Tennessee is taking a big step backward with a new “academic freedom” bill that will open the doors of the public schools to a whole flood of nonsense. Students at the University of Tennessee sent a polite letter to the governor explaining the problems with the bill.
Dear Governor Haslam,
We are writing to you regarding HB368/SB893. As graduate students at the University of Tennessee, we strongly believe that this Bill represents a step backward for Tennessee and our state’s ascending recognition for Science and STEM education. We are specifically writing to address the nature of the Bill itself, which we feel was not adequately discussed during either the House or Senate hearings and misrepresents the undivided consensus among anthropologists, biochemists, biologists, ecologists, evolutionary biologists, genome scientists, geographers, and molecular biologists.
If given a cursory reading, this Bill appears to advocate for intellectual freedom in the classroom and hence would seem prudent. However, it is abundantly clear from both a careful reading and from the testimony at hearings that the intent of this Bill is to encourage teachers to call into question universally accepted scientific principles.
In Section 1(a)(2) of SB893, the generally assembly states “The teaching of some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy;”
We agree. However, this “controversy” is not scientific. The controversy to which the Bill alludes is the reluctance of non-scientists to accept these principles due to certain religious and political beliefs. This can be the only explanation for the inclusion of human cloning in the Bill. Human cloning is solely an ethical issue. There is no scientific debate on how to clone an organism or whether genetic clones can be created. It is a fact that humans can create genetic clones. Only the ethics of the issue is at stake.
Scientific evidence supporting the occurrence of biological evolution, global climate change, and the chemical origin of life are not controversial among scientists. Scientists universally accept these principles based on their predictability and the overwhelming evidence supporting them. Among scientists, the controversy exists in the details such as how changes in temperatures will affect biodiversity or what evolutionary forces
regulate the speciation process. This type of discussion is due to the very nature of science, which requires the constant acquisition and analysis of data.
However, this is not the controversy to which the Bill speaks. The bill later states, in section 1(c), that “The state board of education . . . shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.” This wording seems to imply that the controversy for these aforementioned subjects lies in the scientific realm where in reality they lie only in the political and religious ones.
We fear that this bill only ostensibly supports “critical thinking” in Tennessee’s classrooms. Instead, by implying that subjects such as evolution and global warming are “debatable”, this bill achieves the exact opposite of its purported goal. This is tantamount to encouraging educators to suggest students in science classes disregard the very nature of the scientific process and ignore factual data in favor of the beliefs of some individuals. Scientists cannot ignore data in favor of personal biases. If they did, they would be discredited as non-objective.
This Bill is a step backwards and would do irreparable harm to the development of STEM education in this state. As university educators, we continually face the challenge of losing students’ interests in science courses when they arrive at The University of Tennessee because they are frustrated by their lack of sufficient preparation. Many of them know very little about evolution by natural selection or the mechanisms of global climate change. We hope that you see that as with the legislatures who passed this bill, we too are concerned about the education of children in Tennessee.
This passage of this Bill has the potential to cost the state dearly in terms of lost revenue, a poorly trained scientific workforce, and an exodus of scientists and educators who do not wish to have their discipline diluted with non-scientific biases. We fear that calling into question scientific support of foundations to biological theory will cripple the ability of Tennessee’s students to become functional scientists, doctors, professionals, and contributing members of many growing fields.
We ask that you please thoughtfully consider our position, and veto this bill. Thank you for your time.
Graduate Researchers in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolutionary Biology (G.R.E.B.E)
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
[56 grad students from EEB and other departments signed the petition]
Now this is it: this is the last day before Haslam signs the bill into law. Contact the governor and urge him to veto this embarrassing law.
Here’s the contact information for his office:
Phone: (615) 741-2001
Fax: (615) 532-9711
World-wide criticism would be helpful at this point.