While campaigning in New Hampshire Thursday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry told a boy that Texas public schools teach both creationism and evolution in science classes.
The Republican presidential hopeful was answering the boy's question about how old the world is when the child's mother urged him to ask Perry about evolution.
"I hear your mom was asking about evolution and, you know, it's a theory that's out there," Perry told the boy. "It's got some gaps in it, but in Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools, because I figure you're smart enough to figure out which one is right."
If Perry is correct about Texas schools teaching creationism and evolution side-by-side, however, the public schools in his states would be violating federal law. The Supreme Court in 1987 ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard that teaching creationism in public schools violates the Constitution's Establishment Clause.
State education officials are quick to skirt Perry's claim.
Although Texas' official public school curriculum doesn't include teaching creationism, David Bradley, a social conservative member of Texas' State Board of Education told The Texas Tribune that "students are directed to investigate and evaluate all theories."
Texas was recently amid great debate surrounding whether to include concepts of creationism in its science curriculum, but a final decision on the curriculum last month extinguished the issue.
Perry's potential gaffe also comes as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan takes a swipe at the Republican governor, criticizing Perry's leadership for the state's education. In an interview with Bloomberg Television's Al Hunt, scheduled to air Friday morning, Duncan says that he feels "very, very badly for the children there" for Texas' struggle in public education under Perry's governance.
"And it doesn't serve the children well," Duncan says. "It doesn't serve the state well. It doesn't serve the state's economy well. And ultimately, it hurts the country. We have to have a much higher high school graduation rate, many more young folks going on to college and succeeding there. We have to educate our way to a better economy. High school dropout rates are devastating, economically devastating."
Thursday, in answering the boy's initial question about how old the world is, Perry answered that he doesn't "have any idea."
"I know it's pretty old … I'm not sure anybody actually knows completely and absolutely how old the Earth is."
(Scientists think the Earth is about 4.54 billion years old, according to the U.S. Geological Survey).
At the end of the exchange, the boy's mother tells him repeatedly: "Ask him why he doesn't believe in science," during which Perry ends the conversation by walking away to greet others in the crowd.
Watch the exchange below: