When Zack Copplin testified before a Louisiana legislative committee against the passage of the Louisiana Science Education Act, he told them that the bill was a back door to teaching creationism (duh). But since it hadn’t been passed yet, he couldn’t prove it was happening. Now he can.
The reason for this evasiveness from these two school boards is that this is a list of teachers who signed their names to a letter that is for all intents and purposes an admission of teaching creationism.
Other emails from Ouachita Parish provided even more evidence that creationism was being taught in Louisiana schools. Two West Monroe High School science teachers, Kyle Hill and Jessica Wyatt, discussed questions for their students to promote higher-order thinking skills. Promoting critical thinking is one of the main political arguments for the Louisiana Science Education Act, and these teachers interpreted it to mean—as the designers of the act intended—an invitation to teach creationism. One question they came up with was: “Name an evolutionary change that would support both the big bang theory and creationism?” The answer: “snake leg nubbs.”
Danny Pennington, a creationist principal at Good Hope Middle School in Ouachita, used to be a biology teacher at West Monroe High School, and he created a set of creationist curricula and DVDs meant for the public school classroom. While employed by the public school system, he filmed himself exploiting the Louisiana Science Education Act to attack evolution. Another Louisiana creationist, Charles Voss, who publishes his own creationist supplemental materials, emailed Pennington: “The DVD you made in the classroom is needed to show what a teacher can do in a single period,” he said. “You literally destroyed evolution in one 40 minute period.”
I have requested a copy of Pennington’s videos, but so far they have not been provided to me. I did obtain a copy of his written curriculum, which uses traditional creationist rhetoric such as: “Students and teachers should understand that many past conclusions based on fossil evidence were simply wrong.” Pennington states that one biology textbook was incorrect in teaching that whales had a common ancestor that lived on land. (Whales actually did have a common ancestor that lived on land.)
Despite the protections of the Louisiana Science Education Act, it’s still possible that school systems or individual teachers could get into trouble for lessons that are too explicitly religious. In his guidelines for teachers using his curriculum, Pennington advises teachers to “link teaching of evolution to existing school district policies about teaching controversial issues” in order to stay out of legal trouble.
Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education told me, “Getting teachers to use attacks on evolution as a proxy for advocating creationism has a long history, especially in Louisiana.” He said, “It’s clear that that’s what teachers in Ouachita Parish are doing, and what Darrell White is encouraging in other districts.”
Look, everyone knew what was going on when they passed that law. It was an attempt to smuggle in creationism without calling it that, by disguising the same old creationist arguments as “scientific evidence against evolution.” No one should be at all surprised that it’s happening. Not coincidentally, it was Louisiana that got creationism banned in public schools in 1987. I think they’re ready for another legal smackdown.