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Zack Kopplin

Teaching creationism in Texas

Zack Kopplin reports on some unconstitutional behavior by a national charter school operator that has several campuses in Texas.

When public-school students enrolled in Texas’ largest charter program open their biology workbooks, they will read that the fossil record is “sketchy.” That evolution is “dogma” and an “unproved theory” with no experimental basis. They will be told that leading scientists dispute the mechanisms of evolution and the age of the Earth. These are all lies.

The more than 17,000 students in the Responsive Education Solutions charter system will learn in their history classes that some residents of the Philippines were “pagans in various levels of civilization.” They’ll read in a history textbook that feminism forced women to turn to the government as a “surrogate husband.”

Responsive Ed has a secular veneer and is funded by public money, but it has been connected from its inception to the creationist movement and to far-right fundamentalists who seek to undermine the separation of church and state.

Infiltrating and subverting the charter-school movement has allowed Responsive Ed to carry out its religious agenda—and it is succeeding. Operating more than 65 campuses in Texas, Arkansas, and Indiana, Responsive Ed receives more than $82 million in taxpayer money annually, and it is expanding, with 20 more Texas campuses opening in 2014.

Charter schools may be run independently, but they are still public schools, and through an open records request, I was able to obtain a set of Responsive Ed’s biology “Knowledge Units,” workbooks that Responsive Ed students must complete to pass biology. These workbooks both overtly and underhandedly discredit evidence-based science and allow creationism into public-school classrooms.

A favorite creationist claim is that there is “uncertainty” in the fossil record, and Responsive Ed does not disappoint. The workbook cites the “lack of a single source for all the rock layers as an argument against evolution.”

I asked Ken Miller, a co-author of the Miller-Levine Biology textbook published by Pearson and one of the most widely used science textbooks on the market today, to respond to claims about the fossil record and other inaccuracies in the Responsive Ed curriculum. (It’s worth noting that creationists on the Texas State Board of Education recently tried, and failed, to block the approval of Miller’s textbook because it teaches evolution.)

“Of course there is no ‘single source’ for all rock layers,” Miller told me over email. “However, the pioneers of the geological sciences observed that the sequence of distinctive rock layers in one place (southern England, for example) could be correlated with identical layers in other places, and eventually merged into a single system of stratigraphy. All of this was established well before Darwin’s work on evolution.”

[…]

Responsive Ed’s butchering of evolution isn’t the only part of its science curriculum that deserves an F; it also misinforms students about vaccines and mauls the scientific method.

The only study linking vaccines to autism was exposed as a fraud and has been retracted, and the relationship has been studied exhaustively and found to be nonexistent. But a Responsive Ed workbook teaches, “We do not know for sure whether vaccines increase a child’s chance of getting autism, but we can conclude that more research needs to be done.”

On the scientific method, Responsive Ed confuses scientific theories and laws. It argues that theories are weaker than laws and that there is a natural progression from theories into laws, all of which is incorrect.

The Responsive Ed curriculum undermines Texas schoolchildren’s future in any possible career in science.

There’s a lot more, so go read it all, or at least go read the Observer’s summary. Remember, your tax dollars are being used to help pay these guys’ bills. Will the Legislature do anything about it? Maybe, but if Dan Patrick gets elected Lt. Governor, I wouldn’t count on his taking any action. TFN Insider has more.

Zack Kopplin

Remember the name Zack Kopplin.

Zack Kopplin

Rice University sophomore Zack Kopplin says he has been called the Antichrist, a godless liberal and, bizarrely, the cause of Hurricane Katrina.

Kopplin, 19, has gained notoriety for championing the fight against his home state of Louisiana’s 2008 law that made it easier for teachers to introduce creationist textbooks into classrooms.

“It’s incredible that a young man is prepared to stand up for the truth,” said Sir Harold Walter Kroto, a British chemist who shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in chemistry and is a professor at Florida State University. He helped Kopplin connect with the 78 Nobel laureates who backed an unsuccessful attempt to repeal the law in 2011.

At a time when conventional wisdom has it that teenagers are disinterested in public policy, Kopplin is anything but apathetic and seems to relish a fight. The student activist has faced off against Louisiana state lawmakers and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, and has appeared on national news networks leading the charge against the of use religion in public school classrooms.

“Science has nothing to do with religion; they operate on different planes,” contended Kopplin.

Now Kopplin, a history major who is taking a full course load this semester, is preparing to fight state Sen. Dan Patrick’s effort to allow school vouchers in Texas. Patrick, R-Houston, is a strong supporter of school vouchers, which would allow tax money to flow to private and religious schools.

IO9 had a nice feature story on Kopplin and his fight against creationism in Louisiana a little while ago that you ought to read as well. He also has a blog that exhaustively documents creationist voucher schools around the country. This is why public funds should be for public schools and private schools should pay for themselves. He’s got his work cut out for him, but speaking as someone who wasn’t doing anything nearly that productive as a college sophomore, I’m deeply impressed with what he’s done already. Give ’em hell, Zack.