Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Stupid Legislator Tricks
The Louisiana House of Representatives advanced that state's version of the Discoveryless Institute's Trojan Horse "academic freedom" bill. You can find the bill and the House's amendment here.
Without minimizing the potential mischief this bill could do if it becomes law, it is, of the legislation considered by various states so far, the one that affords the best chance for advocates of good science education to counter any bad effects. As it stands now (and remembering that there may be further changes made during whatever "reconciliation" procedures the Louisiana legislature has), the bill reads, in relevant part, as follows:
The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, upon request of a city, parish, or other local public school board, shall allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators 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.
Such assistance shall include support and guidance for teachers regarding effective ways to help students understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review scientific theories being studied, including those enumerated in Paragraph (1) of this Subsection.
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.
The State Board must also implement (presumably written) support and guidance for such a plan which, when read with the State Board's power to prohibit any material other than already approved textbooks, gives a second opportunity to oppose the insertion of creationism ... if need be, by court action, should creationist materials be approved for use. (It should just be noted that the law gives an extremely short date, the fall 2008 opening of school, to have this all in place, which might signal that the legislators aren't serious about getting it passed in both houses before the session ends on June 23, 2008.)
Even if, as Barbara Forrest states, the State Board would not have the ability to review and block all nonscientific materials, any supplementary materials used must be approved by the local boards, again in open session, giving another opportunity to oppose the materials or bring suit if creationist materials are approved.
Finally, the actions of individual teachers may actually be easier to control under this scheme. Under the law, local teachers are required to teach the material in the approved textbooks. As the recent survey of high school biology teachers showed, the biggest problem in science education today may be that teachers are simply avoiding teaching evolution. If teachers in the local school fail to teach evolution or try to introduce materials not approved ahead of time by the local board or fail to follow the State Board's guidelines, a simple demand to the school authorities that the teachers stop violating the law might be enough to curtail the practice and, if not, then the school district and local board can be more easily sued for failing to enforce the requirements of law.
This law could turn out to have a very sharp double edge for the creationists.