NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2009/10/02
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, More bad news from Louisiana as the state continues to implement the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act. Meanwhile, Judge Jones is honored by the Geological Society of America, a new publication from Americans United for Separation of Church and State summarizes the law governing religion and the public schools, and a chance to hear Jonathan Weiner discuss variation on-line.
MORE BAD NEWS FROM LOUISIANA The Louisiana Science Education Act opened the door for creationism to be taught in the state's public schools, and now the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is propping the door open, the Louisiana Coalition for Science charges. In a September 28, 2009, press release, the LCS noted, "On September 16, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) ignored the recommendations of science education professionals in the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) and allowed the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), a Religious Right lobbying group, to dictate the procedure concerning complaints about creationist supplementary materials used in public school science classes under the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA)." Enacted in June 2008 over the protests of scientists and educators across the state and around the country, the LSEA (enacted as Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1) provides that "A teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the city, parish, or other local public school board unless otherwise prohibited by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education." Subsequently, in January 2009, BESE adopted a policy about what types of supplementary classroom materials will, and will not, be allowable under the LSEA. While the policy echoes the LSEA's requirement that such materials "not promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion," a provision that "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" was deleted, according to a report from the Associated Press (January 15, 2009). Unaddressed by the policy, however, was the question of how to handle complaints about inappropriate supplementary materials. The Baton Rouge Advocate (September 17, 2009) reported, "The department [of education] recommended that any complaints undergo an initial review by a three-member panel named by the agency, then go to the state board for a final decision." But a BESE committee revised the procedure so that "two reviewers will be named by the department to review the science materials in question as well as one reviewer each named by the challenger, the school and the publisher" of the challenged materials. Thus, the Advocate summarized, "people bothered by materials in a science classroom could file a complaint with the state Department of Education. A hearing would then be set where each side could tell its story. Reviewers, who are supposed to be experts, can ask questions. The five reviewers would file reports on whether the materials violate the rules. The department can also make a recommendation. The state board would then make a final decision." There are conflicting reports about whether the policy was adopted by BESE at its September meeting or whether it will be considered for adoption by the BESE at its October meeting. In any case, the policy is seriously flawed, according to the Louisiana Coalition for Science: "There is no guarantee that the three non-DOE reviewers, especially the school district's and the publisher's appointees, will have the requisite expertise to evaluate contested materials. A school district that permits the use of creationist materials is likely to choose a creationist reviewer. The publisher of creationist materials is virtually certain to choose a creationist. ... In short, as BESE's complaint procedure is now drafted, DOE's expert reviewers will be in the minority, and DOE staff will not be allowed to independently assess the reviewers' reports but must instead transfer the reports directly to BESE for evaluation." For the Louisiana Coalition for Science's press release, visit: http://lasciencecoalition.org/2009/09/30/creationists-dictate-bese-policy/ For the story in the Baton Rouge Advocate, visit: http://www.2theadvocate.com/news/59572962.html And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Louisiana, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/louisiana JUDGE JONES HONORED BY GEOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA Judge John E. Jones III, who presided over Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 case establishing the unconstitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" creationism in the public schools, will receive the Geological Society of America's President's Medal for 2009, according to a September 28, 2009, press release from the GSA. "It is particularly fitting that Judge Jones receive this medal in 2009, the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin, whose work forms the basis of modern evolutionary theory," said Judith Totman Parrish, the past president of GSA. She added, "Using thorough analysis of the law, in-depth analysis of the history and origin of intelligent design theory and acute powers of reasoning, Judge Jones'[s] opinion decisively laid to rest the notion that intelligent design should be taught in science classes, alongside evolution, as an alternative theory to the evolution of life." Jones will receive his award on October 17, 2009, during the GSA's annual meeting in Portland, Oregon. Two days later, he will participate in a five-member panel discussion there on "Overcoming Resistance to the Reality of Evolutionary Change in Nature," part of a day-long 200th birthday celebration of Charles Darwin held in conjunction with the meeting. Also participating will be Kevin Padian, Professor of Integrative Biology and Curator, Museum of Paleontology, University of California, Berkeley, and president of NCSE's board of directors; Jeremy Jackson, Director, Center for Marine Biodiversity & Conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Randy Olson, the filmmaker behind Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus; and Ray Troll, fish artist extraordinaire and coauthor of Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway (Fulcrum, 2007). For the GSA's press release, visit: http://www.geosociety.org/news/pr/09-46.htm For information about the GSA's Darwin celebration, visit: http://www.geosociety.org/meetings/2009/DarwinDay.htm RELIGION IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS A new book published by Americans United for Separation of Church and State offers educators and families detailed information about the law governing religion and the public schools -- and the topic of teaching evolution is not neglected. Chapter 4 of Religion in the Public Schools: A Road Map for Avoiding Lawsuits and Respecting Parents' Legal Rights, by Anne Marie Lofaso, a professor of law at West Virginia University, contains a detailed review of the legal issues surrounding the teaching of evolution. Its central points: * Schools can neither outlaw the teaching of evolution nor give "equal time" for discussion of evolution and "creation science" * The theory of evolution meets the definition of science * It is long settled that public schools cannot forbid the teaching of evolution as part of their high school science curriculum * It is equally well settled that public schools cannot compel the teaching of creationism alongside evolution as part of the high school science curriculum * Public schools may not teach "intelligent design" alongside evolution as part of the high school science curriculum * Nor may public school teachers claim an "academic freedom” right to teach about “intelligent design" * Public schools may limit the extent to which students raise religious evidence against evolution in science class discussion in the same manner by which those schools limit other class discussions * Creationism and intelligent design cannot be taught in public schools, but objective, academic discussion about religion, such as its role in history, is permissible in some contexts as long as the approach is educational and not devotional "Religion in the Public Schools effectively explains the ins and outs of how religion should be handled in the school setting. A must-read for parents and educators alike!" writes someone who should know -- Tammy Kitzmiller, the lead plaintiff in the 2005 case establishing the unconstitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" creationism in the public schools. Barbara Forrest, a member of NCSE's board of directors, adds, "This book should be on the desk of every public school teacher, principal, and school board member." For information about the book, including its full text, visit: http://religioninthepublicschools.com For information about Americans United, visit: http://www.au.org WEBCAST: VARIATION Hear Jonathan Weiner, the author of The Beak of the Finch, discuss "Variation" on-line! From 8:00 to 9:30 p.m. (Eastern) on October 7, 2009, Weiner will deliver the second lecture of the 150th anniversary Origin of Species lecture series, hosted by The Reading Odyssey and the Darwin Facebook project -- and the whole lecture will be webcast live. Sponsors of the lecture series include the National Center for Science Education, National Geographic, Citrix Online and its HiDef Conferencing Division, Campaign Monitor, the Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology, SquareSpace, the movie Creation, and the New York Academy of Sciences. Future speakers in the series include NCSE Supporter Sean M. Carroll and E. O. Wilson. Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncseweb.org -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it. -- Sincerely, Glenn Branch Deputy Director National Center for Science Education, Inc. 420 40th Street, Suite 2 Oakland, CA 94609-2509 510-601-7203 x310 fax: 510-601-7204 800-290-6006 firstname.lastname@example.org http://ncseweb.org Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter: http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd http://twitter.com/ncse NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncseweb.org/membership