Evolution is, of course, standard material for understanding biology, and it is taught in public schools and in parochial schools affiliated with mainstream churches.
But some of the schools that want to cash in on the state’s new tuition vouchers — really cash in, by expanding their tuition base considerably — not only teach creationist nonsense, but are proud of it.
“What they (students) are going to be getting financed with public money is phony science. They’re going to be getting religion instead of science,” said Barbara Forrest, a founder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science and a philosophy professor who has written about the clashes between religion and science.
The new state superintendent of schools, John White, has perfected the art of straddling this issue: He does not directly challenge the pro-creationism views of his master, Gov. Bobby Jindal, but tries to have it both ways.
Annual science tests required of all voucher students in the third through 11th grades will determine if children are getting the appropriate science education in the private school classrooms.
“If students are failing the test, we’re going to intervene, and the test measures evolution,” White said.
This appears to represent an evolution in White’s thinking: He earlier said that existing state law on standard textbooks would avoid this kind of embarrassment for voucher backers.
College student Zack Kopplin, an outspoken critic of teaching creationism in science classrooms, found at least 19 of the 119 mostly religious schools in the voucher program either promote creationism or teach with curricula from religious textbook publishers that are known to challenge Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
The schools cited by Kopplin’s research have been approved to take in more than 750 voucher students and receive more than $4 million in taxpayer funding, in the first round of announced voucher assignments for the 2012-13 school year.
Among the dubious assertions of creationist pseudo-science is that evolution is called into question by sightings of the Loch Ness monster, a “dinosaur” living in the modern age — according to those who believe in the Loch Ness myth.
This is not the first time that Louisiana has been made a laughingstock because of politicians cynically backing creationism dogma in schools.
A law mandating that “creationism” be given equal time in public school classrooms with evolution was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987.
The state now has a Jindal-backed law that allows public school science teachers to use supplemental materials in their classrooms in addition to state-approved textbooks.
Guidelines adopted by the state education board ban the promotion of a religious doctrine in the supplemental materials, but without a specific ban on the teaching of creationism.
The state has no intention, apparently, of launching any serious investigation of the Loch Ness monster in school curriculums. Instead, it will pay and pay, for years, and — if students do poorly on science tests at some future date — the state Department of Education might raise the question of why mythology is part of a school’s curriculum.
“In the event that there is basic academic incompetence, the state (education) department can intervene,” White says. “The most effective way of testing all of this is to literally see what do the students know and what do they achieve, and we’re doing that through the state test.”
A more-effective way would be for the department to open its eyes to this kind of educational malpractice before children’s futures are endangered.