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19 Year Old Zack Kopplin Challenges Public Funding of Creationist Schools

You may have heard recently about a 19 year old activist who has been shaking things up in Louisiana. Zack Kopplin cares about science, and when creationists attempted to sway the science textbook process in 2010, he got involved. More recently he has been fighting the diversion of public funds to schools that teach creationism. A press release he sent out this week stated the following:

Over 300 schools in school voucher programs across the country are teaching creationism as science and receiving tens of millions in public money.
These schools are in nine states (Florida, Indiana, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Colorado, Utah, Wisconsin) and the District of Columbia and were put in a database on creationistvouchers.com.
A few of these creationist voucher schools are:
Liberty Christian School, in Anderson, Indiana, teaches from a creationist ABeka and ASCI curriculum. They also take trips to the Creation Museum.
Rocky Bayou Christian School, in Niceville, Florida, in its section on educational philosophy, says "Man is presumed to be an evolutionary being shaped by matter, energy, and chance... God commands His people not to teach their children the way of the heathen."
Creekside Christian Academy, in McDonough, Georgia, says, "The universe, a direct creation of God, refutes the man-made idea of evolution. Students will be called upon to see the divine order of creation and its implications on other subject areas."
These schools that have been discovered are only the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds more schools in these programs, across the nation, are undoubtedly also teaching creationism and receiving public money.

I asked Zack Kopplin to share a bit about his work.

What led you to speak out about what is taught in science classes?

I knew about the Louisiana Science Education Act since it passed and it had always embarrassed me. It was the physical representation of everything that might be embarrassing about my home state.

The eventual spark was provided when I saw the LSEA actually be used by the Livingston Parish School Board who discussed implementing the law to actually make creationism part of their curriculum.

Why is evolution such a big concern? Why don't we just teach both theories side by side?

Creationism is not science, and doesn't belong in a public school science classroom. Evolution is supported by overwhelming evidence.

What is wrong with giving parents choices about what their children are taught?

Because teaching creationism is wrong. Parents have their option to put their students in creationist schools if they want, but they have to pay for it. This isn't actually about choice. Instead this is about whether our public money should be spent teaching science or if it is used to endorse a specific brand of religion.

What do you see as the role of public schools in our communities?

Public schools should provide every child with a great education and we should continue to strive for that. I will fight for that by making sure our students are being taught evidence-based science.

What has been the response to someone of your age speaking out so strongly?

Generally people have been receptive to my cause. I'm 19 now, but I believe people recognize that, no matter my age, advocating for teaching science is the right thing to do.

Do you have any advice for other young people who might want to become active around issues that concern them?

Find your passion, something that you're willing to work on for 80 hours a week, then take that leap. Email a mentor with your idea and start working.

What are you working on now - is there a way for people to get involved?

I'm launching a new campaign, calling for a Second Giant Leap. I want to see 1 trillion dollars of new science funding and an end to legislation that promotes science denial.

What should these additional funds go towards?

The 1 trillion dollars would specifically be for scientific research and development.

Why do you feel we ought to be investing more in science education?

My generation is going to face incredible challenges to our way of living and survival as a species. Our population is climbing, and we have less clean water and space to support that population. We could face a pandemic if a disease like the avian flu, with a 60% mortality rate, becomes easily transmittable by humans. Our climate is growing more extreme.

We can find a cure for the avian flu, or a way to prevent its spread through scientific research. One way to overcome these, and other challenges, is to invest more in science.

What sort of educational experiences contributed to your interest in science?

I've always cared about evolution since a young age, but it was really the Louisiana legislature passing the Louisiana Science Education Act that sparked me to take action on the issue.

Do you have a link to any resources related to your project?

There are two sites: Creationistvouchers.com, which provides information and resources related to vouchers being used to fund creationist schools. Repealcreationism.com has news and information about the situation in Louisiana.

What do you think of Zack Kopplin's efforts? Should we oppose the teaching of creationism in publicly funded schools?

Continue the dialogue with me on Twitter at @AnthonyCody

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