Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam declines to discuss controversial teacher bill

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam declines to discuss controversial teacher bill

March 19th, 2012 by Andy Sher in Local - Breaking News

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE - Scientists are in an uproar about the legislation, but Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today declined to weigh in on a controversial bill that would allow teachers to "review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" in theories such as evolution and climate change.

Haslam told reporters that he's heard about but hasn't seen the details of the measure, which is sponsored by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and scheduled for Senate floor debate later this afternoon.

"I don't know that I have any great insight there for you on that one," Haslam told reporters moments after announcing funding grants to create three more science, technology, engineering and math-oriented schools in the state, including one in Hamilton County.

As for whether state lawmakers should be setting standards on such issues, Haslam said, "I think it is a fair question as to what the General Assembly's role is. I think that's why we have a State Board of Education. I think the General Assembly, though, does represent people and their votes and thoughts matter there."

Watson said he has tried through an amendment to address the concerns of scientists, including a Tennessee-based Nobel laureate in medicine, who along with seven other state-based scientists attacked the original bill.

"The bill, again, simply reiterates that these issues are going to come up and they kick off debate and dispute and teachers should be comfortable engaging in that debate and dispute but at the same time remain within the framework of the state's educational curriculum," Watson said.

It is not an effort to introduce the teaching of alternative explanations advanced by religious and social conservatives, such as "intelligent design" to explain evolution, he said.

Josh Rosenau with the National Center for Science Education said "it's really hard to get too excited about the change" in Watson's bill.

Among other things, it changes the word "controversies" about scientific theories to "disputation."

"The structure of the bill is just flawed," Rosenau said. "It singles out science education for different treatment than other subjects" and treats science's treatment of evolution and climate change "as somewhat sketchy, which is not true."

Watson said that all discussions must occur within the "framework" of the state's science curriculum.

For complete details, see tomorrow's Chattanooga Times Free Press.