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By Barbara Forrest

On September 10, 2012, Central Community School System (CCSS) board member Jim Lloyd invoked a 2005 teacher survey in recommending the adoption of CCSS’s stealth creationism policy. He said (mp3, 12:50) that a Louisiana teacher organization, the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, had “polled its members and learned that a large percentage of them welcomed guidance concerning how to better teach controversial science subjects.” The controversial subject is, of course, evolution.

After sitting on information about this survey for seven years, waiting for a relevant occasion to use it, we now present it to our readers. It is NOT a project with which any respectable teacher organization should have been involved. As Colonel Sherman Potter used to say on MASH, it’s a load of pony pucks. So naturally, the Discovery Institute and the Louisiana Family Forum are involved.

The “A+PEL 2005 Academic Freedom Survey, August 2005″

In 2005, the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, aka “A+PEL,” teamed up with the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF) to conduct a bogus “Academic Freedom” teacher opinion survey, which is posted here [pdf] on the A+PEL website. (The evidence of its bogusness is below.) A+PEL, a non-union organization, calls itself “the premier educators’ organization in Louisiana.” Its home page says that the organization “is committed to advancing teachers as career professionals” so that through “teacher advocacy and excellence in education,” they can “empower Louisiana’s youth for future success.” A+PEL’s description of its mission is at odds with its involvement in undermining public school science education by participating in this utterly worthless “survey,” which is being used publicly to promote creationist laws and policies.

There are undoubtedly some fine teachers in A+PEL’s rank and file membership. But the reality is that this organization partnered with the LFF, a Focus on the Family affiliate that promotes creationism (and some other really ugly stuff; see also here [pdf]), to produce this bogus teacher opinion survey that LFF and the Discovery Institute (DI) have used to promote creationist laws in Louisiana and Tennessee and creationist policies in the Ouachita Parish and CCSS school districts.

For convenience, we will call the survey the “A+PEL/LFF survey,” since the LFF considered it so important that they listed it in their 2005 IRS 990 form (p. 17) [pdf] as one of their signal accomplishments that year. Posted on A+PEL’s website under “Resources,” this survey [pdf] was first used by the Ouachita Parish (OP) School Board to justify the “Academic Freedom Policy” that it adopted on November 29, 2006. DI has also used it to defend creationist “academic freedom” laws in Louisiana and Tennessee, and they will no doubt pull it out again in one of their next forays into state lawmaking. We will discuss the survey itself as soon as we set the background in place.

The First Appearance of A+PEL/LFF Survey: Ouachita Parish, LA

In early 2006, with its credibility shredded after the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover case, DI needed a new ruse for promoting its brand of creationism. In other words, the intelligent design creationists had to re-design intelligent design. So DI reverted to the time-honored creationist tactic of promoting “academic freedom” (do check out this link, and look at it closely). DI’s Winter 2006 newsletter [pdf] announced that “academic freedom” would be its “new front in the debate over intelligent design” (p. 2).

Later the same year, on November 29, 2006, the OP school board adopted its “Ouachita Parish Science Curriculum Policy” [pdf], subtitled “RESOLUTION ON TEACHER ACADEMIC FREEDOM TO TEACH SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE REGARDING CONTROVERSIAL SCIENTIFIC SUBJECTS” (caps in original; bold added). Two days later, DI staffer Casey Luskin sang the praises of the OP decision in a post on DI’s Evolution News & Views blog:

We’re very happy to see [the Ouachita Parish School Board] take a stand protecting the academic freedom of teachers to answer student questions and discuss scientific issues in the classroom. . . . There is a disturbing trend of teachers, students and scientists coming under attack for questioning evolution.

In what looks like a veiled reference to the A+PEL/LFF teacher survey (as will be clear shortly), Casey also also stated that “the policy was passed after teachers expressed a desire for clarification of their rights.”

The OP academic freedom policy was the proverbial camel’s nose under the door of the science class, and it laid the foundation for the Louisiana Science Education Act two years later.

