The Tennessee state senate very quickly passed a bill that would promote the teaching of creationism/intelligent design in the state. I wrote this letter to the governor explaining one reason why I thought the bill was a bad idea. I decided to post it here as well.
Dear Governor Haslam,
I am writing this letter to you with the hope that you are a man of logic and reason. I don’t believe a person could achieve your status without these basic qualities, and at the very least your love of baseball serves as a testament to your fondness for statistics. I am writing you today about House Bill 0386. I doubt I am the first person to weigh in on this issue, but I would like take a moment to talk about why I think my opinion is relevant, and why this bill is ultimately detrimental to students in our home state.
I live in Nashville, where I am attending Vanderbilt University to get a Masters of Science in the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, specifically in the field of Paleontology. And as much as my presence resides here in Music City, so too do my earliest memories. My family moved here when I was six weeks old so my dad could go to medical school, also at Vanderbilt. Some of my earliest memories are playing near the medical campus at the Dragon Park (I honestly don’t know what its official name is). Moving back to Nashville has been an unexpected joy. I love this city, and I love Tennessee, and it is out of that love that I am writing to you.
This bill is a bad idea. I’m not writing to sell you on the merits of evolution or to bash upon intelligent design. If you really want to have that discussion, I am more than happy to talk about that, but the proposed amendment to Tennessee’s educational standards is much simpler than that.
Science is not a list of facts; it is a process by which we understand that world. The process is slow and iterative, but ideally improves with every experiment and observation. With that in mind, I can comfortably admit that scientists are wrong all the time; it is part of our job. I have actually never met a group of people more willing to be wrong, because if we were right about everything there would be no new areas of the universe to explore. This means that any science teacher worth their salt should already be teaching about the scientific method in a way that explores both the successes and failures of what science has taught us about the world we inhabit.
Allowing special interests to push forward legislation that singles out particular politically-charged theories does nothing but damage the educational reputation of our state. Just this week you announced funding for new schools designed specifically to promote STEM education, but if you sign this bill you may as well give back the money because what good are schools designed to promote science in a state that disregards scientific legitimacy.
The bill states that some teachers may not feel well-versed enough in the material to comfortably teach it. This seems a call to arms to help our teachers rather than hurt our students. And this bill will hurt our students. As an educator at the college level I am often dismayed by the lack of scientific literacy in the students I encounter. These students come from all over the country and I acknowledge that this is a problem affecting more than just the Volunteer State, but you in this moment have the opportunity to take a stand. Academic freedom should not include the freedom to teach falsehoods to students, and enough freedom should already exist to allow the teaching of the most up to date and accurate science, regardless of alternatively motivated controversy.
Therefore, I implore you not to sign this bill.
If you have any other questions, I am more than happy to talk further either through continued correspondence, phone calls (I can be reached at ###-###-####), or even a trip down to the state house to talk in person. Thank you for your time in reading this and I hope you make the best decision for our state.
Ryan J. Haupt