I’m Zack Kopplin, a science advocate who is leading the repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act. I convinced 78 Nobel laureate scientists and many others to join this campaign. I’ve also called out Michele Bachmann for claiming that Nobel laureate scientists are creationists when I was on MSNBC’s Hardball. I’m the 2012 winner of the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award in Education and the National Center for Science Education’s Friend of Darwin Award.

I also exposed 20 schools in Louisiana’s taxpayer funded voucher program as teaching creationism with millions of public dollars. This program is a national model for school reform and will be introduced in other states. In this AMA I want to focus on these creationist vouchers and activism.

Proof: Facebook Post (https://www.facebook.com/RepealCreationism/posts/368976053191070) Wiki page so you can see I’ve done what I’ve said (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zack_kopplin)

This summer I learned that some schools in Louisiana’s massive new school voucher program were teaching things as ridiculous as the Loch Ness Monster was real and disproves evolution and even that the KKK was good.

(Source: http://www.alternet.org/story/155926/the_loch_ness_monster_is_real%3B_the_kkk_is_good%3A_the_shocking_content_of_publicly_paid_for_christian_school_textbooks)

I investigated and realized that the problem was much deeper than 1 or 2 creationist schools, exposing a full 20 that blatantly advertised teaching creationism on their websites. Likely there are many more schools in the program that are also creationist.

(http://www.repealcreationism.com/697/stop-governor-jindals-creationist-voucher-program-before-governor-romney-takes-it-nationwide/)

Now these creationist vouchers are spreading to other states. Louisiana has been cited as a model for education reform in Texas and Georgia. In the next week, Texas will introduce its own creationist voucher bill. AMA about how these vouchers work and how you can fight to stop funding creationism. I’ll answer a few questions about my trip to the Playboy Mansion too ;).

You can join the fight by signing http://www.change.org/petitions/do-not-fund-creationist-schools-with-public-money-3 by liking https://www.facebook.com/NoCreationistVouchers for updates and check out http://creationistvouchers.com/.

Edit: I'll be back in like 10. I'm walking to campus to grab lunch. Edit 2, I'm back.

Comments: 515 • Responses: 67  • Date: 

Lorillomar216 karma

Just wanted to give you a massive thumbs-up for doing this. The depth of ignorance here in Baton Rouge is terrifying.

repealcreationism76 karma

Thanks.

markreid504167 karma

As a Louisiana teacher, thanks for all you're doing. Keep up the good work!

repealcreationism91 karma

Thanks and thanks for what you're doing.

hfhanzen72 karma

I'm Zack Kopplin's roommate. AMA.

I can answer questions about Zack's personal life, sleeping habits, girlfriend, or his inability to wash the dishes.

repealcreationism49 karma

I verify this.

jsonservice15 karma

A hanszenite? I was going to upvote this but TFW...

Awesome work Zack. Growing up in fairly liberal schools, it wasn't until I got to Rice and started meeting lots of students from the South that I realized how bad the state of science education was for many people.

repealcreationism9 karma

HFH I guess... I'm sitting in the commons right now.

johndeaux58864 karma

as a resident of Louisiana I think it is really a shame that the fight against creationism had to be fought by a high school student.

I know your father was involved in government, did he ever receive any pressure to "get his kid in line"??

repealcreationism94 karma

The inside baseball on this, is yes, some people are unhappy with him because of me, but honestly it doesn't matter. He's going to support me because not teaching creationism is the right thing to do and he's my dad.

PlethOral57 karma

How are there not government agencies dedicated to eliminating things like this that so blatantly defy our constitution?

forAnonAccount56 karma

there are creationist-backed agencies dedicated to eradicating government protections of our constitutional rights. See: LA Family Forum, Gene Mills.

repealcreationism47 karma

Sadly, yes. And they're powerful.

repealcreationism42 karma

I'm not sure why there aren't government agencies, though I imagine it might have something to do with some people having a limited government ideology.

On a more serious note, that would be the courts, but that is a long slow painful process.

pmkleinp55 karma

How can someone like Bobby Jindal, who majored in Biology, have such an adversarial view towards the theory of evolution?

repealcreationism112 karma

I believe Bobby Jindal understands evolution, it's an insult to his professors at Brown and Oxford to say he doesn't.

But it's useful to pander in Louisiana.

bombayblue33 karma

This. I honestly think very few politicians actually follow creationism, but its an easy way to get a crowd riled up so it's a go to strategy.

I think Bobby is sacrificing separation of church and state for education reform.

repealcreationism56 karma

It's not reform when you're teaching creationism with public money though.

Lobotomus_Prime38 karma

What sort of oversight are these voucher-funded schools subject to?

It seems like they have a blank check to teach batshit insanity.

repealcreationism57 karma

Essentially none. In Louisiana, the Superintendent who is under is our creationist governor's thumb is allowed to ignore any rules he wants. So far he has ignored all measures about curriculum accountability.

