Louisiana does not have the best relationship with evolution — I should know; I grew up there. In fact, a challenge to Louisiana’s equal-time law for “evolution-science” and “creation-science” led to the seminal 1987 US Supreme Court decision that “creation science” is not science but religious dogma, and therefore could not be taught in public classrooms.
This decision has shaped biology instruction more than 20 years. But instead of resulting in a more focused discussion of evolution, many teachers chose to simply stop teaching it altogether. This was the case when I was in middle and highschool in Louisiana. Although I had great biology teachers, apparently none had the wherewithal to defend science strongly before religiously motivated administrators and parents.
Then, in 2009, the Louisiana legislature passed the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA). On the surface, this act assists teachers in developing lessons that promote critical thinking skills in science. In reality, however, the act undermines science education by singling-out evolution, climate change, and cloning for special emphasis, despite the fact there is not scientific controversy surrounding these issues. The act allows teachers to use materials other than the standard textbook to “supplement” science education in these areas. Although the bill states that these materials should not promote particular religious beliefs, the addition of “supplemental” materials is widely accepted as a back door that will allow teachers to include religious dogma in their discussions of evolution.
As proof that the LSEA is about religion and not science education, the language of the bill was written by the conservative and creationist organizations the Louisiana Family Forum and The Discovery Institute. And this is what the Livingston Parish School Board member David Tate had to say about it:
“We let them teach evolution to our children, but I think all of us sitting up here on this School Board believe in creationism. Why can’t we get someone with religious beliefs to teach creationism?”
To which board member Clint Mitchell added:
“I agree … you don’t have to be afraid to point out some of the fallacies with the theory of evolution. Teachers should have the freedom to look at creationism and find a way to get it into the classroom.”
Up to now, my response to this sort of thing has been to groan. And, like many others, I felt I had to leave Louisiana to pursue my education and research interests.
But enter Zack Kopplin, a high school student in Baton Rouge with the corage to do something about it.
Zack is leading an effort to repeal the LSEA. Instead of leaving, he is fighting for the education and training that the state legislature is trying to deny him — against the recommendation of scientists and educators. His website, www.repealcreationism.com includes lots of information and testimony on the repeal effort.
It is ironic that public schools neglected science and evolution education in the early part of this 20th century, up until the moment sputnik was launched and we realized how important science and engineering would be to our future. President Obama has called for another sputnik moment. Hopefully sound science education can return.
And for leading the way, Zack Kopplin, you are my hero.