Over a year ago, I profiled Zack Kopplin’s now well-known effort to repeal the ill-named 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act. In short, the law permits the introduction of pseudo-scientific materials into classrooms that cast doubt on established theories such as evolution. Throughout his senior year in high school, Kopplin defended science education in Louisiana from this creationist trojan horse legislation.
Though he was unable to get the law repealed last year, his activism brought attention to the issue. For his efforts, the National Center for Science Education recently awarded Kopplin its Friend of Darwin award. Now graduated and attending Rice University, Kopplin continues to nurture the repeal effort he started. Last week, his website announced renewed support in both the legislature as well as the scientific community (my emphasis):
Senator Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) has filed Senate Bill 374 to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act, Louisiana’s misnamed and misguided creationism law.
The repeal effort now has the unprecedented support of 75 Nobel laureate scientists – nearly 40% of all living Nobel laureate scientists in physics, chemistry, or physiology or medicine.
Gov. Bobby Jindal heartily backed the measure and signed it in 2008, with near unanimous approval in the Legislature. The law drew national notice last year when controversy-stirring cartoon man Garry Trudeau mocked it in a Sunday Doonesbury strip.
Kopplin told me that he hopes to make progress on the repeal in 2012. He said:
It’s practically unheard of to have this many laureates weigh in on national policy, much less state. It’s also an education year this year. The legislature and the governor have been talking a lot about education. There is one reform that is right in front of their eyes; they must repeal a law that allows non science to be taught in public school science classes.
Interestingly, students are following in the path Kopplin blazed. I caught up with Hui Jin, who is now a senior at Benjamin Franklin High School. Last year she heard about Zack’s advocacy and became interested in the issue. Since then, she has rallied support for science at her high school and participated in petition drives to preserve the integrity of science instruction in Louisiana. Jin is now helping Kopplin manage the repeal effort this year. Kopplin is the son of Andy Kopplin, the chief administrative officer for the city of New Orleans.
Jin made clear to me that she doesn’t want to bash anyone’s religious beliefs. However she disagrees with the law because it promotes a false equivalency under the rubric of “objective review,” and allows pseudo-scientific doubts to be treated with the same validity as established theories, such as evolution.
Here is my brief interview with Jin:
The Lens: What inspired you to become an advocate for LSEA repeal, and what have you learned from Zack Kopplin’s example?
Hui Jin: After Zack Kopplin came to speak at my high school last year, I was immediately inspired to help because his passion for the topic was obvious through his presentation. I was amazed at his bravery to stand up as a high school student, and it was inspiring to see someone my age fight for something that actually affected my classmates and I. I have learned to be more active in my community and stand up for what I am passionate in – just as Zack has done.
The Lens: Why do you think this is an important issue?
Jin: This is an important issue because it holds Louisiana back in science education and casts doubt on the quality of high school science education from Louisiana. It also places obstacles as Louisiana students try to obtain science-related jobs and internships after they graduate.
The Lens: LSEA proponents say the act expressly forbids creationism or any other religious doctrine to be taught in the classroom. Instead, they claim the act allows teachers to discuss questions about the theory of evolution in the spirit of open inquiry. They say that those who want to repeal the LSEA are the real dogmatists. How would you respond?
Jin: I would first respond by simply stating that the theory of evolution doesn’t have any “questions” or room for “open inquiry” because it is a scientific fact backed up by concrete evidence. Although the act does not blatantly state that creationism be taught in high school classrooms, it creates a loophole for creationists to teach creationism and undermine science, especially evolution. This loophole is dangerous as it teaches impressionable students that creationism and evolution are equally valid as science.
This act has already done damage. [The Thomas] Fordham Institute stated that this act is a destructive flaw to science education in Louisiana, and the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology pulled their convention from New Orleans because of the LSEA.
The Lens: What has your advocacy for LSEA repeal taught you about political debate and the legislative process in Louisiana?
Jin: Before getting into the repeal effort, I knew almost nothing about Louisiana politics. Seeing Zack stand in front of the BESE’s Textbook Advisory Council and the Louisiana Senate Education Committee really taught me that being vocal and persistent while also being reasonable and respectful to even those who criticize you is the only way to get your point across.