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Textbook Battle Brewing in Louisiana Over Evolution

A set of proposed new high school biology textbooks for Louisiana's public schools are under fire by critics who say they give too much credibility to the theory of evolution, the Advocate newspaper of Baton Rouge reported this week. (Hat tip to the National Center for Science Education for first bringing this development to my attention.)

The story explains that a state panel will review the issue today, after the state board of education last month delayed action on the textbooks because of the concerns raised.

"It is like Charles Darwin and his theory is a saint," the story quotes Winston White of Baton Rouge as saying. White was among those to file comments with state officials reviewing the textbooks.

Defenders of the textbooks say the criticism is being led by the Louisiana Family Forum. That group, according to its website, aims to "persuasively present biblical principles in the centers of influence on issues affecting the family through research, communication and networking."

Barbara Forrest, a professor at Southeastern Louisiana University and co-founder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science, said she believes the critics are aiming to get disclaimers added to the textbooks, change their content, or pave the way for adding supplemental materials that challenge Darwin, she told the Advocate.

In fact, Forrest writes about the matter on her organization's website: "We now have a Texas-style attack on the selection of biology textbooks, courtesy of the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), which brought us the creationist Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) of 2008."

The Louisiana Coalition for Science describes itself as "a group of concerned Louisiana residents working to protect the teaching of science in Louisiana."

Apparently, the critics of the proposed new textbooks may draw on the 2008 Louisiana law to strengthen their case. That measure says its aim is to foster an environment in public schools that "promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."

For more on that law, check out my colleague Sean Cavanagh's blog post from 2008. In it, Sean notes that the measure was opposed by several scientific organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Speaking of evolution, stay tuned for an EdWeek story from my colleague Sarah D. Sparks that looks at the recent growth in research initiatives by various science organizations focused on identifying essential concepts for teaching evolution. The story will be posted on our website next week.

Update (10:46am): The Advocate newspaper published an editorial in today's edition arguing against any changes to undermine the teaching of evolution.

Here's an excerpt:

"When the state boards of education in Texas and Kansas bent to political pressure and began to censor or amend textbooks through distortions of science and history, those states were embarrassed in the nation," it says. "We hope that experience is much on the minds of the committee that today will hear complaints about textbooks for high school biology in Louisiana."

The editorial continues: "The committee members have a duty to reject intrusion of pseudo-science, such as creationism or its offshoot 'intelligent design,' into science classrooms. ... [J]ust about every mainstream [religious] faith is accepting of the theory of evolution that is the basic building block for all scientific understanding of life on Earth."

Update (4:10 p.m.): A state panel has voted to recommend a new batch of life science textbooks, despite complaints by critics of the theory of evolution. Read the story here.

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