Monday, January 12, 2009


Taking One for the Team

Well, as I noted last week, the professional educators in Louisiana had been so far refusing to play along with the nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean that the backers of that state's version of the "academic freedom" boondoggle for constitutional lawyers had been expecting of all concerned. Now it seems the educators are getting out their bats and gloves (their balls are conspicuously missing) in preparation of a game or two. After the complaint by Gene Mills of the conservative Louisiana Family Forum that the earlier draft guidelines under consideration by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, for evaluating the "supplementary materials" permitted under the new law, were hostile to religion, there were revisions made:

In a letter to BESE members, Barbara Forrest of the Louisiana Coalition for Science, notes that a draft of the guidelines posted late last week on the BESE Web site deletes a sentence that had been included in an earlier draft: "Religious beliefs shall not be advanced under the guise of encouraging critical thinking."

"It is an important statement that will help teachers and administrators avoid costly legal challenges," Forrest said of the deleted language.

Forrest also zeroed in on language added to the guidelines: "Evaluations of supplementary materials shall be made without regard to the religious or non-religous beliefs and affiliations of the authors of supplementary materials."

The beliefs of the author of any material proposed for use in a science class are valid considerations for whether such material should be used, Forrest wrote. "There is a difference between a document that derives from a respected scientific organization such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an article found on a Web site promoting the idea, for example, that the moon landing was a hoax," Forrest said.
While the draft guidelines still contain bans against materials teaching creationism, intelligent design or that "advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind," as we saw in Texas just recently, the kind of "weaknesses" in evolutionary theory the sponsors of these laws envision teaching are the same old canards from creation "science," barely dressed up in pseudoscientific bafflegab.

With the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State promising lawsuits if any local boards use the new law to approve creationist (including Intelligent Design) materials, the state is more than likely going to need a good athletic cup.

Update: It seems that the LFF isn't satisfied yet:

Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, a former Ouachita Parish assistant superintendent, introduced the "academic freedom" bill, modeled after the Ouachita Parish policy, in the House of Representatives in April.

"There's just one part that I'm still unhappy with," Hoffmann said.

He wants removed a statement that says "materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science class,' is unnecessary in the BESE policy because that is already stipulated in the law on which the policy is based.

"Dr. Frank Hoffmann has expressed his own happiness with this policy," Forrest said. "My thoughts are that if Dr. Hoffmann is happy, we should not be happy."
You have to wonder why the proponents of the law don't want the guidelines to incorporate what the law itself states.

Update II: The LFF has now gotten everything it wanted:

A committee of the state's top school board today approved a new policy to help teachers comply with a 2008 state law to change the way evolution is taught in public schools.

The issue next faces action by the full state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Thursday.

The committee approved the guidelines after removing language that would have banned materials that promote creationism or intelligent design.

Educators noted that other parts of the policy would prohibit classroom items that promote religious doctrine. The topic triggered a 90-minute discussion.
Ironically, this may be good for the proponents of real science education, in that the committee's dancing to the LFF's tune can be powerful evidence of the Board's religious motivation in any later actions it takes or fails to take.

Update III: It looks like I was too quick to conclude that the LFF got everything it wanted:

[T]he BESE panel also stripped language that prohibited the state from evaluating whether supplemental materials can be used "without regard to the religious or nonreligious beliefs and affiliations of the authors of supplementary materials." [LFF's Gene] Mills had supported that language but opponents said authors' religious beliefs are a legitimate consideration of scientific credibility.
Still, it is quite clear that the Board is leaving itself open to litigation and diversion of scarce educational resources away from students and to constitutional lawyers. We lawyers may appreciate the gesture but it badly serves the students in the Board's charge.

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