I was raised as a creationist. I'd come home from school with a brain full of evolution and an enthusiasm for T-Rex and my mother saw it as her mission to put an end to it. To counter my indoctrination she'd say, "Dinosaurs and people were alive at the same time." The world, she explained, was created in six days. All the animals were there at once. "Why were there no dinosaurs anymore," I asked? Her answer: "They were too big to get on the boat." (Noah's ark.)
Other times she would just go for the shorthand: "Your teacher lies to you."
For most of my elementary school attendance that was the line: What they're telling you in school is wrong. When I asked why we had to go to school since they didn't tell us the truth, she said because that was the law.
The cruelest lie from my teacher was about Santa Claus, who was billed as giving toys to all kids who were good. All kids except for poor kids ... which were us.
Evolution before the high school years meant very little to me. I was much more incensed about not being able to believe in Santa Claus. Every philosophical debate with my mother started with my adamant pro-Santa position backed by hours of holiday films and ended with a theological stalemate where I doubted my mother's credibility.
By the time I was old enough to read on my own (my mother refers to all non-Bible tomes as "devil books") creationism was quickly dismissed as nonsense. Great minds had suspected evolution far before Charles Darwin's, "Origin of the Species," going back to the ancient Greeks and Chinese. There's plenty of self-evident evidence (see: the flu virus). Yes, it's just a theory, but so is gravity.
I say this because I don't think creationism hurts children any more than Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. These are myths we're told as kids, find out they're not true and go on to tell them to our own kids. It's tradition; who cares? My mother had every right to fill my head with all of the weird ideas in hers (she also believes in the End of Days which explains her love of Fox News).
It's the teaching of creationism in schools that's the issue. First off: you don't "teach" creationism, you deny science, evidence and reason with a story. Second: Going to the doctor instead of praying is already putting faith in science over religion. That debate is over (unless you're a Christian Scientist). "Teaching the controversy" is teaching two myths: creationism and that there's a lack of scientific consensus on evolution. There's a lack of political consensus on creationism, but that's it.
We don't teach the differing opinions in physical education. We don't say that exercise is what science says is healthy but it's just a theory and then offer up crackpot alternatives to exercise. We leave that to parents.
The creation myth doesn't harm children; creationism harms schools. Universal public education is there for the public good (a phrase Republicans replaced with the word "takers"). If they're not teaching basic science then they're not doing what we need them to do. The integrity of our public schools is what's at risk.
Right now, in 2013, states like Montana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Indiana and Arizona are considering bills to discredit their public schools with 1st century stories about our origins; or even worse with a more recent "creationism-lite" -- the misnomer Intelligent Design. These so-called Academic Freedom bills have been voted down over and over again, but like the mythical nine-headed Hydra, once one head is removed, two heads grow back armed with legal loopholes and code words for creationism.
In Louisiana, where their "academic freedom" bill was signed by the governor in 2008, private schools that now receives taxpayer voucher money are reported to tell their students the Loch Ness monster (another mythical creature) is proof evolution never happened. The state is third worst in the nation for math and science.
In the Information Age we're letting our schools erode.
And with some irony, devolve.
Nationally syndicated columnist TINA DUPUY
is an award-winning writer and the editor-in-chief