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Primary Education News
News Why our campaign against creationism in schools matters for science in the US | Zack Kopplin
When I was in high school, few fought Louisiana's creationism law. Now we have Nobel winners backing our nationwide effort
In 2008, the summer before my sophomore year in high school, my home state of Louisiana passed a creationism law. The misnamed and misguided Louisiana Science Education Act (pdf) allows creationism to be snuck into public schools science classrooms through supplemental materials that "critique" evidence-based, but politically controversial science, like evolution. This law also promotes the denial of climate science.
Defenders of this law often claim it's only meant to teach critical thinking and provide academic freedom to teachers who want to challenge evolution scientifically. There is no scientific controversy over evolution or climate science for these teachers to discuss, though. The only reason to have this law is to sneak non-science, like creationism, into classrooms.
The purpose of the law becomes even more clear if you listen to its legislative sponsor. Louisiana state Senator Ben Nevers said (pdf) that the Louisiana Family Forum, a powerful lobbying group for religious rights, suggested the law to him:
"[The Family Forum] believe that scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin's theory."
These anti-science laws are not just a Louisiana problem; they're an American problem.
In 2012, Tennessee passed its own creationism law, based off the model in Louisiana. Each year, dozens of states around the country have creationism bills introduced. This year, bills have already been killed in states including Oklahoma, Colorado, Montana, and Arizona. We still have a creationism bill in Missouri to defeat this year. Next year, a whole new set of creationism bills will be introduced.
I was furious when the Louisiana Science Education Act passed. I couldn't believe that I lived in the only state in the US that had a creationism law at that time. I should have fought it, but I was only 14, and too young. I didn't stand up and speak out. Instead, I wrote a research paper for my high school English class on why the law should be repealed. I assumed an adult would be the one to take on the law.
By my senior year of high school, I realized that no one older than me was willing to stand up against the Louisiana Science Education Act. I had a moral responsibility to stand up for science and for what was right. I decided to launch a campaign to repeal the law.
Since 2010, when our campaign began, we've gathered the support of 78 Nobel laureate scientists, 40% of living Nobel laureate scientists. We are backed by major science and educator organizations, clergy, the New Orleans City Council and tens of thousands of others. Louisiana state Senator Karen Carter Peterson has sponsored two bills to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act.
Despite this incredible support, both repeal bills were defeated in the Louisiana Senate education committee. Senator Peterson has introduced a third bill this spring, and we are hopeful we can gather the necessary votes this year.
The fight for science in Louisiana has been long and hard. We've faced attacks, including from a state senator who dismissed the Nobel laureate scientists as people who just had "little letters" beside their names, from whom she was tired of hearing. Many people have questioned why we've fought so hard against the odds.
We are fighting because we need a new science revolution. I'm calling for a Second Giant Leap for Humankind. The fight against creationism in Louisiana is ground zero of this movement.
We all have a duty to stand up and fight for science. Evidence-based science is what lets us make discoveries such as how to turn off cancer cells. It will be what lets us recover from climate change and repair the shrinking coastline of Louisiana. It will allow us to harness technology like algae fuel and to travel using evacuated tube transport systems.
Fighting creationism bills is only one part of this movement – science is under attack in America in too many ways. Hundreds of schools across America are receiving millions of dollars in public money and teaching creationism through voucher programs. There are even schools in this program that take their students to the Creation Museum.
Many of our public officials are anti-science. One member of the US House science committee, Paul Broun, called evolution, embryology and the big bang theory "lies straight from the pit of hell". Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (Democrat, Texas) and others hosted a congressional briefing called "Scientific Evidence of Intelligent Design and its Implications for Public Policy and Education (pdf)".
Even worse, Congress is cutting funding for science. The recent budget sequester will cut as $50bn from science funding over the next five years. This is devastating. Scientific research is vital for the benefits that it provide humanity, and it pays off, too: funding science offers a return on investment "ranging from 30% to over 100% (pdf)".
Our movement will change the attitude surrounding science and we will convince people that it is our first priority. To have this Second Giant Leap, we must reinvest in science – and end anti-science legislation like the Louisiana Science Education Act.