Classic Who: Tennessee Decides It Is Not Backward Enough

The Dumbing Down of America Continues

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In the spring of 2012, we ran the following short article about the triumph of know-nothingism in education. And today the subject has never been more apt. Pending the confirmation vote, we will have an accomplished Climate Denier as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, plus every other manner of weirdly counter-intuitive choice for other cabinet positions. 

Possibly the greatest triumph of know-nothingness was the confirmation of Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary — a person with no relevant credentials whatsoever.

DeVos, a leading advocate for the charter school movement, says her mission is to advance God’s kingdom which she believes should be done by diverting taxpayer dollars from public schools to private, religious, or charter schools. (We wonder if she wonders how this will affect the 85% of American children who attend public schools.)

It doesn’t seem likely that God has been present in these charter schools:  According to an investigation by the Detroit Free Press, Michigan’s charter schools “rake in taxpayer money and refuse to detail how they spend it,” were “steering lucrative deals to themselves or insiders” and more charter schools were ranking below the 25th percentile than public schools. And even charter advocates say she is partly responsible for “the biggest school reform disaster in the country.” (To hear our podcast on DeVos, please go here.)

While the piece below is about Tennessee public schools, we do want to point out that the state has some very fine teaching institutions for example, Vanderbilt University.

We also want to note that a surprising number of people with lofty degrees from elite schools, like Harvard and Yale, peddle some pungent excrement of their own.

We are thinking of two in particular who attained very high office: one got his MBA from the Harvard Business School; the other went to the acclaimed Wharton School… or so he says.


The following article first appeared on WhoWhatWhy April 16, 2012

In the beginning, there was light. But then we became dim bulbs.

Anti-Evolution League

Anti-Evolution League, at the Scopes Trial, Dayton Tennessee. Photo credit: Mike Licht / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The other day, I saw two articles highlighted, separately, in the same publication. One mentioned that cases of dementia are destined to grow dramatically in America in coming years. The other explained how the state of Tennessee is intent on making students more stupid.

Tennessee has now passed a law permitting teachers to present students with alternatives to well-known scientific principles. The bill easily passed both houses of the legislature, and the governor let it become law without his signature.

Presumably he realized that he was in a difficult position — but aren’t we all? Louisiana has a similar law, and who knows what state will be next.

Why worry about our older citizens losing their minds on the one hand, while we’re rotting the minds of our children, voluntarily? Per Slate:

The new law bars schools and administrators from prohibiting teachers from “helping 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.” But, as the effort’s critics have been quick to point out, the only examples the legislation gives of “controversial” theories are “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

…The law’s supporters, including the Knoxville-based Center for Faith and Science International, argue that it promotes critical thinking skills. But opponents, who include the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Tennessee Education Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Association of Biology Teachers, argue that the new rules are essentially allowing teachers to depict evolution and global warming as scientifically controversial subjects, when the actual controversy surrounding them comes from the political and religious spheres, not from scientists.

Probably, soon, challenges to the earth being round…will get a good airing.

Not just an airing — America specializes in repackaging, artfully, the most improbable scenarios. Just as George W. Bush became a “compassionate conservative,” and making life even harder for poor mothers with small children became “welfare reform,” one Christian-preferring God planning the world, warts and all, for the rest of us, gets labeled “intelligent design.”

Keep in mind that Tennessee is the state that in 1925 held the infamous Scopes Trial — in which a high school science teacher was convicted of violating a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution. (The conviction was overturned, but only on a technicality.)

With almost no national conversation on these kinds of big steps backwards, it is worth asking: in the near-century since the Scopes trial, really, how much have we progressed? And who, oh who, will want to hire graduates of Tennessee’s educational system?

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Betsy DeVos (US House of Representatives).

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17 responses to “Classic Who: Tennessee Decides It Is Not Backward Enough”

  1. binra says:

    Established ‘scientific’ fact smacks of dogma hiding in a white coat supporting by a bigger budget that the military industrial complex. Science can deal with factual measured data – where the parameters of the data can be defined and ‘controlled’. But unless restored to its true vocation as the search for the dis-covery of the already true – it operates a technologism at best and a destructive dehumanisation at worst.

    The polarisation of any ‘debate’ is the breakdown of communication (by design?) in which truth is the first casualty. And war is then engaged as if to determine the truth! (This is identity politics in which investments are protected against loss).

    From a sense of truth ‘attacked’ comes the logical conclusion that such war is the truth of our nature, (or the nature of our truth), to which ‘science’ is harnessed as an elite priesthood of thought-control. Or indeed any other dogma dressed as necessity.

    Take any idea that resonates for you and feel into it as a working hypothesis and see what it brings you. Know them by their fruits. But in a world of blame, shame, and punishment, everyone masks their true presence to present an acceptable face relative to the situation at hand. And becomes identified in persona amidst a fragmentation of personae.

    Without active imagination, science would be starved of creative perspective and expansion.

    Science set free HAS to be free to explore and revise ANY presumed truth. But needs to do so in a way that is honest.

    This instant of awareness of existence is a gift ‘I choose to use’ in alignment or congruency with the joy of being as I am currently defining or accepting this to be. Is that ‘my’ choice or a gift in which I am identified within a willingness of relationship? Separation from “God” is in image or thought – and as such a self-conceit. yet religionsim and scientism both join forces to block that idea from being tested for its fruit. However truth is already true regardless of what names or symbols or models are used to represent (or misrepresent) what IS.

    The ability to smell a rat or ‘see what is wrong with another’, can also be misdirected to cherry pick and magnify so as to reject any worth or validity to anything that rivals or seems to oppose one’s own thought system. But if you WANT a true foundation, you will not be afraid to open your thought system to question – for what is true does not need defence against falsehood. But merely to bring the false to light. Only a lie needs protection against the true by the maintaining of darkness beneath a false light (be that religism or scientism).

