More than 3,000 people signed a petition urging Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) to veto legislation which would require public schools to teach the “controversy” surrounding topics like evolution and global warming. Opponents of the bill delivered the petition to Haslam’s office yesterday, where a spokesman said he would make sure the Governor received it. The bill passed the House last year and was approved by the Senate last month. Critics have called the legislation a “monkey bill” in reference to the Scopes “monkey trial” held in Tennessee in 1925, when a biology teacher was convicted for teaching evolution. The bill is also opposed by several newspapers and scientific organizations. Haslam has previously said he would “probably” sign the bill.
After the US Supreme Court’s 1987 decision forbidding the teaching of creationism in science classes, those who objected to the teaching of evolution modified their ideas slightly. They relabeled these ideas “Intelligent Design.” In the wake of that tactic’s defeat in the courts, the opponents of science education retooled again.
This time, they targeted a number of state legislatures with two categories of bills that shared nearly identical wording. This tactic saw success in Louisiana, although a number of similar bills were considered in other states. They’ve now achieved their second success—the passage of a law in Tennessee.
One approach to diluting science education was a series of bills that allowed schools to use supplementary materials in science classes; conveniently, the anti-evolution Discovery Institute published a supplementary text at about the same time.
An alternate approach has appeared in a number of bills (again, all with nearly identical language) that would protect teachers who present the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories, although the bills single out evolution, climate change, and a couple of topics that aren’t even theories. Again, the goal seems to be to use neutral language that will allow teachers to reiterate many of the spurious arguments against the widely accepted scientific understandings. Tennessee’s House and Senate had passed a bill that took precisely this approach.
The state’s governor, saying the bill doesn’t “bring clarity,” has decided not to sign it. But he’s decided not to veto it either, which will allow it to become law.
Although a detailed discussion of open issues within all scientific theories might make some pedagogic sense, the bill will undoubtedly function as its designers intended. Teachers with a strong agenda will be able to bring up discredited arguments against the mainstream scientific understanding. And, should they ever do that in front of a student from a family with equally strong views, the result will inevitably be a lawsuit that will hold the local school district responsible.
Tennessee‘s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which just months ago lawmakers scrapped in favor of strengthening an abstinence-only sex education law, yesterday quietly was passed by an 8-7 vote and is slated to be voted on in the full Tennessee House as early as tomorrow, despite the Tennessee Governor’s protests. It is uncertain if the Governor will sign it but likely it will become law one way or another.
Lawmakers, after two years of debating the ”Don’t Say Gay” bill — which prohibits any discussion, mention, or acknowledgment of homosexuality whatsoever in Tennessee public schools, especially in grades K-8 — abandoned the bill when it was discovered that not only does Tennessee not offer sex education in grades K-8 but the bill could have been used as an opportunity to allow teachers to discuss sex in grades K-8.
In short, Tennessee lawmakers spent two years debating a bill that would have had the exact opposite effect as intended, and prohibited conversations that were not going to happen in the first place.
Of course, being the Tennessee Legislature, the House has now decided to move forward on the ”Don’t Say Gay” bill after passing the strengthened abstinence-only sex education law, despite all evidence that abstinence-only sex education actually increases teen pregnancy rates. The just-passed strengthened abstinence-only sex education law actually classifies and prohibits holding hands as “gateway sexual activity.”
“Bill sponsor Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, and others argued that outside groups and some teachers slip those conversations in, and the bill serves as an accountability reminder,” The Tennessean reported:
“I have two children — in the third- and fourth-grade — and don’t want them to be exposed to things I don’t agree with,” Hensley said. “… Even though the state board disallows this now, I’m afraid it does happen, and sex education is talked about in a way that it is acceptable.”
Schools caught in violation of the state’s sex education policies can have state money withheld, and teachers face a $50 fine and up to 30 days in jail, according to state law. The bill passed the Senate last year.
The ”Don’t Say Gay” bill grew in infamy after Tennessee Senator Stacey Campfield, who co-sponsored the Senate’s version of the ”Don’t Say Gay” bill, traveled the country earlier this year making statements to the media like it is “virtually impossible” to contract HIV/AIDS through heterosexual sex.
Tennessee lawmakers are working hard to ensure Tennessee students are as ignorant and Christian Bible-directed as possible. Yesterday, the Tennessee Legislature’s bill that protects teachers who teach creationism, and those who welcome so-called “debate” on culture war issues like global warming, became law, without Governor Bill Haslam’s signature. The Republican Governor saw the bill as even too crazy for his state.