Tennessee’s “Monkey Bill” Becomes Law and other Pagan News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  April 12, 2012 — 31 Comments

Top Story: On Saturday, I wrote about the impending enaction of a bill in Tennessee that could require schools to “teach the controversy” of evolution and global warming. Opposed by the ACLU, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, and the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, it nonetheless was allowed to become law without the governor’s signature on Tuesday.

http://controversy.wearscience.com/

http://controversy.wearscience.com/

“Republican Gov. Bill Haslam allowed the controversial measure to become law without his signature and, in a statement, expressed misgivings about it. Nevertheless, he ignored pleas from educators, parents and civil libertarians to veto the bill. The law does not require the teaching of alternatives to scientific theories of evolution, climate change and “the chemical origins of life.” Instead, it aims to prevent school administrators from reining in teachers who expound on alternative hypotheses to those topics. The measure’s primary sponsor, Republican state Sen. Bo Watson, said it was meant to give teachers the clarity and security to discuss alternative ideas to evolution and climate change that students may have picked up at home and want to explore in class.”

Doesn’t require teaching alternatives? Lets go to the actual language.

“The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.” [...] The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.  Toward this end, teachers 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.

I guess a lot hinges on the scope of “shall endeavor to,” and what qualifies as a “scientific controversy.” David Fowler, President of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, believes it will allow the teaching of Intelligent Design in science classes. Wesley H. Roberts, a high school biology teacher in Tennessee, says it will harm students going to college and taking Advanced Placement exams. How this “teach the controversy” law will actually affect curriculum decisions in Tennessee schools is a very open question, and will no doubt depend on how each school district interprets the language of the law. At best, it provides cover to rogue science teachers who want to insert non-scientific ideas into science classes, at worst, it will force teachers to add “controversial” theories to their curriculum.

As I said when I initially wrote about this proposed law, it’s doubly bad for followers of Pagan, indigenous, and earth-centered religions. It could very well insert explicitly Christian notions of creation and the origins of life into science classes, exposing non-Christian children to misinformation on the government’s dime, in addition to undermining basic knowledge of increasingly dire issues like global warming. I can only imagine that legal challenges are being prepared as we speak, I’ll keep you updated on this story as it progresses.

In Other News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://twitter.com/ReadingInShadow Stephanie Selby

    Colorado is 40% non-Christian? That’s a real surprise for me! It makes you rethink the typical Midwestern stereotype.

    • Folcwald

      Given that Colorado is not part of the Midwest, I wonder why it would have anything to do with the “Midwestern stereotype.”

      • William Hood

        Yeah, I’m originally from Wyoming and it never ceases to amaze me that people think we’re the “midwest.”

    • Will

      Colorado is a Rocky Mountain/Western state with a history entirely different from that of the Midwest. 

  • Kilmrnock

    well as far as the ” teach the controversy ” law goes  consider where it came from . Tennesee is about as backward as you can get , also quite deep in the southern bible belt . Our Christian freinds down there a frikkin nuts, remember these are the speaking in tongues , snake handlers wackos . I’m waiting for this one and ones like it to hit the courts , where such laws don’t stand a chance . sorta like a snow ball in hades .      Kilm 

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      I agree with the last point; this thing needs to be legally autoclaved.

      But I don’t share any scorn of people, even Christians, who speak in tongues and handle snakes. They’re doing what some of us do, “us” in the expansive intrafaith sense in which this blog addresses us. They just have some lockstep politics.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        Absolutely right. It’s not the snake handling or the glossolalia that makes these folks problematic. It’s that their world-view would be right at home at a Klan rally.

    • Hotstreak12

       Perhaps Tartarus. Hades as the realm is not fiery or hot. Try not to confuse Hades and hell.

    • Obsidia

       About the Snake Handling….much of that tradition was inherited from Native American tribes.  Just like lots of Pagan practices that were embraced by Christians the world over….they just don’t realize it!

