Anti-science in Tennessee Classrooms

A new law opens the door to teaching creationism and climate change denialism in the state's public schools.

Apr 12, 2012
Bob Grant

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, STRNGWRLDFRWL FROM JAPAN

Public school educators in Tennessee can now teach their students the tenets of creationism, intelligent design, and global warming skepticism with impunity, according to opponents of a new law in the state. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam declined to either sign or veto the state's so-called "monkey bill," which prohibits public school officials from stopping a teacher who aims to teach alternatives to well-established scientific theories such as evolution and global climate change. As a result, HB 368 became law on Tuesday (April 10).

Proponents of science education had been urging Haslam to veto the bill after Tennessee's state Senate and House of Representatives passed it by a 3-to-1 margin last month.

The new law—which makes Tennessee the second state to open public school doors to the teaching of creationism, intelligent design, and climate change skepticism after Louisiana enacted a similar law 3 years ago—states that educators "shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught." It highlights specific topics that can stir the pot, "including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy."

Opponents of the legislation see red flags in the topics the law singles out. "HB 368 and other bills like it are a permission slip for teachers to bring creationism, climate-change denial, and other non-science into science classrooms," Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) in Oakland, California, told Nature.