Thursday, November 11, 2010

Louisiana Politics over Science

The lovely State of Louisiana is under yet another attack on its education system, this time about its choice for Biology Textbooks. Please note that as part of a regular process a State appointed review committee has already finished and recommended several Earth Science and Biology texts. The decision by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) was delayed because of comments made about the presence of Evolution in the texts.

You might remember that something similar has happened in Texas and also South Carolina. In fact it really does parallel South Carolina (Ms. Kristin Maguire strikes) when the newly elected president of the state school board brought in two shills to make negative comments about the biology textbooks up for approval and dragged out the process for months while she held public hearings. In that case common sense and science won. In this case a panel called the 'Textbook/Media/Library Advisory Council', which even the Advocate refers to as a 'little known' panel, gets to weigh in with a recommendation. Where was this panel on all the other textbooks already approved?

The contention, voiced by members of the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF) -- drafters of the poorly named ‘Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA)’ -- is that there is too much Evolution in the textbooks presented for approval. Oh isn't that just too bad! A science textbook that presents a scientific theory is just too much for the LFF. But then when your own website says:

"It is our mission to persuasively present biblical principles in the centers of influence on issues affecting the family through research, communication and networking."
I can see why any mention of evolution makes them uncomfortable.

A couple of other responders to the issue complained about a noticeable lack of Intelligent Design! Well I certainly hope so, or Louisiana would be facing a Dover-style smack-down. Sorta like 1987 with Edwards v. Aguillard and also in 2002 when the BESE voted against the LFF's proposal to insert evolutionary disclaimers in textbooks.

Well not everyone in Louisiana is in favor of changing the textbook recommended by the original committee. The Advocate also published an opinion piece in favor of science over politics. I loved this:
"But it is the duty of the committee members not to be politicians — a couple of the members are state legislators — or representatives of public opinion. The committee members have a duty to reject intrusion of pseudo-science, such as creationism or its offshoot “intelligent design,” into science classrooms."
The comments with that article were almost all in favor of science, except for one who did the standard Creationist misrepresentation of what is a scientific theory.

Just a note, apparently the State Legislators in question are also the two who introduced the aforementioned LSEA to each of the Legislative houses. I think the cards are stacked against a quality education in Louisiana. I am not the only one concerned. One of my favorite reporters, Lauri Lebo over on Religious Dispatches, "Louisiana Citizens Horrified that there’s Evolution in Science Books" asked
"Anybody want to place a bet on what the panel will recommend?"

There may actually be some good news. Just today The Advocate reported
"A state advisory panel voted 8-4 Friday afternoon to endorse a series of high school science textbooks that have come under fire for how they describe evolution."
As expected 2 of the “no” votes were cast by Senate Education Committee Chairman Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, and House Education Committee Vice-Chairman Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe. Nevers and Hoffman were the chief sponsors of the LSEA in the Louisiana Senate and House of Representatives back in 2008.

We still need to keep an eye on this since this is only a recommendation and the actual final approval is slated for next month by the BESE. I am sure other LFF proponents will be campaigning, but hopefully with the original recommendations made by the committee who reviewed new textbooks being upheld by the Textbook/Media/Library Advisory Council will have sufficient weight. I wonder how long it will take the Discovery Institute to spin up a response -- or maybe they are still gun shy of Louisiana ever since Livingston Parish elected to go the Creationism route and avoid the bad idea known as Intelligent Design.

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