Sunday, January 18, 2009


Racing For the Bottom

It's definitely pile on Louisiana time.

There was the article "The Latest Face of Creationism in the Classroom" in Scientific American by Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott a while back that highlighted the creationist intent of Louisiana's misnamed Science Education Act. Among many other things, it pointed out:

A statement by a member of the Livingston Parish School Board who supported the Louisiana bill is instructive. After saying "both sides—the creationism side and the evolution side—should be presented," he explained that the bill was needed because "teachers are scared to talk about" creation. How plausible is it, then, that the law's provision that it is not to be "construed to promote any religious doctrine" will be honored in practice? As conservative columnist John Derbyshire commented, "the Act will encourage Louisiana local school boards to unconstitutional behavior. That's what it's meant to do."

Louisiana's business community has taken note of the article:

Many worry that Louisiana's notoriety for its positions on science education will impact not only the future of Louisiana's students, but the economic future of the state.

"For Louisiana to be identified internationally as having passed anti-science legislation is an economic catastrophe," Monroe attorney Charles Kincade said. "Future high-wage jobs will require excellence in science and math. Louisiana will suffer not only educational isolation, but economic isolation as well." ...

"Businesses that have left Louisiana have cited poor science and math education as a state problem," Kincade said. "This legislature and this governor have made an already poor educational system worse. Our children deserve to be taught real science."

Louisiana's best hope is that the Texas State Board of Education, poised to consider new science curriculum standards come next March [Update: according to the Teach Them Science website, the vote has apparently been moved up to the SBOE's next meeting during January 21-23, 2009], will make that state an even bigger laughingstock and take the heat off.

Lastly, there is this piece by James Gill in the Times-Picayune:

The impetus for the act came from peddlers of the fallacy that evolution and creationism are of equal scientific validity and that fairness requires students to weigh the competing claims of Darwin and Divine Providence. It was profoundly anti-intellectual, a denial of scientific truth.

The Education Department committee that drew up the rules for implementing the act did its best to head off the danger. The rules forbade biology teachers to "teach creationism or intelligent design or advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created mankind."

They also decreed that "Religious beliefs shall not be advanced under the guise of encouraging critical thinking."

That would have had the effect of thwarting the real intent of the legislation. Any doubt about that intent was removed when the religious faction had a fit over the committee's rules, which Mills denounced not only as "hostility" but "a cheap shot."

When the rules came up for approval by BESE, those paragraphs designed to ensure that science education stuck to provable fact were excised.

I've said it before: the surprising thing isn't that creationists are dishonest; it's that, with all the practice they've had, they aren't any better at it.

Update: And a bit more:
Education officials have defended the revision, arguing that it already includes language barring the use of materials that promote any religious doctrine. But Patsye Peebles, a retired science teacher who served on a committee that helped the education department draft the original policy language, thinks otherwise. "The creationists got what they wanted. We will have to redouble our efforts to educate our teachers and get them to teach good science," Peebles says.

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