According to the Huffington Post, a bill is about to be enacted into law in Tennessee which intends to offer protection to teachers who want to encourage their students to explore “controversial” scientific perspectives. I’ll quote Huff Post quoting sections of the bill and then offer some commentary:
In an effort to cultivate “intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens,” the bill first claims that subjects “including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” are controversial. To accommodate those who are unsure of how to teach these fields of study, as well as the “differences of opinion about controversial issues,” the legislation encourages teachers to help students “understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories.”
Critics worry that this will set the stage for “creationism and intelligent design” to be taught in the schools.
Personally, I think intelligent design ought to be a discussion point in schools. For example, students should be taught about inference to the best explanation and then encouraged to reflect on what kinds of explanations are considered legitimate in science. In particular, are intelligent explanations considered legitimate inferences to explain some phenomena? Or perhaps all? Under what conditions? These are questions of the philosophy of science which touch on important issues like methodological naturalism. The topic is readily accessible to students and it is worth discussing.
As for the logic of this bill, now that’s another story.
Think about a bill like this directed to any other knowledge discourse.
Imagine a bill that aimed to protect professors wanting to encourage students to dissent from the consensus of scholars in areas of English literature Just imagine:
Billy Bob: “I don’t think Shakespeare wrote all his plays Mr. Kaminski!”
Mr. Kaminski: “Tell us more about your views Billy Bob!”
Billy Bob: “Well I saw part of a documentary on the History Channel…”
Yes, why bother studying Hamlet when you can hear Billy Bob’s half-baked recollections of a History channel “documentary”. What a great way to cultivate intelligent, productive, and informed citizens.
How about history? The ironic potential of that application is worth a belly laugh:
Betty Sue: “Ms. Jones, I don’t think Jesus existed at all.”
Ms. Jones (nervously): “Really?”
Betty Sue: “Yeah, I read a blog post on the Internet Infidels….”
And how about medicine? The potential in the tobacco growing south is enormous:
Clem: “Missus Appleton that Surgeon General is blowin’ smoke. Tobacco don’t cause cancer. I read so on the internet.”
And what about auto shop? Imagine, students who spent their time questioning the basic principles of auto mechanics and who now are volunteering to work on your brakes and change your oil.
Algebra? Spanish? Social studies? Typing? The possibilities are endless.
I may think this bill is ridiculous, but if Tennessee is going for it they should be all in. Encourage students to question every consensus for one year and then see how intelligent, productive, and informed they are.