Instructors may offer alternatives
CENTRAL — The Central Community School Board approved a policy Monday that supports its science teachers if they decide to wade into scientific controversies, including teaching students about alternatives to the theory of evolution.
“We believe this resolution will give teachers the academic freedom they deserve to teach the controversy where appropriate,” said Board member Jim Lloyd, who made the motion to approve the new policy.
Barbara Forrest, a founder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science and a philosophy professor who has written about clashes between religion and science, said the new policy is unnecessary and includes telling phrases such as a call to teach the “strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories.”
“It’s absolutely creationist code language that we’ve seen come up again and again in other states,” Forrest said.
She did not attend the meeting but was contacted for comment by The Advocate after it ended.
Lloyd and Board President Jim Gardner said they’ve been interested in having such a policy for a while. They noted Louisiana in 2008 approved the Science Education Act, which allows science teachers to address controversies such as alternatives to evolution.
They said they spoke with middle and high school science teachers this past summer and heard that teachers were reluctant to tackle such controversies without more guidance from the school system. The board members argued that high performing school districts like Central must tackle such controversies and not shy away from them.
The new policy received little discussion Monday and no one spoke against it. After the policy passed in a 6-0 vote, a handful of people in the audience indicated their approval with smiles and thumbs up gestures.
Willard Easley was the only board member not present.
Superintendent Michael Faulk said the policy has been on the school system’s website for the past two weeks and no one emailed in support or opposition of it. A copy of the policy can be found at this link: http://centralcss.org/files/2013/4694/1968/1948_001science_curric.pdf
It has a long title: “Teacher Academic Freedom in Science Education When Covering Controversial Scientific Subjects.”
The policy states, “The district shall … endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies.”
Lloyd said he modeled the policy on a similar one adopted in Ouachita Parish in 2006 that he said has not been challenged in court.
The Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008 has generated its share of controversy.
The law allows teachers to use supplemental materials “that promote critical thinking skills, logical analysis and open and objective discussions of scientific theories being studied,” including evolution. The law specifically mentions “the origins of life, global warming and human cloning” among controversies that can be addressed.
Critics say the law opens the door to teaching creationism. Opponents have tried twice unsuccessfully in the past two years to repeal the law and persuaded 78 Nobel laureate scientists to support its repeal.
Forrest, who opposed the Science Education Act and has pushed for its repeal, said the language in Central’s policy and in the supporting documentation is commonly used by the Louisiana Family Forum, a social conservative advocacy group, and by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank. The Discovery Institute is known for its prominent support of intelligent design, which critics describe as a sanitized version of creationism.
Forrest said policies like Central’s encourage the teaching of creationism.
“The only reason to do this is to give the teachers in Central some cover for teaching creationism,” she said.