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By Barbara Forrest

Well, friends, the fun just never stops here in Louisiana. As the saying goes, “Here we go again.” What, you ask, is the state of Louisiana up to now?

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. (See the LFF’s “Action Item” in its August 10, 2010, Family Facts newsletter.) This attack began with a volley of letters written by LFF operative Darrell White to various Louisiana newspapers in July of this year. (See White’s July 22, 2010, letter in the Hammond Daily Star. See my response in the July 26 Daily Star.) However, the process has been developing under the radar. The November 9, 2010, story on the front page of the Baton Rouge Advocate has now provided a glimpse of what may be about to happen on Friday, November 12, at a meeting of the Textbook/Media/Advisory Council in Baton Rouge [agenda here (pdf)]. According to the Advocate article, the LFF and its followers just have all kinds of problems with the biology textbooks.

Critics contend some biology I, biology II and other school books under scrutiny  for public classrooms put too much credence in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

‘It is like Charles Darwin and his theory is a saint,’ said Winston White, of Baton Rouge, who filed a comment with state officials reviewing the textbooks. . . .

Darrell White, who is the father of Winston White and is  co-founder of the Louisiana Family Forum, said the proposed biology textbooks he reviewed fail to meet the benchmarks spelled out in a [2008] law aimed at expanding classroom talks on the theory of evolution.

‘If this was a beauty contest, we have got all ugly contestants in these biology textbooks,’ [Darrell] White said.

And — hush my puppies! — the article says that “In written comments to state officials, David Mathers, of West Monroe, said he would ‘like to see intelligent design explained as an alternate theory to the theory of evolution.'” Moreover, Curt Eberts of Monroe “faulted a biology textbook he reviewed for lacking material on the concept of intelligent design.” One would think that these folks were coordinating their efforts, wouldn’t one?

The meeting is open to the public, and concerned citizens may want to attend. But first, a little history is in order, because this goes all the way back to 2002, when the LFF made its first attempt to influence the selection of state-approved biology textbooks. So let’s take a little stroll down memory lane.

Readers of this blog already know about the Louisiana Science Education Act, which we enjoy courtesy of the LFF and some (actually a lot of) helpful politicians. Senator Ben Nevers introduced the bill on behalf of the LFF in 2008, and Rep. Frank Hoffman of Monroe shepherded the bill through the House of Representatives, where he sits on the House Education Committee. Sen. Nevers was quoted as saying that he introduced the bill because the LFF thought that “scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin’s theory.” Rep. Hoffman had been Assistant Superintendent of the Ouachita Parish School District in 2006 and had, along with Darrell White, helped engineer the Ouachita Parish School Board’s adoption of an “academic freedom” policy [pdf] that was the forerunner of the LSEA. According to the Ouachita Citizen’s November 29, 2006, story about the adoption of the policy, “Assistant superintendent Dr. Frank Hoffman said the issue is not about evolution or religion, but rather giving school teachers the freedom to teach all facets of a subject.” (Remember these little factoids. You’ll see why momentarily.)

But getting the LSEA passed wasn’t quite enough for the LFF. They wanted control over the LSEA implementation policy, which falls under the purview of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). In January 2009, BESE obliged by stripping the draft policy (which had been drawn up by the Louisiana Department of Education) of its prohibition against teaching creationism, in effect gutting it. But BESE didn’t stop there. In September 2009, they handed the LFF another victory in the form of control over the complaint procedure governing the review of supplementary materials used in classrooms. If a parent complains about creationist materials, the review process will be stacked in favor of the creationists. But all of this recent history is rooted in the LFF’s first effort in 2002 to influence the selection of state-approved biology textbooks. So let’s go there now.

The LFF’s First Attack on Biology Textbooks

The state of Louisiana selects new textbooks every seven years. The scheduled 2009 process was delayed for one year. It has been under way for several months, having last been done in 2002. The LFF’s current effort to secure control over science education policy in Louisiana actually began during this 2002 selection process. Speaking in 2006, after securing the passage of the Ouachita Parish policy, Darrell White recalled the 2002 effort.

In 2002, White reviewed science textbooks that the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved. He said those were flawed textbooks that numerous state lawmakers, public officials, college professors and high school teachers opposed.

