The effort to move Louisiana's education system into the 21st century has recently taken a big step forward -- and it has generated some very impressive support.
On 15 April, State Senator Karen Carter Peterson introduced SB 70. Her bill is as simple as it is critically important. If enacted, SB 70 would repeal the embarrassingly misnamed Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), a piece of legislation that was enthusiastically endorsed by creationists and that has opened the doors of Louisiana's classrooms to pseudoscience.
Senator Peterson's efforts to repeal LSEA have just received a huge boost: 42 Nobel Laureates from across the various fields of science have sent a letter to the Louisiana legislature urging them to vote to repeal LSEA. They state their case clearly right from the opening paragraph:
As Nobel Laureates in various scientific fields, we urge you to repeal the misnamed and misguided Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) of 2008. This law creates a pathway for creationism and other forms of non-scientific instruction to be taught in public school science classrooms.
Their letter continues by noting that attempts to bring creationism into Louisiana schools are not new, and that opposition by Nobel Laureates is also not new. Indeed, an equally impressive array of Nobel prize winners signed an amicus brief in the Edwards v. Aguillard U.S. Supreme Court case. In that case, the Supreme Court sided with the Laureates and ruled Louisiana's "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction" act unconstitutional.
It is amazing that now, 24 years later, with the evidence supporting evolutionary theory having grown exponentially with major advances having occurred in genetics, molecular biology, developmental biology and paleontology, to name just a few fields, the attacks on science education from non-specialists remain unabated.
The current letter by the Nobel Laureates ends as persuasively as it began:
Scientific knowledge is crucial to twenty-first-century life. Biological evolution is foundational in many fields, including biomedical research and agriculture. It aids us in understanding, for example, how to fight diseases like HIV and how to grow plants that will survive in different environments. Because science plays such a large role in today's world and because our country's economic future is dependent upon the United States' retaining its competitiveness in science, it is vital that students have a sound education about major scientific concepts and their applications.
We strongly urge that the Louisiana Legislature repeal this misguided law. Louisiana students deserve an education that will allow them to compete with their peers across the country and the globe.
The Nobel Laureates are not alone in calling for repeal of LSEA. With SB 70 not even a week old as of this writing, it has already been endorsed by the Louisiana Association of Biology Educators as well as their "parent" organization, the National Association of Biology Teachers. Additionally, The Clergy Letter Project, an international organization of more than 14,000 clergy and scientists, has also thrown its support behind the repeal effort. More scientific and religious organizations are likely to follow suit.
With some of the world's best scientists, leading clergy members and talented educators opposed to LSEA, you might think that repeal would be easy. But, if you thought that, you'd be wrong. When LSEA was originally enacted, its loudest supporter was Louisiana Family Forum, a group "affiliated with Focus on the Family" and whose mission "is to persuasively present biblical principles in the centers of influence on issues affecting the family through research." Louisiana Family Forum is a major player in Louisiana politics and many state politicians find it difficult to go against its extremist agenda.
As I pointed out in a recent Huffington Post essay, one Louisiana citizen who is comfortable standing up for Louisiana students and who thinks the Supreme Court's decision in Edwards v. Aguillard to uphold the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was a good one is Zack Kopplin, a high school senior from Baton Rouge (LA) Magnet High School. He has worked tirelessly to help move Louisiana forward. With Senator Peterson's bill now before the Senate Education Committee and with 41 Nobel Laureates on board as well as a growing number of organizational endorsements, progress is clearly being made.
Not surprisingly, Zack is very pleased by what's been accomplished so far. "It's only been three years since the Louisiana Science Education Act was passed unanimously by the Senate. Now there's a repeal, with a groundswell of support, that will be heard in that same chamber. This is a remarkable victory for science." He went on to tell me, "It's rare for a single Nobel Laureate to endorse a specific piece of legislation; it's virtually unheard of for 41 of them to do that. The Louisiana legislature should listen to these 41 Nobel Laureate scientists urging them to repeal this law."
I fully agree and think Zack should be incredibly proud of what he's been able to do. Now it's up to the rest of us to help.
You can support this effort by joining the repeal movement on Facebook, by following progress on the repeal movement's web page, and by urging Louisiana legislators to back SB 70. Wouldn't it be wonderfully refreshing if Louisiana were to make this change in a year that has already seen at least nine anti-evolution bills introduced into state legislatures across the United States?
Creationism legislation in all of its forms attempts to return students to the mid 19th century. Don't our students deserve something better?
Follow Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mzclergyletter