Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam Tuesday said that he would allow the evolution bill to become part of the state laws, despite the efforts of many, including Vanderbilt's Dr. Larisa DeSantis, to stop the legislation from passing.
The bill allows for classroom debate over the theory of evolution. Though Governor Haslam said he opposes the bill, he does not have the required votes to successfully execute a veto override. Haslam said he does not predict any major changes will result in spite of the new law.
“I do not believe that this legislation changes the scientific standards that are taught in our schools or the curriculum that is used by our teachers,” Haslam said in an interview with the Tennessean. “However, I also don’t believe that it accomplishes anything that isn’t already acceptable in our schools.”
DeSantis, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt University, launched a petition in an effort to defeat the bill.
“Essentially the legislation permits teachers in public schools to teach the controversy of evolution and climate change in terms of scientific literature; however, there is no real controversy on whether either occurs," DeSantis said. "The argument is over how things are related. The problem is that there is a perception that there is controversy.”
While Governor Haslam believes that there will be no significant impact in the classroom setting, Professor DeSantis said she disagrees.
“The bill brings political controversy into the classroom and teaches the weaknesses of topics where there are none,” DeSantis stated. “Teaching alternative ideas that are not in scientific literature takes away from the core curriculum, which will negatively impact the student’s ability to understand sound science.”
A similar type of legislation to the evolution bill had been passed in Louisiana in 2008; however, its implementation has been slow and the impacts have yet to be realized.
DeSantis said that as a result of the bill, she worries about the future of the public school system in Tennessee regardless of the lack of impact in Louisiana to date.
“Because of the press surrounding the past Monkey bill, the evolution bill now makes it look as if Tennessee has moved backwards instead of forwards in terms of science education,” Desantis said. “Students are going to have to make decisions about climate change, and now that evolution and climate change can be taught as controversies will negatively impact students’ understandings of core concepts.”
DeSantis quoted Theodosius Dobzhansky to emphasize the need for evolution and climate change to be taught as fact, not controversy: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”
“Anything that takes time away from teaching sound science is going to hurt students and their abilities to understand the rest of science,” DeSantis said.