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The Republic: “Senate panel rebuffs repeal of La. Science Education Act, criticized as promoting creationism” Louisiana’s Science Education Act weathers challenge.
The Senate Education Committee for the second straight year has rejected a proposal to repeal Louisiana’s groundbreaking Science Education Act of 2008. The effort to repeal the bill was rejected 2-to-1. Louisiana led the way for similar academic freedom laws in other states, the most recent being the Tennessee Teacher Protection Act, which went into effect April 20.
Louisiana’s law (LSEA) encourages school officials to “foster an environment within the public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”1
Under Louisiana’s law, teachers must “teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.”2
Zack Koppelin, a graduate of Louisiana’s public schools who is now a college freshman, declares, “These supplemental materials will be creationist materials.” Koppelin says the LSEA “opens the door for the unconstitutional teaching of creationism to be snuck [sic] into public school science classes under the guise of letting teachers provide supplemental materials to critique evolution with absolutely no oversight.”3 Without academic credentials or professional experience, freshman Koppelin was nevertheless allowed to share his opinion with the senators during his testimony before the committee and said that “the law was hurting Louisiana’s reputation.”4
Despite such accusations that LSEA sanctions religious teaching in science classrooms—as depicted last year in a Doonesbury cartoon5—the LSEA does not permit teachers to promote any religious doctrine, and the information they present must be “scientifically sound and supported by empirical evidence.” State and local school officials are encouraged by the LSEA to offer teachers guidance in choosing these materials. Furthermore, materials (such as lists of thought-provoking questions at www.textaddons.com) are readily available to encourage critical thinking skills in the analysis of controversial scientific positions.
“Repealing the Science Education Act would show no benefit for children, has no evidence that it would improve educational outcomes across the state, and all it would do is seemingly limit educators’ ability to teach other viewpoints in their classrooms.”
The Louisiana governor’s office stands behind the LSEA. Governor Jindal signed the bill into law in 2008. Regarding the recent attempt at repeal, the governor’s representative stated, “Repealing the Science Education Act would show no benefit for children, has no evidence that it would improve educational outcomes across the state, and all it would do is seemingly limit educators’ ability to teach other viewpoints in their classrooms.”6
Since LSEA went into effect, according to Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum Action, “To date, not a single complaint has been filed, not a single school board has moved to address a related concern and not one lawsuit is on record to correct inappropriate action on behalf of a Science Education Act infraction!”7 The Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel and an education department official confirmed that there have been no complaints about creationism being taught. “In other words,” as Mills told the committee, “this repeal that is before you today is a political solution in search of a problem.”8
Ironically, those that oppose allowing teachers to teach students to critically examine controversial scientific ideas typically deny any controversy exists. For example, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) claims LSEA “opened the door for scientifically unwarranted criticisms of evolution and climate science to be taught.”9 (As we discussed in our coverage of Tennessee’s Teacher Protection Academic Freedom Act,10 even secular scientists disagree about these issues, and scientists and teachers willing to examine the scientific weaknesses of popular positions do not forfeit their credentials.) Yet opponents of laws protecting academic freedom must vociferously maintain—amid all the controversy—that no controversy actually exists. Why? Because discussion of “scientific critiques” of “any explanation of life”11 are legally discussable in public school classrooms. The ACLU has said so. Thus, to stifle discussion and restrain academic freedom, experts who hold popular opinions must declare, in effect, “Science has spoken, we believe it, that settles it.”
Incidentally, the United States Supreme Court has made clear in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) that “teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction.” And that—the teaching of critical thinking skills—the ability to objectively analyze even the most popular scientific notions—is the goal of the LSEA and similar laws springing up around the country. What better way to raise up a generation of creative scientists, problem-solvers able to think “outside the box”?
We are obviously pleased to hear the LSEA and the academic freedom it represents have survived this challenge. That said, we remind our readers that we have never suggested public school teachers should be required to teach creation. Such a policy would not only violate existing laws, it would be counter-productive to insist an instructor with an evolutionary worldview abandon it to teach a creation science position.
Questions about origins are matters of historical, not observational, science. Every person has a bias affecting the way he or she interprets scientific evidence concerning origins. We encourage Christian parents and churches to teach not only critical thinking skills but also the truth of the Bible as God’s Word. At church and at home, students need to be taught that the Bible is confirmed by science even while they are given the freedom to critically examine conventional textbook content at school.
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