Monkey Man Make You Believe!

Years ago, my buddy Chris bought Pen & Teller’s book “Play With Your Food.” In it were some interesting bits of table magic — up close tricks you can use to amaze your friends while waiting on your chicken fried steak. One of the included bits were some fake fortunes to stick inside fortune cookies.

Once you mastered the skill of forcing a card on someone (that is, asking the mark to choose a card and then making sure he or she draws the one you want), you fix the fortune cookie with the fake fortune and guess wrong when you do the trick. The mark picks up the fortune cookie and inside is a message that shows the correct card along with a phrase:

“Silly skeptic, monkey man will make you believe.”

I was reminded of that when I saw this story about Tennessee Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) who introduced a bill to shield teachers from ignoring education in favor of religion. Meaning, if the bill passes, teachers will be free to teach creationism, rather than science in science classes.

Dunn said the bill, HB368, was designed to help students think critically. To Dunn, that means setting aside years of scientific research, experimentation and observation and allowing teachers to teach Sunday School in biology class.

And no, this isn’t a reprint from 1925.

It is so tiring to be from Tennessee when the Republicans are in charge. This bill will never become law, so it’s nothing but political theatre — a chance for Dunn’s cohorts in the GOP to pretend they’re working. Meanwhile, unemployment is critically high, the state budget is in crisis and we’ve got dumbass legislators trying to retry the Scopes trial.

And what if it does pass? Both my children have shown interest in careers that center on biology. This bill would be an anchor around their necks when it comes to college entrance exams, academic performance and advancement in their chosen fields.

But at least they would have been taught “the controversy.”

Here’s a hypothetical: Suppose you’re the CEO of a major corporation and are considering opening up a plant in either Tennessee or West Virginia. You’ll consider all kinds of factors when making this decision, one of which will be the quality of the public school system. You’ve got hundreds of employees with thousands of children who will need to be educated. Will you be willing to ask them to raise their kids in a state where science education is a joke? Hello, West Virginia.

The Tennessean, to its credit, ran an editorial critical of the bill. It pointed out that there is no scientific controversy surrounding evolution, only a political one. So teach the political controversy in a political science class. Teach intelligent design in church. Teach science in science class. It is ridiculous that we’re still having this conversation after all these decades.

Dunn says the bill will protect science teachers, but the Tennessee Association of Science Teachers says the bill is “unnecessary, anti-scientific and very likely unconstitutional.”

In reality, I can’t blame Dunn for pulling this stunt (and it is a stunt). When the legislature went Republican, you had a lot of wingnuts on the right scrambling to get their share of the limelight. For example, Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) has already introduced more than a hundred bills this session chock full of right-wing weirdness: banning Sharia law, removing collective bargaining and tenure for teachers and studying whether Tennessee should print its own currency to avoid the coming federal government meltdown.

There’s not a lot of room left for a right winger to make a name for himself. So, Dunn has staked his claim and he’s welcome to it.

There is a place in school for students to debate evolution vs. creationism, but science class isn’t one of them. Talk about it in history (say about 1925-26), talk about it in religious studies class or have the forensics team debate it. But leave the science curriculum to the scientists, not an agricultural extension agent from Knoxville.

I wouldn’t be so embarrassed about my state if stunts like this didn’t bring out the idiocy in the state house for all to see. Supporters of the bill couldn’t wait to display their ignorance:

Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, said when she was in high school, “we gave up Aqua Net hair spray” because of fears “it was causing global warming.”

“Since then scientists have said that maybe we shouldn’t have given up that aerosol can because that aerosol can was actually absorbing the Earth’s rays and keeping us from global warming.”

The earth has rays? Hairspray can save us from global warming? Scientists have said? It makes my head hurt to think about how many people in this stupid state vote for leaders who obviously aren’t fit to lead. I was talking with a reporter recently who told me her mother (who is a teacher) voted for Sen. Bill Ketron because he “was a good, Christian man.” When Ketron introduced legislation to strip her mother of tenure and collective bargaining, she had second thoughts. Was Ketron any less Christian for wanting to destroy the teaching profession in Tennessee? He’d say no, I guess. My point is you can be Christian and still not know what’s good for the state.

Evolution has been going on since the dawn of time. One day, I hope Tennessee catches up with the rest of the world.