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By Barbara Forrest

Readers will have to pardon the mixed metaphors in this post, but something happened today in Louisiana that is about as common here as snowflakes at Christmas: the voice of reason prevailed at a meeting of public officials.

The Louisiana Textbook/Media/Library Advisory Council met today, Friday, November 12, at 9 a.m. at the Claiborne Building in downtown Baton Rouge. The council voted 8-4 to recommend approval of the biology books that had already been approved by the Textbook Review Committee. Teachers, scientists, and students showed up at this meeting to support the earlier decision of the Textbook Review Committee and to protest the attempt by the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF) to commandeer yet another aspect of Louisiana science education policy.

The meeting was prompted by the October 19 decision by the Student/School Performance and Support Committee of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to defer its decision on the biology textbooks that had been slated for approval. (See “Textbook Attack in Louisiana,” November 11, 2010, for details.) Past experience — which has been utterly and entirely consistent since the introduction and passage of the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) in 2008 — suggested that this meeting would be just another railroad job. After all, no amount of reasoned appeal could sway the Senate Education Committee on April 17 2008, or the House Education Committee on May 21, 2008, — when the Louisiana Science Education Act was being rammed through the legislature — or BESE on January 13, 2009 or September 16, 2009 — when the LFF sent its creationist contingent in to take control of the policy that implemented the LSEA and the review procedure for handling complaints about the supplementary materials used under the LSEA.

The committee’s demographics require that two legislators and an appointee of the governor sit on the council. Those of us who have closely watched the events that have unfolded since the passage of the LSEA knew little or nothing about most of the council members — except for Senator Ben Nevers and Representative Frank Hoffman. They are well known as the legislators chiefly responsible for passage of the LSEA. The rest of the council was mostly a mystery with respect to how they would vote. Well, now we know. Eight of them voted to respect the voices of reason in the Arkansas Room of the Claiborne Building, while four — three guesses as to who two of them were — voted to allow the LFF’s shenanigans to continue. The Baton Rouge Advocate has a story up on its blog:

A state advisory panel Friday voted 8-4 to endorse a variety of high school science textbooks that have come under fire for how they describe evolution. The vote was followed more than three hours of discussion. Two of the “no” votes were cast by Senate Education Committee Chairman Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, and House Education Committee Vice-Chairman Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe. The decision likely paves the way for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve the textbooks when it meets Dec. 7-9.

Well, gosh, let’s hope this decision paves the way for BESE’s approval of the textbooks. Regardless of what happens next month, all of us owe a big “thank you” to the good citizens who showed up at that meeting today. We will try to get a complete list of their names to thank them properly. There will also soon be a first-hand report of the meeting posted here, as well as some of the testimony.

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