    • Sunweaver

       Tennessee is absolutely NOT backwards. Our legislators are doing an idiotic thing that make us look backwards. There’s a huge difference.
      Science and technology industries flourish throughout the state and I find it deplorable that our legislators should be so ignorant as to do something like this that will potentially drive these businesses away. Yes, science education is lacking in a percentage of our schools, particularly the more rural schools. Yes, Evangelical Christianity is dominant here. But these elements are not unique to Tennessee or to the South for that matter.

  • Njs5

    I taught freshman English in two community colleges here in Tennessee. In almost every class I tought I had to take time to explain to those high school graduates the differences between “to,” “too,” and “two.” Many of the students didn’t know the difference between “qwhich” and “witch.”

    It seems as though school officials are trying with all their might to get religion back in the schools. I just wish they would get serious about getting some education back in the schools.

    • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

      Many of the students didn’t know the difference between “qwhich” and “witch.”

      Which witch goes qwhich? Doesn’t sound too friendly. Sounds like someone’s been swinging his hammer a bit wildly. 

  • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com Kauko

    Am I looking at that ‘Teach the Controversy’ graphic wrong, or is it depicting the Earth as the center of the universe with the sun revolving around it? Because…. really??

    • Nick Ritter

      No, you’re looking at it right. All of the “Teach the Controversy” graphics show scientifically disproven theories, such as geocentrism, as a study in irony.

      • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com Kauko

         I’m being so slow, I was thinking that that was the official graphic of the movement.

  • Gareth

    If it requires the teaching of “scientific controversies” could it not be argued that concepts such as creationism are in no way scientific and thus do not constitute a scientific controversy?  

  • Ksk6399

    Check out the site listed under the earth-centric graphic for some great snarky t-shirt designs. A funny, sarcastic commentary on the entire pseudo-science movement. And there are good pagan-themed designs.

  • Sunweaver

    As a Tennessee scientist, I find this law–
    I have no polite words for how I find this law. The members of my department as well as the teachers I’ve worked with all oppose this “teach the controversy” crap. I will damn well NOT teach the controversy and will support the majority of Tennessee science teachers who think this law is BS. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/GreenSpiralDragon Jamie Clemons

    Does this mean we can teach other fun theories about how the universe was created? Flying spagetti monster comes to mind. How would they feel about us teaching pagan creation stories in the classroom? They don’t realize what a can of worms they are opening themselves up to. 

  • Crystal Kendrick

    I have faith in TN’s scientific community and the ACLU.  This will be nixed eventually, hopefully sooner rather than later.

    • Sunweaver

       I really appreciate your confidence in us. I’m “flip-a-table” mad about this.

  • Kilmrnock

    Sorry , Sunweaver i will rephrase that , the legislators are backwards, but such things don’t bode well for your states image. Altho called midatlantic , Delmarva where i’m from is about as southern as you can get as well. My Chicago born and bred wife calls me a good ole boy. which is almost an oxymoron , a good ole boy pagan, so it goes. Unfortunately you are deep within the Bible belt.  Kilm

    • Sunweaver

       I’m well aware of where I live and that this bodes ill for Tennessee’s image. I only ask that others don’t feed into the “Tennessee is backwards” fallacy. Tennessee is no more backwards than any other state of the Union.
      As much as this idiotic bill gets my hackles up, I find it infuriating when others use something like this to perpetuate stereotypes about Tennessee and Tennesseans.

  • Kilmrnock

    BTW ………….you know the difference between a redneck and a good ole boy ?a good ole boy tosses his beer cans in the back of his pick up , where as a redneck just tosses em out the window .     Kilm

  • lynn

    id like to respectfully disagree. “shall endeavor to,” in the law, means MUST endeavor to. endeavor means “to strive.” so, this simply is fancy for a teacher must strive to…which is something anyone would do ordinarily in life…strive for good character, strive to stay living, etc. as for “scientific controversy,” its only controversial if a difference of opinion is made known, which leads me to my next point…

    a lot actually hinges on “respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion.” to have a response someone must bring up an opinion. and, in this case, a “difference of opinion.” so, a child must actually bring up “well what about god?” before the teacher can “respond appropriately.” so, if a kid says “well the bible says god made people and dinosaurs at the same time and in 7 days,” then THATS the scientific controversy of the moment. if the kid brings up “well this all mighty sugar book says plants can, too, speak,” then thats the scientific controversy of the moment. but if no one says “the torah says babies are people before theyre born,” then its a non-issue, a controversy doesnt exist.moving on to the second paragraph quoted from the measure’s actual language, the bolded part says:”shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.  Toward this end, teachers 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.”

