Take action on Tennessee's Monkey Bill

When Tennessee's legislature debated a "Monkey Bill" in 2012, NCSE joined with concerned citizens to protect science classes. The bill's text singles out evolution and climate change, as if those topics were scientifically controversial, and it blocks school administrators from maintaining a consistent curriculum. It opens the door for creationist parents or students to disrupt classrooms, or for teachers who deny the basic science of climate change to present pseudoscience.

Tennessee's parents, teachers, students, and scientists took action to stop the bill, but the legislature passed it, and the governor allowed it to become law. While Governor Haslam refused to sign the bill, stating that the bill brought "confusion" not "clarity," the bill passed the legislature by a veto-proof majority.

Those Tennesseeans and NCSE remain concerned about the bill's effects, and remain active in trying to prevent it from harming education in the Volunteer State. The links below list actions you can take. By signing our petition, you can join our action alert email list, and show your support for local teachers and school districts that refuse to allow nonscience into science classrooms.

Background on Tennessee's 21st Century Monkey Law

In 2012, Tennessee’s legislature enacted a 21st century "Monkey Law," a law opening the state’s science classrooms to lessons in creationism, climate change denial, and other nonscience. Tennessee State flag Declaring that "some scientific subjects required to be taught … may cause debate and disputation including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning," the law states that no administrator may "prohibit 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." Such language is a common feature of creationist bills.

The law was opposed by a broad coalition, including state and national science organizations, science teachers societies, and civil liberties groups. The nation's leading earth science education organizations weighed in against the billsSo did the American Institute of Biological Sciences, which speaks for the nation's biologists. Every Tennesseean member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences – including the state's only winner of a Nobel Prize in science – opposed the bill and its harmful effects. The Tennessee Science Teachers Association consistently opposed the law, as did the nation's leading earth science education organizations and the National Association of Biology Teachers.

Citizens of Tennessee petitioned the legislature to reject the law, and asked the governor to veto it. Many NCSE members sent letters like this:

NCSE's Taking Action petition icon
HB 368 and SB 893 are unnecessary at best, and likely to have harmful consequences in classrooms across the state, and undercut our economic viability.

Taken at face value, the bill simply encourages science teachers to help students understand science. But they already do that, just as math teachers help students understand math, so there's no point passing a law singling out science classes. The bill would also make it harder for locally elected school boards, and the principals and superintendents who know the teachers best, to step in and correct problems in a classroom.

Regardless of what its sponsors intended, the law's plain language prohibits any supervisor from interfering with how a teacher teaches. It would open the door for bad science, non-science, and other inappropriate lessons to be introduced into classrooms.  And those practices could be defended by claiming such lessons are meant to advance the bill's praiseworthy goals.

Tennessee's science teachers don't need this bill and they don't want it.

When pressed about his views on the bill, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam replied that "the only questions he has gotten about the bill are from reporters." NCSE members responded with a slew of questions, including:

  • Why does this bill change the rules for science classes, and only science classes?  
  • Why are scientifically uncontroversial topics like evolution and climate change singled out?  
  • What problem is this bill supposed to solve?  
  • What would the bill really do to science education in Tennessee? 
  • How will this affect Tennessee's ability to attract and create 21st century jobs in biotechnology, clean energy, and medical research?  
  • How much power will this take away from our locally-elected school boards and our principals?  

Larisa DeSantisConcerned parents delivered a petition opposing the law to the governor. Several thousand people agreed with Larisa DeSantis, a biologist and mother from Nashville, TN, who wrote in the petition:

As parents, educators, and concerned citizens, we call on you to veto HB 368, which encourages teachers to present scientific topics such as evolution and global warming as "controversial." This bill is deeply misleading and will only serve to confuse students about well-established scientific concepts. Our children need the best education possible in order to excel in college, compete in a 21st-century job market, and cope with the future challenges of climate change. Governor Haslam, we strongly urge you to support sound science and veto HB 368.

Tennessee is on the verge of turning the clock of science education back to 1925, the days of the Scopes Monkey Trial, and Governor Bill Haslam is the only one who can stop it.



Last week, the Tennessee State Legislature passed legislation (HB 368/SB 893), which allows classroom teachers to position well-established scientific topics such as evolution and global warming as "controversial." The bill is the brainchild of Senator Bo Watson, who claims that the bill will help improve student's critical thinking skills. But leading scholars and science education groups strongly disagree, and have widely condemned the bill. 



If this bill becomes law, the students of Tennessee will suffer its consequences. As the American Association for the Advancement of Science explains, "Asserting that there are significant scientific controversies about the overall nature of these concepts when there are none will only confuse students, not enlighten them." Students confused about well-established scientific facts will have a harder time getting into college, more difficulty getting the high-tech jobs of the 21st century, and will be unprepared to deal with the very real impacts of climate change that are their inheritance. This bill will also damage the state's reputation as a leader in science education, and could harm science and technology jobs in Tennessee. 



Governor Haslam has the ability to stop all of this from happening, which is why we strongly urge him to veto the bill today!
Governor Bill Haslam

Haslam ultimately refused to sign the bill (but allowed it to become law nonetheless), declaring: "I do not believe that this legislation changes the scientific standards that are taught in our schools or the curriculum that is used by our teachers. However, I also don't believe that it accomplishes anything that isn't already acceptable in our schools. The bill received strong bipartisan support … but good legislation should bring clarity and not confusion. My concern is that this bill has not met this objective. For that reason, I will not sign the bill but will allow it to become law without my signature."

