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Paranoia, selective arguments mark SB 561 opponents

All the fire and brimstone surrounding SB 561 on the docket of the Louisiana Legislature tells more about the paranoia and insecurities of those trying to create a controversy than the bill’s language actually suggests.

Sen. Ben Nevers introduced this bill to increase academic freedom in Louisiana schools. It asserts that it is to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that “encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, to help students develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.” Also, it is to prohibit the state or its officials from interfering with this.

But the innocuous language has gotten some people very upset. People associated with organizations that claim they are interested in education have spoken publicly and sent out e-mail messages calling the bill essentially a “backdoor” for the teaching of creationism in schools. Interestingly, they base this interpretation (one which, in its reading, is exceptionally broad in taking selected passages) not on the actual language of the bill, but on the bill’s digest.

A bill’s digest is written by a legislative staffer and has no legal importance. The actual wording, if these alarmists would care to read it instead of dispensing with it because it doesn’t fit their agenda, contains the following section what that the law is to do: “protects the teaching of scientific information, and this section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.”

It couldn’t be less ambiguous that the bill does not in any way endorse that creationism or any other religious or non-religious (like the imperfect theory of evolution) idea be advocated uncritically in the classroom. It simply buttresses the academic freedom of instructors to explore the merits and demerits of any particular scientific theory.

The reaction of those who argue against academic freedom in this instance is telling, however. One wonders whether they see the theory of evolution itself as a religion, given they are so scared of any critical examination of it.

Any educator at any level should support this bill for the protection it gives the concept of academic freedom – the pursuit of which seems to make some who call themselves educators very nervous.


Anonymous said...

Many folks will be instinctively opposed to this bill simply because it is being pushed by the Louisiana Family Forum. There is no mystery about the goals of that entity. It appears to be another attempt to carve a back door into our science classes and input the supernatural. The bill is embarrassing.

Jeff Sadow said...

Maybe so, but my advice in these situations always is, read the bill. That wording concerning the prohibition of promotion of religion seems pretty unambiguous.

chriss said...

Dr. Sadow, I have read the bill and you are dead wrong about the wording. You are an educated man this comment is beneath you. You know what SB 561 , SB 733 & HB 1168 intentions are. The LFF has made it clear and they are behind these bills. Have you walked across the quad to inform the science faculty they are frauds based on these bills? Being conservative is a valid philosophy but this is bad for Louisiana and our education system. Standing with the party line for bad legislation degrades the valid insight you offer on your blogs. Stand for what is right for our education system, our reputation, our financial future, our children.

Jeff Sadow said...

I don't know what else to write. It's there in black and white that the "chicken little" scenario foisted with seeming religious fervor by some simply is not there. If you will, also show me where the bill says "the science faculty are frauds."

Read the bill, tuning out what this interest group and that interest group wants you to believe about it. Use your own critical faculties; don't surrender them to these others. Incorporate its words using an objective template, and then perhaps you'll see it's about nothing dire.

(That, of course, is the old version of the bill. The new version took out anything that could offend the hypersensitive provocateurs complaining about it. But, as you point out, that still leaves the likes of HB 1168.)

bullet said...

Then explain this:
“'[Louisiana Family Forum] believe that scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin's theory. This would allow the discussion of scientific facts,' Nevers said."-Hammond Daily Star 4-6-08 Bill allows teaching creationism as science

Either Nevers doesn't understand his own bill or he wrote it very poorly. And since creationism is promoting one religion over others his paragraph E contains a blatant falsehood, at least as far as his intent.

Although the new version (SB 733) isn't quite so blatant as the old, the language "teachers... thereafter may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories..." without any corresponding guidelines as to appropriate and inappropriate "other materials" is still a backdoor, maybe even larger than the one in SB 561.

Jeff Sadow said...

"May" is not "Shall." And school districts still must approve of any supplemental books assigned. And even if some teacher wanted to sneak through copied materials or the like, if they contradict the unambiguous wording of the section mentioned in the posting, that would be illegal and they risk getting caught. No loopholes here. Avoid the paranoia.

Anonymous said...

""May" is not "Shall.""

Indeed, but it is still an easy back door to teaching creationism, or its equally unscientific pseudo-science, Intelligent Design.

There are two problems with this bill that I can see (of course, now it's law, but the points still stand).

#1 is that grade school children don't have the critical thinking skills to determine the viability of one line of scientific questioning over another. Heck, many college level students still don't have the hang of that level of critical thinking. Putting controversy into the science classroom instead of accepted scientific fact will only further muddle the childrens' education.

#2 is that without guidelines for what can be used as "other materials", ANY book whether scientific or not can be used as a supplement. Obviously there would be problems with bringing in a religious book, but there's nothing stopping them from using the aforementioned Intelligent Design baloney as their supplement. Unless some guidance is given, limiting the supplements to books of scientific merit, then anything is open.

Further, you call Evolution a flawed theory, but it is not. I suggest you educate yourself on the facts of the matter - 99% of biologists accept evolution as fact, as does 95% of the scientific community as large. The only serious opposition to the Theory of Evolution comes from the uneducated or the ultra-religious.