Eighty six years after the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial opened Tennessee to the debate about the teaching of evolution, the state House is trying to slam the door shut again. Tennessee’s House Education Committee approved a bill Tuesday in the name of “academic freedom,” but in reality, it is a thinly veiled attempt to curtail the teaching of evolution. House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh (D) has even taken to calling it “the monkey bill.” From the bill’s summary:
This bill prohibits the state board of education and any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or principal or administrator from prohibiting any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping 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, such as evolution and global warming.
Should this bill pass, Tennessee teachers will have official sanction to teach about evolutionary “controversies” that simply do not exist. Furthermore, it will allow teachers to teach pseudo-scientific ideas — such as creationism or intelligent design — as legitimate scientific theories comparable to evolution.
While evolution apparently remains controversial politically, it is not a controversial idea scientifically. Scientists have reached a consensus that evolution is “one of the most robust and widely accepted principles of modern science,” and as such, it is “a core element in science education.” The state of Tennessee has done the same, as it includes evolution in its Tennessee Science Framework, its official science curriculum. So 86 years after the Scopes Monkey Trial gave evolution its rightful place in the state’s classrooms, why are Tennessee Republicans trying to re-litigate the case?
Tennessee’s law is not just out of the scientific mainstream, it falls outside the political mainstream as well. This year, legislators have tried and failed to pass similar legislation in multiple states, including New Mexico, Kentucky, and Oklahoma.