    ive already explained that, in law, “shall” means “must.” so the priciples and administrators [must] [strive] to find effective ways to present the curriculum [do not confuse curriculum with controversy.] further, the quote states “teachers shall be permitted to help students 
    understand, analyze, critique, and review…
    strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course.” substituting “permitted” with the more-commonly-used word “allowed,” taking out the word scientific because it makes things wordy, and, again, replacing the word “shall” with the word “must,” this states: teachers must be allowed to help students 
    understand, analyze, critique, and review… strengths and weaknesses of existing theories covered in the course.” so they must be allowed to do so…if i allow my daughter to go outside and play, that means she can, but doesnt mean she is obligated to.so, to summarize, the statute says teachers:1. must respond appropriately to a student who voices an opinion different to that which is being taught, therefore cause a controversy.2. must be allowed to help students understand, understand, analyze, critique, and review strengths and weakness in the scientific theories being taught in the course.it also says principles and administrators must strive to find a way to effectively present the curriculum.as a side-note, i just want to mention that it says “student” and “controversy” in general…i get that the primary sponser was a christian, but if a pagan child speaks up and voices a difference in opinion, his or her opinion must be addressed, too. sure, most of the controversies are “backed up” by the bible/torah, but that doesnt mean ALL of them are. my daughter could very well speak up and say the moon was created not by the big bang but, instead, by the goddess leaving the earth to watch all of her children all at the same time, and my daughters teacher would have to appropriately and RESPECTFULLY address her difference in opinion. :)okay, thats all. :)

  • Kilmrnock

    Sunweaver , id like to apolige i did not mean to disparage the reasonably intelligent residents of Tennesee. I am a southerner myself , am proud of who i am and from where i came . But it seems the bulk of this absurd legisalation is coming from the south. With the resurgance of radical Christianity and it’s take over of the Republican Party, most southern states fall within the Red State category. At this point within the Republican party the loonies are driving . As a southerner this disturbs , but doesn’t surprise me .Those of us with more level , reasonable heads need to speak up , make ourselves heard. Btw  , i personaly am not a raging liberal , i fall sorta Liberal Liberatarian , one of those pesky independants .       Kilm

    • Sunweaver

      Thank you for that. The scientific community here has been working against this particular legislation for some time. I have faith that the law will eventually be challenged and subsequently repealed.
      Anti-evolution legislation is not limited to South and it is good when we remember to keep geographical bigotry out of the argument.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        It surely is not limited to the South. My state, Ohio, was a target right after Kansas in 1999, and the scientific community reported for duty here to push it back.

  • Pitch313

    Congrats to Macha and Pagans in Interfaith! 

  • Pitch313

    I find controversies about taxonomy interesting and provocative. Like what are the Archaea, and how long have they been living in our guts? And what’s wrong with calling them prokaryotes or monerans? 

    Teaching this might get at both controversy in science and evolutions in biology. 

    Besides, Archeans could be ancient astronauts…

    Just sayin’… 

  • http://drubear.livejournal.com csherbak

    I guess in some senses “Teaching the Controversy” would actually be a good idea – since so many of the anti-science beliefs show how foolish and out of touch the Church was (flat earth, heliocentrism, “humours” or demonic possession to diagnose health issues.) Seems like in the end it’d be a good class, but rather involved (and focused) for a high school. Plus won’t they end up at a place they’d rather not be: “So, class, we can see that, like heliocentrism and flat earth nutjobs, when religion refuses to follow the scientific method, the outdated views make them look silly and primitive eventually.”