The state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will take up further debate over how and to what extent Louisiana’s science curriculum in public middle schools and high schools will be invaded by the “junk science” of creationism. These new guidelines the board is setting could be finalized by this Thursday. “Backers said the law is needed to give science teachers more freedom to hold discussions that challenge traditional theories, including Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution,” The Advocate reported last week. “Critics contend the law is aimed at injecting religious themes into public schools.”
Called the Louisiana Science Education Act, the law was passed overwhelmingly by the Legislature last year. Its authors and proponents claim it merely allows local school boards to approve supplemental materials — in addition to state-issued textbooks — for public school science classes in discussing evolution, cloning and global warming. Sounds harmless, as though the only intention is for teachers to discuss the mainstream science of issues like evolution. But it’s not. “The law is intended to especially target evolution, to undermine the credibility of the science that supports it,” says Barbara Forrest, one of the founders of the Louisiana Coalition for Science (and a professor of philosophy in the department of history and political science at Southeastern and board member at the National Center for Science Education). The other subjects, while certainly topics the Religious Right does not like or support, are not the central targets. “They just threw that stuff in because they are constantly being accused of singling out evolution for attack,” Forrest says. “Evolution and the ‘origins of life,’ which is also in the bill, are the primary targets.”
For many of us interested and active in economic development and hopeful in a newly resurgent Louisiana — fresh from a (more or less) successful effort to reform its image as the corruption capital of the U.S. — this is not good news. It can’t be good news either for Secretary of Economic Development Stephen Moret who already has a difficult enough burden to attract the nation’s new technology-based entrepreneurs and their companies populated with some of the best and brightest talent. But his task will clearly be made much harder by this educationally regressive new law. Highly educated young professionals coming out of America’s top schools are not likely to cotton to the idea that their kids will be placed in public schools teaching this thoroughly discredited pseudo-science.
Why do we insist on Louisiana remaining the butt of Jay Leno’s monologue jokes? Aside from our reputation as one of the most corrupt in the nation (Illinois notwithstanding), we hold another dubious, perennial distinction: one of the nation’s most illiterate states. This attempt to pollute the teaching of science in our public schools with religious dogma does more long-term damage to ourselves than all the painful headlines about Edwin Edwards, David Duke or “Dollar” Bill Jefferson combined, because the damage is far more lasting. Is this the message of educational ignorance that we want to send prospective employers considering locating or relocating to Louisiana?
Ironically, as Gov. Bobby Jindal (who signed this dog of a bill into law) said, “We have to compete based on a skilled work force. We have to compete with states all over the country. We have to compete with countries all over the world.” Indeed we do. And corrupting our science curricula with 19th century “science” does not do the least bit of good for Louisiana’s economic development future or our children’s ability to compete in a very competitive world. Gov. Jindal and our legislators lacked the will or the wisdom to kill this bill before it became law; now the only barricade standing between our kids and this discredited religious dogma masquerading as science is the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. BESE needs to hear from you that this is a very bad idea.