The Ouachita Citizen gave this milestone a favorable write-up, highlighting the involvement of LFF “consultant” (and co-founder) Darrell D. White:

Retired Judge Darrell White of Baton Rouge, consultant with Louisiana Family Forum’s Education Resource Council, commended the [OP] school board for setting a precedent he hopes other school systems will follow.

Ouachita Parish is the first school system in the state to adopt such a measure that will give its teachers academic freedom.

‘This has been a long fight,’ White said, but added the fight to implement quality science education guidelines in all schools has just begun….

Although nothing about the A+PEL/LFF survey appeared in newspaper coverage of the OP policy, an attendee at the school board meeting reported to the Louisiana Coalition for Science that an “academic freedom survey” was used as part of the rationale for its adoption. That report signaled the first use of the A+PEL/LFF survey. Shortly thereafter, the survey was posted on A+PEL’s website. White’s involvement was integral to the adoption of the OP policy and, apparently, to the survey, since A+PEL’s URL notably incorporates his initials, “DDW”:

www.apeleducators.org/associations/3635/files/Academic Freedom Survey Aug 2005 DDW .pdf 

Darrell White’s Relationship with A+PEL

The A+PEL/LFF survey is vintage White, as seen in the survey’s introductory paragraph:

The issue of teachers’ freedom to teach controversial subject matter has recently been discussed in the public square. For example, there is debate surrounding the teaching of sex education classes, teaching the Bible as history and literature classes as a part of our national heritage, and in teaching the full range of scientific views regarding Darwin’s evolution model. Some teachers confess that they are fearful of introducing such topics.

Promoting “the full range of scientific views” about evolution, which is DI’s Santorum Amendment code language for teaching ID, has become one of the signature marks of White’s promotion of creationism in Louisiana. Promoting the Bible as a history textbook for public schools is also one of his pet projects, as evidenced by his membership on the advisory board of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools and aggressive peddling of its propaganda. And he appears to view sex education as a communist conspiracy to destroy families.

White also has a relationship with A+PEL. Somehow, for some reason, someone at A+PEL got the idea that he has expertise that must be communicated to teachers for transmission to children. He has been included among “notable authorities” that A+PEL has invited to give presentations to social studies teachers at A+PEL’s “American Studies Institute”:

With an emphasis on traditional principles and historical accuracy, seminars are offered throughout the year to help classroom teachers and others gain additional information and insight which will strengthen and enhance social studies classes in elementary and secondary schools throughout Louisiana.

A+PEL apparently isn’t bothered by the fact that young-earth creationist White is a lifetime member of Answers in Genesis’s infamous Creation Museum, which by now has mis-educated several hundred thousand children about evolution.

Moreover — and this is relevant to the fact that A+PEL’s American Studies Institute emphasizes “historical accuracy” — White hobnobs with David Barton, the fake historian who helped screw up the Texas social studies standards in 2009. The Southern Poverty Law Center placed Barton on its “30 to Watch” list of people who include “hard-line Islamophobes” and “religious-right anti-gay groups.” Barton’s book, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson, was pulled from bookstores by his own publisher, Thomas Nelson, with the explanation that “basic truths just were not there.” (Amazingly, that flaw was totally overlooked prior to Nelson’s publication of the book.) Scholarly reviews showed that the book should have been called The Barton Lies.

(Aside: Barton’s most recent offering is a  New Year’s Day (2013) rant on his Wallbuilders Live radio program about the virtue of hate: “So we’ve got to get to the point where tolerance is seen as a sin because we’re tolerating a lot stuff that destroys our families, that destroys our own character and we can’t tolerate that stuff. We have to get back to the point where hate is a virtue, at least certain kinds of hate.” Just lovely. Darrell White really knows how to pick his friends, doesn’t he?)

Now, let’s get back to the particulars of the survey.

