Education has turned out to be a less frequent topic in this blog than I thought it might be when I first started. But as with the previous post on home schooling, here again I think it is worth calling attention to some recent interesting developments.
A Tennessee bill made its way through the state House and Senate and will soon become law. The intent of the law is “to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.” (Read the entire text of the House version of the bill here.)
Sounds great, right? The problem is that many scientists, educators, and parents are concerned that the law will effectively open the door to teaching creationism, intelligent design, or other religiously motivated ideas, presenting them as scientifically credible alternatives to the “controversial” theory of evolution.
The text of the bill insists, however, that religion has nothing to do with it (Section 1e):
This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.
Sounds pretty defensive to me. We’ll see. I want to be optimistic, and agree with Tennessee governor Bill Haslam, who says he does not believe that the law “changes the scientific standards that are taught in our schools.” That is, it is possible that the law will have essentially no impact on the quality of education received by students in Tennessee. It will be interesting to look at the situation, say, a year from now, to see if there will be any real effect.
But the cynic in me suspects that this law has succeeded in furthering simple religious denial, in the clever disguise of “scientific objectivity.” The mistake that proponents of creationism, intelligent design, etc., repeatedly make is claiming that science demands that all ideas deserve equal time… when in fact they do not.
I’m originally from Kansas, so unfortunately this is not a new story. But it will be interesting to watch how this one unfolds.