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AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner: Louisiana's "Academic Freedom" Bill Poses Risks for Students, State
Alan I. Leshner
A bill moving through the Louisiana Legislature would allow the introduction of religious ideas in the state's public school science classrooms, putting science education in jeopardy and creating economic and legal risks for the state, AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner writes in the Shreveport Times.
In a commentary published 28 May, Leshner said the bill needlessly pits religion against science, and said the state and its students would be better served by a strong commitment to improving science education. The bill has unanimously passed the state Senate and the House Education Committee, and now goes to the full House for a vote.
"It is alarming that the Louisiana Senate and a key House committee have passed a bill that would undermine science instruction in public schools, despite strong opposition from scientists, teachers and others," wrote Leshner, who also is executive publisher of the journal Science. "If it becomes law, the bill would unleash an assault against scientific integrity, leaving students confused about the fundamental nature of science and unprepared to excel in a work force that increasingly requires science-related skills."
The bill, sponsored by Louisiana Senator Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa), would allow science teachers to use supplemental material "that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied," including evolution and the origins of life. The bill has generated strong opposition from Louisiana teachers, including the Louisiana Science Teachers Association, who say that critical thinking skills are already built into the state's education standards.
While Nevers and others have insisted the bill has no religious objectives, Leshner joined other critics who call that claim misleading, noting that the measure is strongly backed by creationists and the intelligent design campaign.
"Their aim is clear: Erode students' understanding and trust of science by sowing confusion and doubt, and count on religious ideas to fill the void," he wrote.
He concluded: "At a time when Louisiana and the United States face serious economic challenges—and incredible opportunities—we must ensure the best possible science education for the next generation of problem-solvers."
Earlier this month, the New Orleans Times-Picayune published a letter from Leshner opposing the bill.
29 May 2008