Something is rotten in the state of Tennessee. In mid-April, the Tennessee state Senate passed a bill banning the demonstration or promotion of “gateway sexual activity.”
The bill, which does not clearly define what “gateway sexual activities” are, has caused an uproar and made discussions of hand holding and kissing taboo in Tennessee schools. The bill updated other elements of the Sex Ed curriculum, or what Tennessee legislators call “Family Life Education.”
According to the new bill, parents now have the right to bring a lawsuit against any teacher who decides to teach students about contraception. The purpose of the bill is to reduce sex among teenagers. Ironically, it seems that Tennessee’s abstinence based program has done little to reduce rates of teen pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections among Tennessee teens. According to a 2012 report by Nashville Public Television, Tennessee has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the United States, and over one-third of the reported chlamydia infections in Tennessee occur among teens. The passage of this law caused me to question the motives of Tennessee’s politicians. It seems that this law was not designed to abate teen pregnancy rates, but instead to create a way for Tennessee’s politicians to please the state’s highly religious and conservative electorate.
This intermingling of church and state does not stop at the “hand holding bill.” Yet another bill was passed in Tennessee in April that allows teachers to “invite” their students to challenge the theory of evolution. It’s essentially an invitation for creationism and intelligent design to be taught in Tennessee’s classrooms Many have drawn comparisons between this bill and Tennessee’s 1925 Butler Act, which prevented public school teachers from teaching evolution in the classroom. The act was eventually overturned in 1967. While the new bill is not nearly as drastic as the Butler Act, the 2012 act is a step in the wrong direction.
I understand that some believe in creationism as a religious position, just as some reject the use of contraception and birth control because of religious beliefs. I don’t wish to bash people’s belief systems and advocate an atheist world, but I do believe that there is no place for pandering to religious voters in the classroom.
There is scientific evidence that evolution is real, just as there is scientific evidence that contraception reduces teen pregnancy and STI rates. These solid scientific facts are what matter and what students should be learning about. The First Amendment entitles every American a right to freedom of religion, but at the same time the amendment also calls for a separation of church and state. Students should not be subjected to the ulterior motives of pandering politicians. Students have a right to learn—and learn information based in fact. It’s no secret that Americans are currently engaged in a so-called culture war, however, there is no reason that such a conflict over competing ideologies should be dragged into the classroom.
Although conservative states, such as Tennessee, have been the most recent ones to adopt such fundamentalist legislation, a fundamentalist movement is alive in California. In response to the planned Harvey Milk Day on May 22, a “pro-family” and fundamentalist lobbying organization called Save California proposed that parents keep their children home from school. According to a video created by the group, parents should keep their children home from school because “children as young of five years old are at risk of being forced to honor and embrace values of notorious homosexual activist and sexual predator, Harvey Milk.” It’s been awhile since I last saw “Milk,” but I don’t ever remember any scenes portraying Milk as a pedophile. Save California, just like the legislators in Tennessee, have distorted facts in order to advance their own political agendas.
It’s a much discussed fact that American students are far behind their foreign counterparts when it comes to academic achievement. Pitfalls within America’s educational system has been a hot topic of debate this election season, with both Obama and Romney discussing their own plans to reform education. However, with laws such as those passed in Tennessee and groups such as Save California, it seems that American students could forever be left behind.