Textbooks under siege in Louisiana

"Some proposed high school biology textbooks are under fire because critics say they put too much credibility in the theory of evolution," the Baton Rouge Advocate (November 9, 2010) reports. Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and a cofounder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science, charged that the criticisms were orchestrated by the Louisiana Family Forum, a religious right group with a long history of promoting creationism and attacking evolution education in the state. "They had their people going through the books, writing up complaints and sending them," Forrest said.

Darrell White of the Louisiana Family Forum told the Advocate that the proposed biology textbooks fail to comply with the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, the 2008 antievolution law that his organization shepherded through the legislature. "If this was a beauty contest, we have got all ugly contestants in these biology textbooks." The LSEA (enacted as Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1) purports to encourage teachers to promote "critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning" and allows teachers to use "supplemental textbooks" in order to do so.

"What has happened," Forrest told the newspaper, "is that the Louisiana Family Forum is attacking the process of textbook selection" in the hope of forcing disclaimers to be added to the textbooks (as in neighboring Alabama), requiring the revision of their treatment of evolution, or encouraging the use of supplemental classroom materials that dispute evolution. (In 2002, the LFF attempted to convince the state to include evolution disclaimers in biology textbooks, as Forrest noted in a July 26, 2010, letter to the editor of the Hammond Daily Star.) Moreover, several critics of the textbooks were reported to complain specifically that the textbooks under consideration lacked information about "intelligent design".

A decision on the high school life science textbooks in question, expected initially in October 2010, was deferred by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education until December 2010; a recommendation from the board's Textbook/Media/Library Advisory Council — described by the Advocate as "little-known" — is expected on November 12, 2010. The council includes a state senator and a state representative appointed by the governor; interestingly, the legislators presently on the council are Senator Ben W. Nevers (D-District 12) and Representative Frank A. Hoffman (R-District 15), who were the chief sponsors of the LSEA in the Louisiana Senate and House of Representatives in 2008.