Louisiana has been the site of repeated battles over teaching creationism in public schools, so it was something of a surprise in November when members of the state’s Textbook/Media/Library Advisory Council voted 8-4 to support biology textbooks that uphold evolutionary instruction.
The flap started after members of the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), an influential Religious Right group in the state, announced opposition to proposed new science textbooks, claiming they give too much credibility to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
The LFF, which frequently promotes “intelligent design,” said the books were not in keeping with the Science Education Act, a Louisiana measure that allows teachers to introduce into the classroom “supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials” about evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.
Days later, in response to the LFF’s complaints, the advisory council met for a hearing to review the issue and make a recommendation to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Americans United and its allies in the state braced for the worst, fearing that the hearing would become yet another opportunity for the LFF to chip away at evolution and sound science curriculum.
Barbara Forrest, an ID opponent and member of the AU Board of Trustees, observed on her blog, “Past experience – which has been utterly and entirely consistent since the introduction and passage of the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) in 2008 – suggested that this meeting would be just another railroad job.”
Forrest, a Southeastern Louisiana University professor and co-founder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science, cited the state’s previous disregard for science education.
In 2008, the legislature adamantly passed the Science Education Act, after the measure was heavily pushed by the LFF. After that, the state allowed LFF activists to take control of a policy that would implement the Act as well as the review procedure for handling any future complaints over the “supplemental materials” to be used by schools.
This time, advocates of sound science education were ready. They sent representatives to the advisory council hearing to testify in favor of instruction about evolution. The Associated Press reported that most speakers at the hearing echoed that view.
“There is no major research university in this country that teaches intelligent design or anything like that. It is simply not science,” Kevin Carman, dean of the Louisiana State University College of Science told the AP. “We need our textbooks to be focused on what is scientifically accurate and not religion.”
A few weeks after the vote, a textbook committee of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 6-1 to approve the new biology books. The full board followed suit on an 8-2 vote Dec. 9.
AU’s Louisiana Chapter addressed the matter in December. In a letter to the board, Patti Garner, chapter president, wrote, “We understand that some public comments in this process suggested that evolution should be presented as controversial and intelligent design should be presented along with evolution. However, evolution is not controversial among scientists. And, as you know, the teaching of creationism in biology and other science classrooms has continuously been struck down by various state and federal courts. We ask that you not succumb to pressure and instead focus on the current and future needs of our state’s children by approving these textbooks.”