I Think Louisiana Just Won the Race to the Bottom

Ah, Louisiana … home of the taxpayer-funded Accelerated Christian “Education” program, which tells children that the Loch Ness Monster exists, dinosaurs were fire-breathing dragons, and that there is “serious debate” among scientists as to whether evolution is real.  I weep for your children.

As if publicly funded creationist propaganda isn’t enough, it also passed a law a few years back – the “Louisiana Science Education Act“:

“… to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

Why in the world would a Bible Belt state legislature want to put into law something schools do anyway, but only point out specific “controversial” topics in the bill?  Let’s read on:

C.  A teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the city, parish, or other local public school board unless otherwise prohibited by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Image: Lauren McGaughy, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.

“But wait,” I hear you cry.  “This isn’t all that bad.  It’s just a law to allow teachers to bring in outside material to help with their coursework.”  Well, if it were that simple, there would be no need for a law to protect their activity; they would just do it with the blessing of the school.

The entire reason for the legislation, is because of one specific source of teaching material mentioned therein:  the parish.  By enshrining this seemingly innocuous activity into law, they are legally protecting teachers who wish to teach pseudoscience like creationism or climate change denial by allowing them to get their “science” coursework straight from places like the church … or worse.

[EDIT:  hey, did you know that Louisiana doesn't have counties, but administrative divisions they call "parishes" that are throwbacks from French colonial days?  You probably did; I sure as hell didn't.  So while the wording of the bill sounds a bit less overtly dangerous, its interpretation on the part of some lawmakers and the governor himself still make it so.]

If you think I’m going too far out on a limb on this one, let me give you testimony from both sides of the aisle.  First, we have Democratic Senator Elbert Guillory (D-Opelousas) endorsing faith healers based on his individual personal experience …

[Guillory] said he had reservations with repealing the act after a spiritual healer correctly diagnosed a specific medical ailment he had. He said he thought repealing the act could “lock the door on being able to view ideas from many places, concepts from many cultures.”

“Yet if I closed my mind when I saw this man — in the dust, throwing some bones on the ground, semi-clothed — if I had closed him off and just said, ‘That’s not science. I’m not going to see this doctor,’ I would have shut off a very good experience for myself,” Guillory said.

In the dust, throwing bones on the ground, semi-clothed.  YOU’RE RIGHT. THAT IS MOST CERTAINLY NOT SCIENCE.  Well okay, look … if this guy is actually doing something useful and it works, then have him draft a paper for peer review in the New England Journal of Medicine.  Don’t politically bypass the best method we have for scrutinizing this stuff because he happened to be right this time around.  How many times has he been wrong?  Do you even know?  Do you care?

I bet he didn’t even activate your DNA.

Not only do we have Elbert and Dr. Loincloth, but Governor Bobby Jindal himself concurs with the creationist interpretation of the law that its opponents are so afraid of:

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal recently expressed his support of the Act, essentially admitting that it’s a way to get creationism into science class. In response to a question by NBC’s Hoda Qutb, Jindal had this to say:

“We have what’s called the Science Education Act that says that if a teacher wants to supplement those materials, if the school board is okay with that, if the state school board is okay with that, they can supplement those materials… Let’s teach them — I’ve got no problem if a school board, a local school board, says we want to teach our kids about creationism, that people, some people, have these beliefs as well, let’s teach them about ‘intelligent design’…What are we scared of?”

It all depends on where you want to do it.  Given the name of the law – the “Science Education Act”, you’re not talking about a philosophy or comparative religion class.  You’re talking about shoving Young Earth Creationism into the science classroom and claiming it has just as much validity as scientific theory.  If you want to bring it into the science classroom to show everyone how such things don’t even qualify as testable hypotheses much less theories in anything but the colloquial sense, then that’s OK, I guess.  Anything that grants it legitimacy, though, is out of the question … and any politician with a basic education should know that.

Any rational minded person – religious or not – should be scared of this prospect.  Legislation like this undermines the role and significance of science when discussing issues that – while not controversial – are politically inconvenient for the Republican Party and conservative Christians.

Yet the third attempt to repeal the law has failed.

Bill 26, which was sponsored by Senator Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans), was defeated by a narrow vote of 2-3 in the Louisiana Senate Education Committee. The vote came after hours of testimony, including a formal statement made by Kopplin. Peterson sponsored the identical SB 70 in 2011 and SB 374 in 2012, which were defeated 1-5 and 1-2 respectively.

The repeal effort was supported by numerous high profile scientists including 78 Nobel Laureates, as well as science education groups who see this as yet another effort by Christian politicians to undermine the scientific community in the classroom.  They remained unsuccessful, but optimistic that they will succeed within the next couple of years.  Here’s hoping.

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6 Responses to I Think Louisiana Just Won the Race to the Bottom

  1. dam says:

    Nice post. It explains the behavior of some of the folks I know from that state. I say leave Lousiana be….Their public education ranks near the bottom of the scale and the # of students who take the SAT is around 7%. They are so far gone anyway….

    • That’s not fair to the kids who have to go through the system, though. They’re going to be brought up in a curriculum that – depending on the instructor – may teach them that the stories in the bible are just as valid as the findings of the scientific community, and that anthropogenic global warming is a hoax. To so thoroughly cripple their ability to distinguish fantasy from reality at such an early age and then continue it through to their college years will have devastating effects not just for the state, but for entire regions of the country. See some of my links in the other thread (below) to see similar laws passed in Oklahoma and Tennessee.

  2. Dan Adler says:

    While I’m with you on this one, I need to point out one word that seems to have triggered you. That word, in the legislation, is “Parish”. In Louisiana, this does NOT mean “church Parish”. Louisiana doesn’t have counties, like other states. They have parishes. This is a hold-over from their French-colonial days. So when you see the word “parish” in Louisiana legislation, just substitute the word “county” when reading.

    • Huh … didn’t know that. It makes things a little more unsettling as to how readily one lawmaker and the governor himself interpreted this law to include completely un-scientific “sources” like bone-throwers and creationists.

      • Dan Adler says:

        Oh, I doubt there’s a member of the Louisiana political establishment (including those few Democrats they have in office) who knows shit-all about anything scientific. They probably all still think that fire is a modern invention that comes straight out of the bible. But parish, in the case of this legislation, isn’t a religious term. Just wanted to clear that up (and see if it did anything to your interpretation of the bill).

        • I still remain highly skeptical of bills / laws that are worded this way because of how they’ve been used in the past by politicians in primarily southern or “flyover” states. As a standalone law, it’s seemingly innocuous, making one wonder why it’s even needed. Unfortunately, there is always some conservative lawmaker shooting his mouth off about it, saying that this will go a long way to “teaching the controversy” or that it’s needed to make sure students have the right to argue with their teacher about a supposedly controversial topic … when that topic is only controversial to people for whom the facts are politically inconvenient. Just look at Oklahoma. Or Tennessee.

          At this point I just don’t trust them. Any time I see a conservative lawmaker or state start pushing something with the phrase “critical thinking” in the text, I get an uneasy feeling … and it’s not long after I begin hearing the thumping of bibles off in the distance.

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