Victory In Louisiana!: State Ed. Board Approves Sound Biology Textbooks

It appears that the state of Louisiana has come finally come to its senses when it comes to science education.

The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) voted 8-2 yesterday to approve high school biology textbooks that teach sound science, despite complaints by creationists who felt the books gave too much credibility to the theory of evolution.

Earlier this month, many observers thought the BESE was planning to cave to the Louisiana Family Forum, a Religious Right organization that promotes creationism including its current variant “intelligent design.” In response to the LFF’s comments and concerns about the newly proposed biology textbooks, the BESE asked a Textbook/Media/Library Advisory Council to review the books and make a recommendation.

Prior to the advisory council’s vote, Americans United was gearing up for a fight. But we were pleasantly surprised when the Council voted 8-4 to urge the board to adopt the biology textbooks and disregard the LFF’s comments.

Then, on Tuesday, a committee of the board also recommended approval of the textbooks. Yesterday, the full board approved them.

The Louisiana Chapter of Americans United had submitted a letter to board members, asking them to approve the textbooks suggested by the Louisiana Life Sciences Textbook Adoption Committee and not heed the Religious Right’s demands.

“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,” the AU letter stated. “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.”

We’re happy that the BESE listened to reason and the scientific and educational communities. This is an especially sweet victory considering the anti-science climate we have previously faced in Louisiana.

In 2008, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the “Science Education Act.” The law, pushed heavily by the LFF, allows teachers to introduce into the classroom “supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials” about evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning. At the time, scientists and civil liberties activists, including AU, warned that this was just another attempt by creationists to sneak religion into public schools.

But at last, the state has done the right thing in heading off those attempts.

"The board's decision is a ray of sunlight," said Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, "especially because the creationist opponents of these textbooks were claiming – wrongly – that the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act requires that biology textbooks misrepresent evolution as scientifically controversial. It's refreshing to see that the board withstood the pressure to compromise the quality of biology textbooks in the state.”

While we certainly join in celebrating this huge win, we know the war over science education is still far from over in Louisiana.

As the Times-Picayune states, the BESE decision settles “the long-standing debate at the state level about how evolution should be portrayed in science texts,” but it still does not guarantee that local school districts will use the new textbooks in their classrooms.

Still, it’s nice to see that the LFF’s influence over public education is dwindling. Finally, Louisiana’s students can have a real chance at a solid education.