Louisiana State Senate Bill 561 is an “academic freedom” bill intended to push discussion of creationism, global warming denialism, and so on into state public schools. This is the latest in a long series of efforts of right wing fundamentalist christians to indoctrinate public school students in their particular religious (and political) beliefs.
In 1981, a law was placed on the books in Louisiana requiring that creationism receive equal time as evolution in public schools. The ACLU challenged the bill, and by 1987 it was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court because, obviously, it violated the constitutional protections provided by the Establishment Clause.
In 2001, legislation was considered that would have labeled Darwinian theory as racist, removing it from classrooms.
These blatant efforts to derail the teaching of good science and introduce a particular religious dogma into public schools don’t quite cut it any more. The case law prohibiting such shenanigans is very well established. So the new strategy, a form of the Wedge Strategy, is to pass legislation, disguised Trojan Horse fashion, as freedom loving free speech supporting “academic freedom” promoting law. This Trojan Horse style legal maneuver uses wording such as this:
…the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects. ..
school governing authorities, superintendents of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, to help students develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues. Such educational authorities in Louisiana shall also endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies. Toward this end, teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught….
If you look at that wording, it seems fairly benign and even well intended. Yes, we want our students to address important and interesting issues, to understand controversy, to question and criticize scientific results, not taking things on face value, or accepting knowledge purely by appeal to authority. We want our students to learn to think, not to learn by rote.
However, if you scratch the surface even a little, it is also clear that this language encourages and supports efforts that may be made by teachers to bring creationist texts such as Of Panda’s and People, or web-based literature such as that from Answers in Genesis, into the classroom as soon as students show an interest in this approach to questioning evolutionary biology.
But what are the chances of that happening? Will students ever bring up creationism in the classroom, and how many actual biology teachers would encourage a discussion of creationism, or follow up on students’ questions with, say, biblical texts or Young Earth Creationism literature?
What, are you nuts?
Well, under the present circumstances, students already do this. During the period in biology class when evolution is being taught, students already bring in bibles, pass out creationist literature, and harass the teachers to the point that their actions should best be treated as disciplinary problems.
But are any of the teachers in these classrooms going to go along with this?
Well, yes, for two reasons. First a LOT of life science teachers are actually creationists. Some, perhaps, because they are stealth creationists who have infiltrated the classroom in order to force their religious views down the throats of our innocent children. More commonly, though, I think it is because of two other reasons, perhaps in combination:
1) Biology is interesting even if you are a religious nut; and
2) Since biology is often taught with only passing reference to evolution (which is a bad way to teach biology, but happens all the time because of teachers’ fear of creationist students, parents, and school administrators) some people accidentally start down the path of teaching life science before they realize what they’ve gotten themselves into. That must be a depressing thing for such teachers.
Wall, that was a long introduction to the recent news, which is simply that some of the language specific to topic (creationism, global warming, etc.) has been removed from this bill. I do not know the exact rewording of the bill at this time (the new working appears not to be posted on the Senate site) but when I get it I’ll let you know.
Some of those in support of this bill are pissed that the wording is changed, others say the bill serves the same purpose. Some opposed to the bill say that this wording is better and they’ve withdrawn opposition. I’m reserving judgment until I see the whites of their eyes.