By a 6-1 voice vote Tuesday, a committee of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved several science textbooks for Louisiana public high schools - books that had come under fire from creationists and advocates of intelligent design who argue the textbooks are dogmatic about Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.By a 6-1 voice vote Tuesday, a committee of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved several science textbooks for Louisiana public high schools - books that had come under fire from creationists and advocates of intelligent design who argue the textbooks are dogmatic about Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. The vote is a huge win for proponents of mainstream biology education and a defeat for the Louisiana Family Forum, a Christian advocacy group that is the books' chief detractor.
"My immediate reaction is we are very pleased that BESE did the right thing, and we hope that today's decision is the end of the Louisiana Family Forum on Louisiana science education policy - that's my reaction," says Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University who has led the charge against LFF attempts to compromise science curricula. Forrest's 2007 book, Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (Oxford University Press), coauthored with biologist and University of Virginia Emeritus Professor Paul Gross, chronicled the creationists' systematic - and politically sophisticated - attacks on science curricula in public schools.
District 7 BESE member Dale Bayard, who represents Lafayette and southwest Louisiana, was the lone nay vote in Tuesday's proceedings. Earlier he explained to The Independent Weekly his rationale for voting against the textbooks: "Can you just swear on a stack of Bibles and bet your life [that evolution is correct]?" Bayard said last week, hypothetically posing the question to educator friends. "And they say, Absolutely not.' I say, Well then why do we print a textbook that says that? Why can't we provide the children with textbooks that provide objective educational methods to look at what's out there? Must we go out and do the research ourselves? We're going to spend $72 million with a textbook company, and they're not going to swear this is accurate?' They don't even want to put a disclaimer in their textbook."
The approval of the textbooks is not yet final; the full 11-member BESE must still vote on the books at a meeting Thursday.
"We're not going to take anything for granted," Forrest adds. "We're going to have some people there just to make sure that today's vote sticks."
Among those speaking in favor of evolution in the biology curriculum were the Rev. Patti Snyder, pastor at University Presbyterian Church, along with Associate Pastor Clint Mitchell. Students, teachers and scientists also spoke in favor of the textbooks.
"We had some very, very wonderful people there to speak - truly citizens of which Louisiana should be so proud," Forrest says. "I know I'm sounding like a proud mom," she adds with a laugh. "But these kids were just wonderful."
For more on the fight over biology education in Louisiana public schools, read Wednesday's Independent cover story, "Devolve: Creationists are jeopardizing science education in Louisiana public schools and once again making us the laughing stock of the country."