A Victory for Critical Thinking in TN

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An academic freedom law has just been passed in Tennessee that allows for dissenting views to be presented for controversial issues in science:

Nashville – Today Tennessee became the latest state to enact an academic freedom bill that protects teachers when they promote critical thinking and objective discussion about controversial science issues such as biological evolution, climate change and human cloning. At least ten states now have statewide science standards or laws that protect or encourage teachers to discuss the scientific evidence for and against Darwinian evolution.

Teachers in Tennessee are still required to teach according to state and local science standards. But under the law, teachers are allowed to objectively present additional scientific evidence, analysis, and critiques regarding topics already in the approved curriculum.

Critics claimed that this bill would promote religion instead of science, but this is simply not true.

“First, the bill expressly states that it ‘shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine,'” explained Luskin. “Second, in places like Texas and Louisiana that have similar legislation or science standards there has been no negative economic impact at all. Contrary to critics, no lawsuits have materialized in other states or districts with such policies in place.”

The point of the law is to allow debate, the kind that goes on in the scientific world but rarely surfaces to the public eye. I won’t get into the thick of the debate (because I truly don’t have time to be completely educated beyond a superficial level about the debate), but there is a debate among evolutionary scientists about the plausibility of Neo-Darwinism. Here Jerry Coyne criticizes James Shapiro, both professors of biology at the University of Chicago, both atheists, both at odds about the reliability of Neo-Darwinism. I also read a few weeks ago this article from Nature on Postmodern Evolution. Modern evolutionists apparently loathe these ideas (Evo-Devo), but some scientists are meeting and discussing how to address problems with the modern evolutionary synthesis has never been able to answer.

The point: there is debate in the scientific community concerning the strengths and weakness of theories . That debate should extend down through our educational system if we hope to have any real critical thinking development in students.

I won’t get into the lack of critical thinking developed in our educational system, in general, but a great book to read is Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto, voted NYC teacher of the year twice and NY state teacher of the year once. Upon receiving his last award, he resigned and gave a speech informing those present that he had to break all the school rules in order to achieve that distinction of “teacher of the year.”

Ok, it seems I am getting into it: for instance, he wanted to teach Moby Dick, so he ordered the official school curriculum. He received and saw that it had so much commentary that it was rendered useless. Why? It did not allow the student to read the original text, think about it, discuss it, regurgitate it, argue about, write their own words about it. That is critical thinking. Instead, the curriculum told them what to think about Moby Dick, just as students are told what to think about evolution.

So, read that book (a must-read), and thank God that teachers (now in 10 states) can have the freedom to discuss both the strengths and weakness of a topic with our future citizens.

3 thoughts on “A Victory for Critical Thinking in TN

    Brandt Hardin (@DREGstudios) said:
    April 13, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    This law turns the clock back nearly 100 years here in the seemingly unprogressive South and is simply embarrassing. There is no argument against the Theory of Evolution other than that of religious doctrine. The Monkey Law only opens the door for fanatic Christianity to creep its way back into our classrooms. You can see my visual response as a Tennessean to this absurd law on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2012/04/pulpit-in-classroom-biblical-agenda-in.html with some evolutionary art and a little bit of simple logic.

    klowery88 responded:
    April 16, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Hi Brandt, thanks for replying and sharing your blog. I disagree with you, and with your linked post. I provided links that highlight one particular dialogue/argument ensuing between Coyne and Shapiro, both professors at U of Chicago and both non-reliqious. Read them. Shapiro is making arguments *against* the slow gradualism of natural selection. The bill also states no religious doctrine will be taught. Your conclusion that this opens the door to “fanatic Christianity” is unfounded and just wrong.

    FireFang1331 said:
    April 18, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    I must say that I’m glad, and stop me if I’m reading this wrong, that there is someone else who doesn’t feel that it’s a bad thing to teach evolutionary science and encourage debate. I personally feel that the higher power, whoever he-she-they-it may be, actually planned on evolution in their creations inorder for them to survive and grow as they needed. So often people wish to seperate science and religion as black-and-white, yet I ask the question “Why can’t they be intertwined?” Why is it that people thing that if science proves something that it wasn’t by a higher power? Why can’t it be possible that a higher power actually intended for us to find this science so ‘they’ may share with us the miracles that have been created through not only ‘their’ hands but in a system that was set into motion long ago?

    I feel science and religion aren’t so seperated, and to see that finally some people are going to take the step to further our future generations knowledge and look on life is amazing to me. Debate builds critical thinking and makes you actually form opinions, which is a GREAT thing! It can also encourage others to speak up for themselves and build self-esteem and character(if done right). There is no harm in thinking over things and debating how people see things different. I personally love to talk to others, in a rational and civil manner, over different ideas and views. I find it interesting and sometimes find myself and those that I’m talking to shape each others ideas a bit and see things that we didn’t before! It’s a lot of fun and it can help teach children a lot of things as long as the debate is controlled and looked over. Basically don’t let it get out of control and turn into nothing but hate speech, but still let them talk over their ideas and WHY they saw it a curtain way. So happy to read that this kind of teaching and thinking is starting to spread! Thanks for sharing this, otherwise I would have never heard about it!

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