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Tennessee's antievolution legislation still under fire

The Knoxville News Sentinel published back-to-back criticisms of Tennessee's antievolution legislation — shortly before the Senate Education Committee is expected to resume discussion of Senate Bill 893 on April 20, 2011. Like its counterpart House Bill 368, SB 893 would, if enacted, require state and local educational authorities to "assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies" and permit teachers 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." The only examples provided of "controversial" theories are "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."

In his April 17, 2011, op-ed, the News Sentinel's editor Jack McElroy described the idea of critical thinking about controversial issues as "Fair enough," but noted that the Tennessee antievolution legislation "narrows down the 'controversial issues' to scientific subjects including origins of life and evolution," adding, "What's up with that?" Taking examples from history, English, and mathematics, he argued that there are both appropriate and inappropriate controversies to address in the classroom. "Thus we come to science," he concluded. "There is plenty of room for critical thinking in each step in this process. But if the thinking involves criticizing the process itself — and arguing there is a source of knowledge beyond the scientific method — then we've moved outside of science, and should move out of the science classroom."

In its April 18, 2011, editorial, the News Sentinel described the bill as "as best unnecessary and at worst a deceptive attempt to undermine science education in Tennessee," adding, "The bill is not needed to promote critical thinking because the state curriculum already promotes critical thinking. Competent teachers are not, as the bill's language suggests, 'unsure' about how they should teach topics like evolution. This is a solution in search of a problem." Referring to the verdict in the Kitzmiller case, in which teaching "intelligent design" in the public schools was found to be unconstitutional, the News Sentinel observed, "The judge noted that the focus only on scientific controversies was a clue about the intent. Tennessee's proposed bill suffers from the same shortcoming." The editorial concluded, "The Senate should reject this needless bill and let science teachers teach science."