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Tennessee Academic Freedom Bill Backed by Scientists

Tennessee House Bill 368 will move to a vote by the House General Subcommittee of Education after expert testimony from scientists and educators who expressed their concern that students need to learn more about science and develop critical thinking skills.

Among those who testified in favor of the bill were Ph.D. biologist Robin Zimmer, Executive Director of Center for Biomedical Research in Knoxville, and Harold Morrison, a recently retired biology teacher with 30 years experience teaching evolution in public school biology class.

Dr. Zimmer has an op-ed today in the Tennessean supporting the bill's efforts to promote critical thinking, something he sees as necessary for good science education:


Mr. Dunn's timely amendment (HB 368) offers an improvement in our approach to science education. The bill simply proposes that public teachers be permitted to allow critical analysis of scientific theories within the public classroom. Two UT science department chairs testified in opposition to the bill. What strikes me as odd is how academic scientists could argue with an approach that, in all honesty, molded them into the professionals that they are today. What I am talking about is advanced critical thinking and analysis that lies at the very core of a scientist's world. A well functioning peer review system challenges a scientist's thinking and ensures critical and constructive discourse.

This is the scientific process. Why would we deprive our future scientists from understanding how to critically challenge and assess scientific theories?


According to the bill, this legislation would "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught." It would "create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues."

Those controversial issues include evolution, as the bill would protect teaching students more about Charles Darwin's theory, including both scientific evidence that supports and that challenges it. The bill only protects teaching scientific information and prohibits promotion of religious doctrine.