DeSantis responded: "While I am heartened that the Governor refused to sign this misleading and unnecessary legislation, I am deeply disappointed that he ignored over 5,000 Tennesseans who called on him to use his veto power to reject it entirely. Even more so, I am worried about how this law will affect the students of Tennessee, including my daughter. We all want our children to be critical thinkers, but teaching that evolution and climate change are scientific "controversies" will only lead to confusion, as the Governor himself has acknowledged."

The law’s effects will vary from classroom to classroom across the state’s hundreds of school districts. Where teachers, administrators, and local school boards stand firmly in support of science, the law’s effects are likely to be minimal. But in some districts, parents may try to force nonscience into science classes, or teachers may try to go beyond the curriculum, and use the law as shelter. NCSE and a network of Tennesseeans are monitoring the schools and working with teachers and school board members to protect science classrooms from religious lessons and other nonscience masquerading as science.

Text of the Monkey Law - HB 368/SB 893

HOUSE BILL 368 By Dunn
AN ACT to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 6, Part 10, relative to teaching scientific subjects in elementary schools.
WHEREAS, the general assembly finds that: (1) An important purpose of science education is to inform students about
scientific evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to become intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens;
(2) The teaching of some scientific subjects required to be taught under the curriculum framework developed by the state board of education may cause debate and disputation including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning; and
(3) Some teachers may be unsure of the expectation concerning how they should present information when debate and disputation occur on such subjects; now, therefore, BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE:
SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 6, Part 10, is amended by adding the following as a new, appropriately designated section:
(a) 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 scientific subjects required to be taught under the curriculum framework developed by the state board of education.
(b) 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 framework developed by the state board of education as it addresses scientific subjects that may cause debate and disputation.
(c) Neither the state board of education, nor any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or any public elementary or secondary school principal or administrator shall prohibit 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 within the curriculum framework developed by the state board of education.
(d) This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.
SECTION 2. By no later than the start of the 2012-2013 school term, the department of education shall notify all directors of schools of the provisions of this act. Each director shall notify all employees within the director's school system of the provisions of this act.
SECTION 3. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law, the public welfare requiring it.

AttachmentSize
PDF of the final text of HB 36831.62 KB

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In May, 2012, the Tennessee legislature passed a "Monkey Bill," a law opening the door to the teaching of creationism, climate change denial, and other pseudosciences in the state's classrooms. Thousands of citizens spoke out against it, including the state's top scientists and teachers. The governor even questioned the law, and refused to sign it.

If you agree that local school boards should insist that teachers only teach real science in science classes, and want to be part of fighting back against this law's dangerous effects, please sign up below.

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Resolution: No nonscience in Tennessee science classes

WHEREAS [name of district / board] agrees with the Tennessee General Assembly’s view, expressed in the preamble to Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-1030, that “[a]n important purpose of science education is to inform students about scientific evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to become intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens,” and

WHEREAS [name of district / board] considers that it already endeavors, as Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-1030 requires, “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 scientific subjects,” and indeed all subjects within its curriculum, and

WHEREAS [name of district / board] wishes to comply with Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-1030’s requirement that it “shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum taught under the curriculum framework that may cause debate and disputation,” and

WHEREAS Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-1030 describes “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” are topics the teaching of which “may cause debate and disputation,” and

WHEREAS the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in assessing the bill that was enacted as Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-1030, wrote, “There is virtually no scientific controversy among the overwhelming majority of researchers on the core facts of global warming and evolution. Asserting that there are significant scientific controversies about the overall nature of these concepts when there are none will only confuse students, not enlighten them,” and

WHEREAS the National Association of Biology Teachers, in assessing the bill that was enacted as Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-1030, wrote, “Concepts like evolution and climate change should not be misrepresented as controversial or needing of special evaluation. Instead, they should be presented as scientific explanations for events and processes that are supported by experimentation, logical analysis, and evidence-based revision based on detectable and measurable data,” and

WHEREAS similar sentiments were expressed by numerous scientific and educational organizations, including the American Institute for Biological Sciences, the American Society of Human Genetics, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the National Earth Science Teachers Association, the Tennessee Education Association, and the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, and

WHEREAS the requirement of Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-1030 that teachers shall not be prohibited “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 within the curriculum framework developed by the state board of education” is crucially unclear, as is exemplified by the fact that legislators who sponsored the bill are on record as disagreeing about whether “intelligent design” would be covered by the law (see “Tennessee legislature keeps monkeying around,” Inside Vandy, April 8, 2012), and was recognized by Governor Haslam, who described the bill’s provisions as unclear and likely to cause confusion (see “Tennessee evolution bill becomes law without governor’s signature,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, April 10, 2012), and

WHEREAS there is legal precedent that the expounding of “intelligent design” and the religiously motivated denigration or disparagement of evolution in the public schools is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (see Kitzmiller v. Dover [2005], 400 F. Supp. 2d 707),

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED

that [name of district/board] encourages and expects its science teachers, in presenting such topics that “may cause debate and disputation,” to understand, respect, and communicate the consensus of the scientific community, in order to present the science curriculum effectively to their students,

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED

That, in this spirit, and to ensure the highest-quality teaching of science in [name of district/board], the [trustees/board members] hereby direct the district to assume responsibility for assessing whether the methods and materials used by science teachers in discussing “the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories” comply with the requirements of Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-1030, and the curriculum of [name of district/board],

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED

that the [trustees/board members] hereby directs the district to ensure that science teachers who wish to use methods and materials in discussing “the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories” that are not presently approved by the [name of district/board] obtain written approval to do so from [district / board], pursuant to policies and procedures for ascertaining their relevance and quality.


To register your support for this resolution, and learn more about how to encourage local school boards to support it, please sign up below.

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