When Louisiana adopted the Science Education Act, scientists and students lost out. It made room for the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in classrooms all across the state. At the expense of evolution theory, this religious dogma made it harder on students preparing for college.
So Zack Kopplin decided to fight back. Kopplin, a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is a student at Rice University in Texas. During his senior year in high school, Kopplin was offered the chance to do a senior project.
He decided to take a stab at repealing the misnamed act.
What Is the Louisiana Science Education Act?
The LSEA was conceived by the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), a conservative, faith-based organization, according to The Gambit. Its members claim that the bill "promoted critical thinking skills" and that it was religiously neutral.
However, this document, provided by the Louisiana Science Coalition, shows that it's anything but.
According to the LSEA, instructors must adhere to the textbooks, The Gambit reported. However, they can also supplement instruction with additional books and materials.
"It allows creationism to be snuck into public school science classrooms through supplemental materials meant to 'critique' politically controversial, but not scientifically controversial theories like evolution and climate change," Kopplin wrote to this reporter in an email.
The bill, signed into law on June 25, 2008 by Gov. Bobby Jindal, upset many in the scientific community.
The Society For Integrative And Comparative Biology canceled a convention planned for 2011, where 1,800 people were scheduled to attend. The organization considers the LSEA to be an anti-science initiative, The Gambit reported.
In an open letter to Governor Bobby Jindal, Society President Richard Satterlie said that the organization would do everything in its power to encourage other scientific organizations to boycott Louisiana and implored Jindal to repeal the bill.
The American Association For The Advancement Of Sciences (AAAS) represents 10 million scientists and is opposed to this law because it undermines the teaching of evolution, which is no longer considered to be controversial, according to the organization. The LSEA leaves an opening for questions about evolution and room for instructors to use supplemental materials to teach creationist dogma, including materials that haven't been approved by the state's Department of Education, the article reports. Evolution is widely accepted as fact by many scientists. According to this, 99.85 percent of American earth and life scientists regard evolution as a fact.
As Bill Nye noted in a video, there's a lot of "intellectual capital" in the U.S.
"People still move to the United States," he notes in the video. "And that's largely because of the intellectual capital we have, the general understanding of science. When you have a portion of the population that doesn't believe in that, it holds everybody back, really."
When creationism is taught in school, it takes away time from crucial studies.
"Students will not understand the fundamentals of biology and will misunderstand the nature of science if they are taught creationism," Kopplin wrote in the email. "They will be unprepared for college or to take jobs in places like the New Orleans BioDistrict or Baton Rouge's Pennington Biomedical Research Center."
This is one reason why Kopplin is trying to get the LSEA repealed. He's garnered very impressive support. Inspired by this young man's determination, Louisiana Senator Karen Carter Peterson sponsored SB70 in 2011 in an effort to repeal the LSEA. Kopplin also convinced major scientific organizations like the AAAS as well as an additional 75 scientists who are Nobel Laureates to back the repeal.
Unfortunately, the Louisiana Senate Education Committee shelved the repeal on May 26, 2011. Kopplin and Peterson gave it another shot in 2012, but that was also shelved. Undeterred, he and Peterson will try again in 2013. Hopefully they will succeed this time around.
Kopplin is tenacious. The LSEA mandates that schools must use textbooks that have been approved by the Louisiana Board of Education. If no new textbooks are approved, it gives the creationists a much stronger chance to slip more materials into the classroom, he said.
In a meeting with the Board of Education, he convinced them to adopt new textbooks.
"I stood up and spoke truth to power," he said. "We needed to adopt the textbooks and I was young and earnest and told the Board that. Sometimes having truth and justice on your side does make a difference."
Then creationists tried to pass a law that would allow school boards to ignore the State Board's decision regarding textbooks. Kopplin organized a telephone campaign and worked with his allies in the state legislature, including Senator Peterson. They filibustered, and the creationists were unable to gain the two-thirds majority that they needed.
Is a classroom a proper place to teach creationism or Intelligent Design? No. While a lot of religious folks accept evolution, it's likely that most wouldn't like scientists preaching evolution in their churches.
Kopplin, who recently appeared on Bill Moyers is documenting school voucher programs, which take money from public schools or other funding sources and use it to create funds for private schools.
"Hundreds of these schools across the country are teaching creationism and receiving millions in public money," Kopplin said.
Why Is It a Bad Idea to Teach Creationism in Public Schools?
- It discourages tourism, Kopplin wrote, citing the canceled convention mentioned above. In a troubled economy, is it a wise idea to discourage organizations that are likely to spend money and provide jobs?
- It also discourages scientists from coming to Louisiana. Dean Carman, the former Dean of Louisiana State University, testified before the Louisiana State Senate that some scientists left the university and that others decided not to accept job offers, due, in part, to the LSEA, Kopplin wrote.
Schools should foster curiosity about evolution. It teaches kids about man's place in the world. They shouldn't be drowned in mythical religious dogma.
If creationists want these unproven facts to be taught in school, then scientists have every right to teach evolution in churches.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.