Science Denial in Tennessee Public Schools

Archaeologists and historians of the future may one day look back upon our current times and define them as the Age of Denial.  Our American culture today is pervaded by various forms of denial.  Our Jewish friends contend with Holocaust denial.  Archaeologists contend with artifact collectors who live in denial about their destruction of archaeological context.  A considerable number of people live in denial about Islam being a religion.  Many parents live in denial about the safety of life-saving vaccines.  Even the President of the United States must contend with his millions upon millions of birth certificate deniers.  In the religious realm, we have Christians who effectively live in denial about many of the things that Jesus said and commanded.  Smokers live in denial.  Fifty years after the fact and after millions of saved lives, we still have seatbelt deniers.  Moreover, we have many millions of people who live in a persistent state of “fact denial” in the realms of the physical sciences, social sciences, and humanities.  We have American history deniers.  We have sex education deniers.  We have U.S. constitution deniers.  We have global warming deniers.  We have big bang deniers.  We have C-14 dating deniers.  We have evolution deniers.  In most instances, this vast landscape of denial is rooted in conservative politics and religion.               

In the summer of 1925, with the advent of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, our fair Volunteer State became the worldwide poster child for evolution denial, which only had the effect of further reinforcing the ignorant hillybilly cultural stereotype we had been stamped with since the Civil War.  We spent a good part of the 20th century trying to claw our way out of that predicament, and the Tennessee General Assembly finally repealed its anti-evolution Butler Act in 1968.  As Alistair Cooke noted in his America: A Personal History of the United States, the State of Tennessee finally saw fit to admit that man is a mammal.  Officially at least, if not always on the personal level, Tennessee appeared to have come to its senses with regard to evolution denial, and many of us had developed a sense that the Scopes Monkey Trial was so embarrassing that no one in Tennessee would ever be big enough of an idiot to put our state through that again.  Sensible, educated Tennesseans, including Catholics and many other mainline Christians, breathed a sigh of relief and rested on their laurels.

Until just last year, the State of Texas, under the leadership of its now infamous Texas State Board of Education (Texas SBOE), had become the newly recognized poster child for science denial on the world stage.  In recent times, most members of the Texas SBOE have been elected political hacks with heavy religious baggage.  A good deal of my personal time over the last 5 years has been spent in on-line support of an excellent grass roots organization known as the Texas Freedom Network, which has been fighting the evolution deniers on the Texas SBOE.  Along the way, we also discovered that most members of the Texas SBOE were emphatic and implacable big bang deniers, sex education deniers, global warming deniers, U.S. Constitution deniers, and American history deniers, who just happen to be very suspicious of Thomas Jefferson but deeply in love with a well-known historical pariah (Senator Joseph McCarthy).

Unfortunately, with the new Tennessee General Assembly and its passage of the Tennessee Monkey Law in 2012, some Tennesseans have made a strong bid to oust Texas and regain our state’s position as poster child for science denial on the world stage.  This law and its potential impacts have become a major source of concern for the science teachers at Oak Ridge High School in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  Just in case you are not aware of it, Oak Ridge High School is one of the best high schools in Tennessee, and it has a very solid science and math program, which is very much a necessity because the sons and daughters of many of the most brilliant scientists on planet Earth attend that school.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel ran a story yesterday about three science teachers at Oak Ridge High School and their own personal attempts to cope with the evolution denial, and science denial in general, that is increasing in Tennessee culture today.  The Archaeology in Tennessee blog herein offers our readers an opportunity to read the newspaper article on the three science teachers.  It is at the following URL:

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2013/mar/21/climate-of-denial-intimidating-for-science-told/?partner=popular

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