He said documented scientific errors, misleading statements and ‘glaring omissions’ were noted in all of the  textbooks BESE approved.

‘They really give a one-sided story,’ White said.  ‘They don’t teach the weaknesses of Darwinism, and the weaknesses of evolution need to be taught right along with the strengths.’ BESE officials said those who opposed the textbooks should take their concerns to the individual school boards that use the books.

‘This [the passage of the Ouachita policy] is just a follow up today to what started back in 2002,’ White said. (“Board Gives Teachers ‘Academic Freedom,'” Ouachita Citizen, November 29, 2006)

In 2005, the LFF chronicled its 2002 effort in its now defunct “Forum Notes” [pdf]:

During the summer and fall of 2002, Louisiana citizens had an opportunity to review proposed new biology textbooks pursuant to 7-year adoption cycle promulgated by Louisiana Department of Education. In December of 2002, a group of educators, lawmakers, parents, and other concerned citizens presented uncontradicted facts to education officials (Louisiana Textbook Adoption Committee, Textbook Review Committee, and State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) showing that new biology textbooks proposed for adoption contained numerous inaccuracies and satisfied neither the state science standard benchmarks as promulgated by Louisiana Department of Education nor the above-stated curricula standards announced by Congress for science education. All of the proposed biology texts censor or downplay scientific criticisms of biological evolution and fail to ‘recognize and analyze alternative scientific models.’ SBESE rejected six proposed textbooks; however SBESE inexplicably approved ten biology books that contain the same errors. SBESE initially considered adopting Alabama’s approach by insisting that an insert label be placed in the front of all biology textbooks, but ended up rejecting that proposal and instead advised concerned citizens to voice their views about the textbooks to local school boards.

To its credit, BESE rejected this effort by a vote of 7-3 against inserting disclaimer stickers into Louisiana biology books. (See National Center for Science Education, “Louisiana Rejects Evolution Disclaimer,” December 11, 2002. See also “State Rejects Evolution Disclaimer,” New York Times, December 13, 2002.) But, as they say, that was then, and this is now. BESE has unfortunately become complicit in the LFF’s grab for control over science education policy. (See Louisiana Coalition for Science, “BESE can’t say we didn’t tell ’em,” January 10, 2010.) So let’s now fast forward back to the present.

The LFF’s 2010 Attack on Biology Textbooks

The biology textbooks that various publishers submitted for consideration in 2010 were placed on display in various public libraries around the state where citizens could review them. Citizens could also submit comment forms [pdf] concerning the books. The books were on display until September 11, and comment forms had to be submitted to the Dept. of Education by September 13. (See the General Timeline [pdf] for the 2010-2011 State Textbook Adoption Cycle.) The LFF put out calls through its weekly Family Facts newsletter and Rev. Gene Mills’ End of Week newsletter for their followers to review the books and fill out the forms. The comment forms were transmitted to the Textbook Review Committee, which was appointed by the Dept. of Education to review the textbooks and receive public comments. This had to be done by the first week of October. According to the timelines specified in Bulletin 1794 — State Textbook Adoption Policy and Procedure Manual [Word], BESE had to receive all of the necessary information in order to approve the textbooks by the end of October.

BESE’s Student/School Performance and Support Committee (SSPS), chaired by LFF point man Dale Bayard, met on October 19, 2010. The committee’s meeting packet contains a recommendation from the Dept. of Education that the SSPS Committee approve the textbooks. (See the SSPS Committee’s meeting packet [pdf].) Notably, the recommendation form also says that “No problematic areas are foreseen” concerning the textbooks. The form is signed by LDoE Director of Curriculum Standards Nancy Beben, State Superintendent Paul Pastorek, and other LDoE officials. However, rather than approving the books, SSPS deferred the decision and referred the matter to the Textbook/Media/Library Advisory Council, which, according to the Advocate article, is not very well known. It was apparently created by statute. The advisory council consists of various people, including two state legislators. (See the specifications [pdf] for council membership and duties.) And the two legislative members are . . .  — wait for it — . . .  Senator Ben Nevers and Rep. Frank Hoffman.

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