill from his son, who was denied sparking any debate in his classroom.
"The free exchange of ideas was being quelled by these very strict speech codes in school," said Bloom. "And, so for me ... it's just something from the heart."
Since circulating the bill for support Thursday, numerous articles across the state and nation have spiraled into a media firestorm about Bloom's proposal. He said he was shocked to see it take off so quick, even before he could hold a news conference.
Bloom said some groups have taken aim at him and have called his bill "anti-science." He argued it could not be any further from the truth.
"I don't see this as being an anti-science initiative at all," he said. "It's actually to encourage the kind of thinking that leads to good science."
Before such debate can happen in a classroom, his fellow state lawmakers must debate the validity of his idea. Currently, 10 other states either have enacted or proposed similar "academic freedom" laws.
Hoover said most science teachers would be against such a bill because the field of practice is deep-rooted in proven findings.
"Evolution may be controversial in some corners ... but among scientists it's accepted as fact," he said.