After the US Supreme Court’s 1987 decision forbidding the teaching of creationism in science classes, those who objected to the teaching of evolution modified their ideas slightly. They relabeled these ideas “Intelligent Design.” In the wake of that tactic’s defeat in the courts, the opponents of science education retooled again.
This time, they targeted a number of state legislatures with two categories of bills that shared nearly identical wording. This tactic saw success in Louisiana, although a number of similar bills were considered in other states. They’ve now achieved their second success — the passage of a law in Tennessee.
One approach to diluting science education was a series of bills that allowed schools to use supplementary materials in science classes; conveniently, the anti-evolution Discovery Institute published a supplementary text at about the same time.
An alternate approach has appeared in a number of bills (again, all with nearly identical language) that would protect teachers who present the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories, although the bills single out evolution, climate change, and a couple of topics that aren’t even theories. Again, the goal seems to be to use neutral language that will allow teachers to reiterate many of the spurious arguments against the widely accepted scientific understandings. Tennessee’s House and Senate had passed a bill that took precisely this approach.
The state’s governor, saying the bill doesn’t “bring clarity,” has decided not to sign it. But he’s decided not to veto it either, which will allow it to become law.
Although a detailed discussion of open issues within all scientific theories might make some pedagogic sense, the bill will undoubtedly function as its designers intended. Teachers with a strong agenda will be able to bring up discredited arguments against the mainstream scientific understanding. And, should they ever do that in front of a student from a family with equally strong views, the result will inevitably be a lawsuit that will hold the local school district responsible.