Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Andrew Kramer

Committee Members

Graciela S. Cabana, Charles E. Caudill, Bertin M. Louis


Since the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) the topic of biological evolution has been controversial. While evolutionary theory is considered a foundational concept of the biological sciences, the role of the theory in public school science education remains controversial in the United States. In April 2012 the Tennessee Teacher Protection and Academic Freedom Act was passed, which provides protection for teachers who teach the “scientific weaknesses” of “controversial” scientific theories that include biological evolution, chemical origins of life, climate change, and human cloning—topics that are, according to mainstream scientific consensus, socially but not scientifically controversial. The law is based on the “Model Academic Freedom Bill” that was crafted, distributed, and promoted by the Discovery Institute. The purpose of this research was to explore the ways in which ideologies and rhetoric regarding American values and identity inform understandings of scientific inquiry and knowledge and influence educational policy and curricula. This project investigated the purposes and impacts of the Tennessee Teacher Protection and Academic Freedom Act through ethnographic analysis of legislative proceedings, interviews of legislators, and interviews of public and private high school science teachers. Interviews explored the perspectives of legislators and teachers regarding impacts of the law as well as attitudes regarding the influence of political, social, and religious ideologies on science education. This research is grounded in theories of social constructionism and Foucault’s power/knowledge. Data were analyzed using grounded theory methodology and rhetorical and political discourse and frame analysis. The data in this study indicate that the passage of the Tennessee Teacher Protection and Academic Freedom Act was an ideological victory for anti-science movements and that many of the ideologies that serve to maintain the momentum and salience of anti-science movements are only tangentially related to the scientific theories that these movements reject. Rather, these ideologies embody important American values and therefore serve to broaden the appeal of anti-science to a larger proportion of the population. These values include democracy and the rights of voters to determine policy, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and common sense and individualism.

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