Tennessee … the same state that nearly a century ago convicted a biology teacher for teaching science is gettning ready to make the latest attempt to turn science classrooms into something less than scientific.
The new law recently passed the Tennessee General Assembly (with the governor has said he will likely sign it), gives protection to teachers who permit students from speaking out against “controversial” ideas in science, such as evolution, global warming, gravity, geologic time, vaccinations, etc. This is interesting on a few levels.
1. The bill does not in anyway alter the curriculum. It also does not explicitly add any religious doctrines like intelligent design or political ones like global warming denialism.
2. The bill inherently parallels the prescribed duties of teachers: protect students, especially if they are representing a minority opinion (with minority being interpreted very loosely here).
Given the history of folks who have in the past tried to infiltrate schools with arguments against various scientific ideas, you can be assured that there will be training manuals given to students on how to invoke the law to grandstand a class and subtly introduce religion while disrupting the class.
Generally speaking, if a student tries to disrupt the class by framing the disruption as a debate on the topic at hand while really proselytizing to the class, the teacher is (in most states) required to cut off the debate, and, if needed, remove the student. the Tennessee bill would allow teachers to allow students to continue proselytizing without risk of retribution. In the cases of teachers who oppose evolution (or any other theory), this gives them the opportunity to introduce a religious side to the argument, without any fear of legal retribution.
Oh … while Tennessee has a tenure law for teachers, it is so ridiculously easy to strip it that, for all intent and purpose, it doesn’t exist. Any teacher who now would oppose allowing these students to speak, run the risk of getting below average evaluations and losing their tenure.