    Who are you, what is your function, and why are you identifying in it? (whowhatwhy)

  2. Don Robinson says:

    Sounds like a classic slippery slope argument. Simply inform students that there is controversy and alternative views regarding some major issues (as there always has been) and we will eventually have to teach them that the world might be flat. Quit a stretch.

  3. johmill says:

    This is one of the most uninformed articles I’ve read in a long, long time. Forget facts or accuracy. It’s noting close to understanding the facts. It only chooses the facts it wants to support. Sad state of journalism here.

  4. Presbys Ergum says:

    ~~ Re your:
    “…DeVos, a leading advocate for the charter school movement, says her mission is to “advance God’s kingdom” — which she believes should be done by diverting taxpayer dollars from public schools to private, religious, or charter schools. (We wonder if she wonders how this will affect the 85% of American children who attend public schools.)…” —

    p’r’aps if there’s no money to fund the Zioni$t—$ocialist indoctrination of our kids in the GOOPES (Govt Owned & Operated Public Education $eminaries) the little yellow prison buses will not run and the kids will have an extended Holyday to study their own interests, at their own pace, and be more subject to family & community input….

  5. drewboyy says:

    Teaching kids to be objective on ANY subject is EXTREMELY dangerous…to the establishment. I applaud you for standing up against freedom.

  6. ORAXX says:

    The Idiocracy is upon us. No advanced nation on earth celebrates stupidity like the United States.

  7. Mackenzie says:

    Russ once again framing issues as “D vs R”. Yawn. How about instead talking about the dangers of federalizing education? (e.g. when special interests inevitably get control of it, there will be no stopping the propaganda). Sadly, Who What Why seems to always take the narrow view of things instead of considering deeper perspectives. (e.g. government is the only solution! And not just government but democrats like Barack “once had a dream” Obama)

    • Jeff Clyburn says:

      Vague assertions and straw men and are not really “exempli gratia.” Be more specific with your “dangers” if you want your conservative talking points to actually score.

    • Mackenzie says:

      You seriously can’t imagine the danger of this?!

      Government/corporations will have their thumb over children throughout their entire childhood. If you don’t “follow the company line” they can blackball the child as an adult. “Don’t you dare question the system or else!” “Take your vaccines or else!” “Let us micro-chip you or else!” “Believe in climate change so we can tax you for whatever bad things we tell you you’re doing! Or else!” “Don’t question authority or else!” “Report on your parents and/or friends if they ‘get out of line’ or else!” “Believe the 2nd amendment is bad or else!”

      I’m sure there are MANY more dangers. Now let’s hear your reasoning for why centralized control of education is a good thing.

    • Jeff Clyburn says:

      “Or else” what?

      Again, vague assertions mired in paranoia and mistrust of government without citing specific examples do nothing for your argument. Please do better, and link to a specific example where any of this has actually occurred.

    • Mackenzie says:

      “Again, vague assertions mired in paranoia and mistrust of government
      without citing specific examples do nothing for your argument.”

      So are you saying you trust the US government? The same US government that lied this country into the Iraq war? I can already hear you saying “but that was under a R”. How about when Obama tried to push this country into war w/ Syria? How about the mass surveillance of US citizens that has occurred under both R’s and D’s? How about Obama signing the National Defense Authorization Act, allowing the murder or indefinite detention of anyone (including US citizens) without due process of law?

      Have you ever read FOS, by the way? If so, how do you reconcile your line about “paranoia and mistrust of government” with Russ’ (brilliant) work?

    • How about those Betsy DeVos privately-owned schools, ie her and her family. IT works well indeed, hiring cheaper non-educated ‘teachers’ and pass on right wing propaganda (no thoughts of global warming, the only the rich are to have medical care, racial segregation, ie to the children), and each year just up the price of each child to bring in bigger income to the schools’ private owners.

    • Mackenzie says:

      I’m against the federalization of education. I don’t want any group (right wing, left wing or whatever) to have the power to propagandize children in large numbers. Yes if we keep education local there will be instances (maybe even a lot of instances) where kids get taught “backward” type stuff. But toward the other extreme (giving government control over education) is A LOT MORE dangerous (at least, in my opinion). In short, I don’t trust centralized power (be it from Betsy DeVos or someone appointed by “the left”).

      Side note: I think in this day and age, education should be a lot different (as well as a lot cheaper), due to the internet.

  8. Saint Howard says:

    And please consider these observations – (1) every attempt to create “artificial life” starts with an intelligent design for the materials and conditions of the experiment or process; and (2) every attempt to create “artificial intelligence” starts with an intelligent design for the hardware and programming brought together to help create the AI.

    If you don’t believe in G-d, then say so. But please don’t use false anti-intelligent design arguments to buttress your claims.

    • Mugly Wumple says:

      Feel free to promote Intelligent Design in your classes on religion but keep it out of science unless you can apply the rigors of scientific inquiry. Either that or you’ll need to redefine what it means to practice science.
      BTW, I don’t believe in your or anyone else’s god, nor have I seen any proof of its existence.

    • Saint Howard says:

      As you may know, anecdotal evidence has no place in “the rigors of scientific inquiry”. Therefore, whether you believe or not has no place on either side of this particular fence. But thanks for your comments anyway.

    • bruce shand says:

      Yes, humans are intelligent designers. So what? And seriously? You are reluctant to spell the word God? Will I now be struck by lightning or something?

    • Saint Howard says:

      “G-d” is the spelling used by many Jews.