A bill that would allow Tennessee teachers to question evolution, climate change, and embryonic stem cell research under the guise of helping students learn "critical thinking skills" is one step closer to becoming law. On Monday the Tennessee Senate approved S. 893, which closely matches a bill passed last year (by subscription) by the Tennessee House of Representatives. House members are expected to approve the latest version and send the legislation to the state's Republican governor, who has not indicated whether he will sign it.
Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, which tracks such legislation across the country, has been blogging about the bills. "No one has ever explained why science teachers are the only ones who ought to be promoting critical thinking and the other noble goals the legislature lists," he writes, "nor has anyone justified the practical effects of the bill, which would be far less laudable." His forecast: "[Now] it's up to Governor [William] Haslam to protect the state's students, parents, and teachers from their own legislature."
The Knoxville News Sentinel described how Senate opponents of the bill, all Democrats, noted before the vote that the state's science teachers are "doing just fine teaching science without the Legislature's involvement." The paper quotes one legislator as saying that "we are simply dredging up the problems of the past with this bill." Eight members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences from Tennessee, including Vanderbilt University medicine Nobelist Stanley Cohen, have written a letter objecting to the measure, saying it could force teachers "to emphasize what are misdescribed as the scientific weaknesses of evolution."