AlterNet - May 28, 2011
17-Year-Old Challenges Michele Bachmann on Law Allowing Creationism To Be Taught In Public School Science Classes
By Allison Kilkenny, AlterNet
Most high school students are concerned about their grades or getting into a good college, but 17-year-old Zack Kopplin is focusing on conducting a national campaign to challenge a congresswoman on her basic understanding of the separation of church and state.
Kopplin, a student from Baton Rouge Magnet High School, is working tirelessly to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), a piece of legislation that Kopplin said is a way to sneak the teaching of creationism into Louisiana public school science classrooms.
Initially presented under the guise of "academic freedom," LSEA singles out evolution for specific criticism. The bill allows local school boards to approve supplemental classroom materials specifically for the critique of scientific theories.
The text of the bill suggests that this is all designed to aid critical thinking, and calls on the Board of Education to "assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories."
And what are the areas in need of "critical thinking," you ask? Coincidentally, the hot button issues the Religious Right have turned into legislative crusades: evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.
Kopplin is horrified his state has adopted the pro-creationism law. "It is embarrassing," he said, "TheNew York Times covered this law, and I have friends and family around the country who called me up and asked me about it. No one should be embarrassed by their state."
Beyond the personal humiliation of living in a state that teaches a fairytale about a sky daddy alongside real things like carbon dating, genome-mapping and gravity, Kopplin fears for the future of Louisiana's educational system.
"This hurts Louisiana students' chances of getting the good science-based jobs we want. Research centers, like Baton Rouge's Pennington Center, are not going to hire Louisiana kids because they won't know whether we were taught the science we need to work there," he said, adding that in a world constantly making rapid advancements in scientific understanding, Louisiana can't afford to backslide into the dark ages.
"Louisiana students can't compete with kids across the country and around the world if we're not being taught evolution," Kopplln said.
Such anti-science behavior is even bad for tourism, according to Kopplin. "The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology pulled a prescheduled convention from New Orleans after the law passed, and other groups have made it clear that they don't plan to come back while the law is in place."
Kopplin supported a bill designed to repeal LSEA, which also shared the backing of more than 40 Nobel science laureates, national science organizations, university professors, high school biology teachers, the Louisiana Association of Educators, and a petition with more than 60,000 signatures.
Despite the overwhelming pressure from the scientific community (not a single state or national science organization lobbied on behalf of LSEA), Sen. Karen Carter Peterson's Senate Bill 70 died in committee Thursday. Kopplin blames the repeal's demise on the oppositional pressure coming from the Louisiana Family Forum, an affiliate of Focus on the Family and a powerful lobbying group.
LFF enjoyed another victory this month when it successfully urged the Louisiana legislature to kill House Bill 112, also known as the Safe Schools Bill, which sought to better protect school children from bullying. LFF's executive director, Gene Mills, referred to the piece of legislation as the "Homosexual Bullying Bill."
"We're selective in when we want to listen to experts. When we're talking about the economy we bring in economists. When we're talking about roads and bridges we bring in engineers. Why don't we afford the same to science? How do you ignore 42 Nobel laureates?" Peterson asked the committee. "It is fundamentally embarrassing to have this law on the books."
"Creationism is not science," said Kopplin. "It does not belong in a public school science classroom. Put it in a religion class, a philosophy class, but not in a science class."
Kopplin is not impressed by the "critical thinking" claims made in LSEA. "They don't need a law to teach critical thinking in a science class," Kopplin said. "Science is critical thinking."
Furthermore, he doesn't plan to limit the scope of this fight to Louisiana. Earlier this week, the high schooler called out Minnesota's Michele Bachmann for trying to pass SF 1714, a bill similar to LSEA, that would require public schools to permit the teaching of intelligent design creationism in the school science curriculum.
Perhaps such ignorance should be expected from the woman who stood on the House floor and declared that the threat of manmade global warming doesn't make sense because "carbon dioxide is a natural byproduct of nature."
"Bachmann's ongoing misrepresentation of science and scientists at a national level adds fuel and false authority to the lobbyists and politicians in my state who have an agenda to undermine evidence-based science," he said.
No doubt, Zack Kopplin's resolute stance will not be shaken by this recent defeat. "Even if we don't get it this year, we've laid a remarkable foundation for next year. We can get 100 Nobel Laureates for next year and thousands more signatures and phone calls and kids involved," he said before the vote.
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