With lawmakers scoffing at science, the Republican-controlled state House voted overwhelmingly Thursday for legislation that critics say is aimed at opening public school science classes to the teaching of creationism.
“This whole situation right here has to do with critical thinking. Evolution between one species to another species has never been proven. So how could you teach that as a fact?” said Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby.
During a 30-minute debate, Republicans complained that they had come under harsh criticism by the bill’s detractors. Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, denounced “intellectual bullies who have hijacked our education system.”
Rep. Glen Casada, R-College Grove, said he was called “a Neanderthal” in “overwhelmingly vicious emails.” Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, said, “My wife wanted me to call the TBI about one person who called our house.”
The vote was 70-23. The companion bill is awaiting action possibly next week in the Senate Education Committee.
The proposal requires public schools to “create an environment” in which teachers “respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues,” including evolution and climate change. It also orders administrators to “assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.”
Dunn insists his bill aims only to promote “critical thinking” in schools about the origins of life. But opponents say the bill is clearly intended to open the door to teaching intelligent design in public schools, and creationists acknowledge they’re behind it.
During the debate, one lawmaker after another rose to denounce science as the House applauded.
“I was taught things in science class in high school which have turned out not to be true,” Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, said. “I remember so many of us when we were seniors in high school we gave up Aqua Net hairspray. Do you remember why we did that? Because it was causing global warming. That aerosol in those cans was causing global warming. Since then scientists have said that maybe we shouldn’t have given up that aerosol can because that aerosol was actually absorbing the earth’s rays and was keeping us from global warming.”
Butt said the bill “protects a teacher” who refuses to teach science as fact.
“If a child questions the theory of evolution, oftentimes that child is made to feel ignorant or dumb or stupid,” Butt said. “We need to make sure that doesn’t happen in the classrooms of the state of Tennessee. I’m tired of people saying if you don’t completely accept the theory of evolution, you are not very bright. Nobody has the right to make our children feel that way.”
Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, recalled his own time as a teacher and football coach.
“At some risk to myself,” he said he refused to follow instructions not to mix religion with school activities. He said he feared “some zealot could pursue me at any moment” for praying with his football team.
“I was told I couldn’t pray with my football players. So I did it anyway. Not only did I do it, I did it in the middle of the football field at the 50 yard line. So sometimes it’s important to just do it. This protects teachers. It’s good for teachers.”
Some Democrats objected to the bill, generally on the grounds that the legislature was tampering with school curriculum.
“We should not tell science teachers how to teach,” Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, said. “We don’t want to dictate how all our subjects are taught.”