Discovery Institute “Discovers” the A+PEL/LFF Survey

Casey Luskin seems to have been referring indirectly to the 2005 A+PEL/LFF survey when he defended an academic freedom bill that was introduced in New Mexico in 2007: “In our present climate, many teachers are intimidated . . . into teaching a biased, incomplete view of the biological evidence about neo-Darwinian evolution.” The survey asked teachers (p. 3), “Do you feel intimidated regarding the teaching of the controversy surrounding origins?”

In April 2012, Casey referred more directly to a “survey of Louisiana teachers” in defending Tennessee HB 368 [pdf], aka the “Tennessee Monkey Bill,” which Gov. Bill Haslam allowed to become law without his signature. DI partnered with the Family Action Council (FAC) of Tennessee to write and promote HB 368, just as it did with the LFF to write and promote the LSEA. The Monkey Bill is merely a slightly tweaked version of SB 561, the “Louisiana Academic Freedom Act,” which was the first bill that Senator Ben Nevers filed on LFF’s behalf in 2008. Like SB 561, it includes the “strengths and weaknesses of evolution” code language. Interested readers who want to take the time can compare the Tennessee Monkey Bill and Louisiana SB 561 side by side. It will be difficult to tell them apart:

Casey stressed that legislation such as the Tennessee Monkey Bill is needed because  . . . gasp! . . . DI has discovered that teachers all over the country are being intimidated:

Working with teachers nationwide, we have long observed a pattern where teachers commonly feel intimidated into silence when covering controversial scientific topics.

He identified not a single case of intimidation, and he didn’t identify the survey of Louisiana teachers that he invoked. Nonetheless, he very prominently cited specific figures  — that just happened to be from the A+PEL/LFF survey — in reference to the LSEA:

Indeed, before Louisiana passed its academic freedom law in 2008, a survey of Louisiana teachers showed:

  • 48% of teachers were afraid that ‘teaching controversial material could affect [their] … tenure, salary, promotions, or job security.’
  • 50% did not feel free to critique evolution.
  • 55% felt ‘intimidated regarding the teaching of the controversy surrounding origins.’

Casey then warned that “just because state science standards officially encourage critical thinking, that doesn’t mean a climate of academic freedom exists where teachers feel free to teach about different scientific views on topics like evolution.”

This really looks bad, doesn’t it? With stats like these, we should be extremely concerned down here about teacher intimidation in Louisiana public schools.

Ah, but now for the critical thinking . . .

When the A+PEL/LFF survey became available on A+PEL’s website, the Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics (AIP) kindly offered to do a formal analysis of it; we have posted that analysis here [pdf]. Since the LFF and DI, especially Casey, profess to be so concerned about critical thinking in public schools, they shouldn’t mind that the AIP did some critical thinking about the survey that Casey has been using to defend DI’s academic freedom bills. AIP’s analysis showed that this “survey” is pure hogwash — or pony pucks, if you’re a Mash fan. And — this is really delicious — Casey didn’t even cite it correctly. But you’ll have to read all the way to the end for that part!

If you have already downloaded the A+PEL/LFF survey, you can very quickly see the flaws. The thing is skewed from the get-go. The questions are written so as to get the answers that the LFF wanted. Look at this one, for example, with the responses included:

2. Which of the following two statements come closest to your own opinion?

A. Biology teachers should teach only Darwin’s model of evolution, and the scientific evidence that supports it.
B. Biology teachers should teach Darwin’s model of evolution, but also the scientific evidence against it.
C. Neither
D. Not sure

Blank 8 / 3 [%]
A 21 / 7%
B 173 / 62%
C 49 / 17%
D 32 / 11%

Answer B, which the majority of respondents selected, assumes that there actually is scientific evidence against evolution. For the umpteenth time, there isn’t any such evidence. (See National Center for Science Education Executive Director Eugenie Scott on that point here at 58:31). But including that answer as a choice in the survey makes a subtle appeal to the respondent’s desire to appear fair and impartial. The fact that 62% of the respondents chose answer B is consistent with the results of earlier, similarly biased surveys that DI purchased from Zogby International to support its promotion of ID.

As the AIP’s analysis shows, the A+PEL/LFF survey doesn’t get any better. Here are the first two items from the analysis.

