The creationism ball is now in the Louisiana Senate’s court. At its next meeting on Thursday (June 16), the Senate Education Committee is expected to discuss HB 580 by Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, which would dilute the power of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and the Department of Education to select textbooks for schools according to the quality and appropriateness of the books. Instead, the bill would give local school boards the authority to select textbooks without the approval of any panel of experts.
The Louisiana Coalition for Science (LCFS) is asking Louisiana residents to call their legislators and tell them what they think about the bill — before a vote comes up in the Senate committee. The LCFS, of course, hopes citizens will demand the Senate kill the bill.
Ian Binns, an LCFS member and an assistant professor in Louisiana State University’s Department of Educational Theory, Policy and Practice told Gambit he will attend the committee meeting on Thursday to voice the LCFS’s objections to the bill, but he holds little hope his words will sway the Senate Education Committee.
“This particular bill is not specific to science textbooks,” Binns says. “It takes out the ability of the experts to determine if (any textbook presents) appropriate material. … How will BESE know that a parish or a teacher has chosen to use inappropriate materials?
"I make sure any student I deal with understands that science is not based on beliefs, but … on natural explanations. You don’t allow supernatural explanations into the classroom.”
In 2008, the Louisiana Legislature passed the Science Education Act (LSEA) — the only so-called "freedom of education act" passed by a state — which allows teachers to introduce “supplemental” materials into classroom discussions, basically opening the door for “intelligent design” (read: creationism) to be taught and evolution — a major principle of biology — to be questioned. Textbook selection and approval however, remained the purview of BESE and the Department of Education. A group of LSEA supporters last year failed to block BESE’s choice of new biology textbooks that include evolution as a premise.
Earlier this year, Baton Rouge high school senior Zack Kopplin started a campaign to have the LSEA repealed and was joined by 42 Nobel laureates. Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, introduced SB 70 to do just that, but the bill failed.
“I testified against [HB 580] when it was introduced in the House Education Committee on June 1,” Binns says. “My big question is: Why now? It was never directly stated, but my thought is that it’s because of the textbook adoption in the fall for science textbooks. … When [Hoffmann] was directly asked if it would allow creationism in the classroom he said, not ‘creationism’ per se.”
Binns says the LCFS’ fear is that the new bill will allow “inappropriate understanding of other areas, not just science.”
“By undermining these types of processes (the selection of appropriate textbooks by a panel of experts), we’re not doing anybody any good. … I know the odds are against us (persuading the committee to kill the bill), but I’m not going there with that mentality. I’m going there with the hope that it will work.”