‘Critical Thinking’ or Creationism in Tennessee Classrooms?
In fact, the main text of HB 368 is a revised version of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture “Academic Freedom Act” model legislation. The same text was the basis for bills that failed earlier this year in the Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, and New Mexico Legislatures. (A bill requiring schools to teach “a thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution” is still moving through the Florida Legislature, and the Texas House is considering a bill prohibiting discrimination against faculty researching intelligent design.)
The Center is a well-funded think-tank based in Seattle that promotes intelligent design and what it calls “neo-Darwinism.” The Institute purports to have no religious or political agenda, yet it has board members like Howard Ahmanson, whom the Washington Post says “once said his goal is ‘the total integration of biblical law into our lives.’” It also actively promotes what the Center’s website calls “free speech on evolution;” one page on the site states, “Groups like the ACLU are increasingly trying to use the federal courts to impose a gag order on honest discussions about evolution, and we must work aggressively to counter their efforts.”
When reached by phone, Casey Luskin, a senior policy analyst with the Center, confirms he assisted Fowler with the legislation.
“This is about science. It’s not about religion. And for people who don’t believe it, go read the bill,” Luskin says. Like Dunn, he sounds personally affronted that anyone would think the bill is about allowing teachers to discuss intelligent design in the classroom. “There is a widespread pattern of discrimination when teachers try to teach the science of evolution in an objective way,” Luskin says.
But Becky Ashe, the president of the Tennessee Science Teachers Association and the executive director of curriculum and instruction for Knox County Schools, says there is no discrimination. She says in her decade in the central office, no teacher has been disciplined for mentioning alternative beliefs to evolution in the classroom, and that teachers are instructed to make sure students feel like their beliefs are valued if they bring it up.