1. Poor response rate. 6,000 surveys were sent out, and only 277 returned. This is a response rate of 5%. How many of the other 95% chose not to answer because of the wording of the questions and the wording of the answer options that were provided?

2. Potentially biased respondents. The data were sent to the 6,000 members of A+PEL. No teachers in Ouachita Parish who are not members of A+PEL were surveyed, and not all teachers in Ouachita are A+PEL members.

There is a great deal more in the AIP analysis for perusal at your leisure. So let’s go back to the survey itself. Look at question #6. Since this is the specific source of support for Casey’s claim that Louisiana teachers are “intimidated into silence when covering controversial scientific topics,” readers will understand its importance to his defense of DI’s academic freedom laws. This survey question includes a cute pie chart, so we have used a clip that includes the graphic:

 

A+PEL/LFF 2005 Academic Freedom Survey, Question #6

 

Do you notice anything odd? . . .  No? . . . Ok, go back and look at Casey’s figures from the unidentified “survey of Louisiana teachers” — the part where he claims that the survey reveals a disturbing level of intimidation “regarding the teaching of the controversy surrounding origins.” Or you can go to Casey’s original citation at DI’s Evolution News & Views blog. We’ll give you a few seconds. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . OK. Now, compare the figures in Casey’s citation with the figures and the graphic above. There, do you see it? (Hint: look at Casey’s third bullet.)

Concerning the actual number of teachers who say they feel intimidated, Casey didn’t even cite the correct figure from the A+PEL/LFF survey. When asked whether they felt intimidated “regarding the teaching of the controversy surrounding origins,” only 35% — 96 teachers in real numbers — answered “yes.” The number Casey cites — 55%, or 174 in real numbers — represents the teachers who answered “No.” (Since this is a brand new year, we’re going to be charitable and interpret this as an unintentional slip-up on Casey’s part. But please note, readers, that Casey’s “mistake” conveniently favors his own argument.) So the majority of the tiny minority of the A+PEL teachers who responded to the survey don’t actually feel intimidated at all. And 29 teachers didn’t even bother to answer the question.

Here is the summary point of all this:  Casey Luskin, a DI staffer who — as his DI bio informs us — is also “an attorney with graduate degrees in both science and law,” has incorrectly cited misleading statistics from a seven-year-old, bogus teacher opinion survey to support the need for the creationist academic freedom laws that DI is peddling around the country.

The 277 respondents to the A+PEL/LFF survey comprise roughly 5% of the 6,000 A+PEL teachers to whom the survey form was mailed. Putting this in an even broader context, the 277 teachers who responded represent about one-half of one percent (.0058) of the roughly 48,000 public school teachers in Louisiana. The 96 teachers who claimed to feel intimidated represent less than 2% (.016) of the 6,000 polled and only .2% (yes, that’s point two percent. i.e., .002, two-tenths of one percent) of the public school teachers in the entire state. No wonder Casey didn’t cite his source. Either (a) he and his friends at the Louisiana Family Forum are not as gung-ho on critical thinking as they want everyone to believe, or (b) their own critical thinking skills need some work.

Another point to remember is that the recently adopted CCSS policy — which will now influence the science instruction of public school students in the Central school district — is based on this farce of a “survey.” What is even worse is that board member Jim Lloyd, despite invoking the survey in recommending that the CCSS adopt Darrell White’s creationist academic freedom policy, has probably never even seen it, much less analyzed it on his own. As we showed in our previous post, judging from the available evidence, Lloyd’s comments about the survey were simply the talking points that White had handed him.

So to readers in states where academic freedom bills crop up next time (and in Montana, the next time has already arrived):  Store this information in your memory banks, and feel free to distribute both the A+PEL/LFF survey and the AIP analysis far and wide. If Casey tries to use this teacher “survey” to convince your legislators (or governor) that teachers are intimidated and need an “academic freedom” law in order to teach your kids to think critically about evolution, you have a nice example of critical thinking to show them.
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