In 2008 Governor Bobby Jindal aptly demonstrated his scorn for classroom science, when he ignored advice from his own Ivy League genetics professor and signed the so-called Louisiana Science and Education Act. Apparently, Jindal worried that Louisiana students didn’t possess his level of discernment and that their belief systems would shatter if they heard biblical creation stories in Sunday School followed by lessons on evolution in high school biology class. To the rescue, the LSEA, which allows science teachers to smooth out this transition by using “supplemental materials” aimed at downplaying evolutionary science and, by implication, making creationism more plausible.
Naturally, supporters of the LSEA don’t characterize the law this way. They usually (but not always) stay on script and say the law merely allows supplemental materials in classrooms that promote “critical thinking” — not religion. But if that were true, then why did LSEA supporters cry like stuck pigs when the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) tried to make their cover story explicit by prohibiting materials that “teach creationism or intelligent design?” Louisiana Family Forum President Gene Mills protested this interpretation of the law (despite it being completely consistent with his talking points) and BESE caved in and shelved the proposal. Afterwards, Mills declared victory and said, “Louisiana is open for business.”
Precisely what business is he referring to — Trojan horse manufacturers? Clown ministeries? The LSEA isn’t attracting new business to the state. Quite the opposite, actually. Scientific groups are steering clear of Louisiana. The Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology cited passage of the LSEA as precisely the reason it was canceling a major convention that had been scheduled this year in New Orleans. How many other business and science groups are respecting the boycott by simply looking beyond Louisiana as a site for investment and conventions is, of course, harder to quantify.
Previously, I warned about the disservice the LSEA did to Louisiana’s high school students; they’re the sacrificial lambs in this absurdist version of a passion play: They receive a “diminished science education so that their Bible-literalist parents won’t have to confront uncomfortable questions.” I also wrote:
It’s all fun and games until your children graduate and realize that their science education was a cruel joke, and everyone else is laughing at them – including prospective employers.
Sure enough, as Gambit noted on Sunday, the LSEA has made our state’s educational system a national laughingstock:
[One of the strip’s punchlines is a student saying] “Please stop. I’d like to get into a good college.”
Rather than an exaggeration for comic effect, that “Please stop” line reads like a transcript from LSEA opponents testifying before the Louisiana legislature. During the recent session, about 30 students went to the Capitol to argue for repeal of the LSEA in front of a State Senate committee. The students cited the 43 Nobel laureates who denounced the LSEA, and voiced concern about how colleges and future employers would perceive their academic qualifications.
As The Advocate reported on May 26, our gracious legislators dismissed their concerns:
“All of you have been able to get out of high school despite this ‘terrible’ law,” state Sen. Julie Quinn, R-Metairie, said in comments directed at students in the audience who backed the repeal effort.
Is that the barometer we’re using for education legislation these days, whether or not it prevents bright scholars from graduating? You “got out” of high school, kid– what more do you want, a science education that isn’t the punchline of a national comic strip? Sorry.
To her great credit, Sen. Karen Carter Peterson sponsored the bill to repeal the LSEA. Unfortunately, fellow senators from the Greater New Orleans area – among them Quinn, Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, and Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville — failed her, and voted to shelve the bill.
Applause to the New Orleans City Council, as well, for unanimously supporting the repeal of the LSEA.
Gov. Jindal opposed all repeal efforts, which were spearheaded by Baton Rouge high school senior (now graduate) Zachary Kopplin, the son of a justly proud Andy Kopplin, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s chief administrative officer.
The impact of this issue shouldn’t be underestimated. Just as Louisiana attempts a convulsive effort at school reform, our state is being singled out for mockery in national political cartoons. This hurts our efforts to reverse the scourge of “brain drain,” and does nothing to recruit new business owners (and their families) to Louisiana. New Orleans has already lost out on lucrative conventions because of this law, yet many of our area legislators apparently can’t be bothered with the LSEA until it starts hindering students from “getting out” of high school.
The LSEA has brought us demonstrable harm, yet what good has it accomplished – if any? Can Rev. Mills, or any other LSEA supporter name one business that has been drawn to Louisiana because of this law?
Further, if these supplemental texts are so effective in broadening academic freedom in our high schools, perhaps they should be included in LSU’s curriculum, as well. If we honestly believe this law puts Louisiana high schools ahead of the curve, and we don’t mind getting laughed at and boycotted until the rest of the country “catches up,” then shouldn’t we apply it to our colleges, also? It would seem cruel to let our high school students taste the “academic freedom” the LSEA provides, only to consign them to doctrinaire and one-sided evolution lectures once they get into college. If our high school students deserve “the very best science,” then surely our college students deserve it as well.
Sure, some complaining undergrads might say, “Please stop!” But if veiled creationism doesn’t prevent them from getting out of college, where’s the harm?