Lobotomus_Prime11 karma

That is disheartening, but not exactly surprising. A lot of this stuff seems blatantly unconstitutional.

Do you have any difficulty getting someone with proper standing to file a complaint? As I understand it, any random person can't do it.

repealcreationism9 karma

Yeah, it's pretty difficult.

Moobiecow80836 karma

How do you keep it together professionally when someone tries to "disprove" evolution or science by using religious arguments?

repealcreationism52 karma

Since I'm not a scientist professionally, I refer them to the scientific evidence. I give them links to understanding evolution, or the national center for science education, or Ken Miller's blog.

Generally I try to tailor it to what they're specifically asking. Mainly it's for lurkers, while I may never change the person I'm arguing with's mind, I might influence people watching the debate. I just try and be as polite as I can. I'll give them the evidence, if they don't like it, that's for them to figure out.

WellHeresMyFourthAcc11 karma

I give them links to understanding evolution, or the national center for science education, or Ken Miller's blog.

Do you have any data about the effectiveness of each link in shutting down creationist arguments? I typically refer people to Talk.Origins but I'm not sure how effective that is compared to other sources (I've never done Miller's blog- I used to go with Coyne, but some of his posts are unpalatable to theists, especially people of the same mentality as Francis Collins).

Also, what's a good source to quickly refute arguments against carbon dating (specifically the volcano one)? I haven't been able to find too many articles on that.

repealcreationism28 karma

I use Understanding Evolution, Talk.Origins, and the NCSE for basic evolution arguments. I use Miller and the Clergy Project when people start talking about religion. They really just demonstrate that people can be religious and also understand evolution.

The NCSE Project Steve is great when they start on lists of scientists.

madcowbomber29 karma

As a Christian, just wanted to say thanks for doing this. Creationism is bad science, bad theology, and bad education.

repealcreationism18 karma

Thank you. Have you ever checked out Rev. Welton Gaddy? He says that a lot.

madcowbomber8 karma

I've heard of his show, State of Belief. seems like a cool guy.

repealcreationism5 karma

He is.

abenton7 karma

Just curious, how do you justify denying the bible and still maintaining christian beliefs? If the creationist story is not true, what makes you think anything else in the bible is? Not trolling, genuinely curious if you only take certain parts of the bible literally, and if so, how you choose and justify these beliefs?

repealcreationism8 karma

It can be an allegory.

SecularSailor8026 karma

As a produk of Louisiana public edukation, I wuant to say thanks you! Hahaha, just kidding. Im very well read and love learning more. But seriously, you are doing a great justice to the present and future school children. I for one never remember being "taught" creationism, but I hate to see it the norm in science class.

repealcreationism17 karma

Thank you and I'm afraid that's what sometimes happens in Louisiana.

modembutterfly20 karma

May you be touched by His Noodly Appendage! Ra-men.

WellHeresMyFourthAcc18 karma

TASSA, fuck yeah!

For those wondering about the Hugh M. Hefner Award: Here's the background and history.

This is probably slightly unrelated, but how can we keep a check on the 1000+ churches that overstep their First Amendment/tax exemption regulations every two years and endorse specific (typically Republican) candidates?

Since you're in Houston going to Rice (how's the SSA there doing?), you've probably noticed that churches (notably Second Baptist) regularly do things like this ("How to Vote for a President" might not have been in violation, but two years ago or so, they had the same speaker overstep the line rather clearly by advocating specific candidates on behalf of the church). How do we handle that? I'm kind of pissed about the lack of political discipline practiced by these churches and how they get away with doing things so blatantly illegal.

repealcreationism19 karma

On the churches, the IRS needs to put the pressure. That's a challenge for someone in the model of Elizabeth Warren who gets elected and gets the IRS to use their muscle I think. It's a tough fight.

On the churches. If I were you, I'd start a change.org petition to ask them to respect the separation of church and state and also send an alert to the IRS and the Sunlight Foundation.

I think the SSA at Rice really started this year.

WellHeresMyFourthAcc4 karma

Yeah. I've been stalking all the TASSA groups for a while.

Out of curiosity, are you a member?

(Maybe I should just straight-up ask these on the FB group...)

repealcreationism8 karma

Not officially, but I'll be speaking to their group soon, I'm in their facebook group, and I'm always happy to work with the SSA.

repealcreationism6 karma

It's basically about priorities. I'm much more of a science advocate and they're more focused on secularity. I can only divide my time and my political muscle so much.

deliciousstrawberry12 karma

What's the best experience you've had, politically?

repealcreationism17 karma

That depends funny (but potentially bad) or just plain good?

repealcreationism24 karma

Good was when I was still in high school and I wanted to fight Louisiana's creationism law. I got a meeting with Senator Karen Carter Peterson, and essentially sat down in her office and she asked me how we were going to fight this law. There was no hesitation, it was just the right thing to do.

This is the awful funny experience, a Senator was trying to disprove evolution http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52kuwnKyR0s

deliciousstrawberry9 karma

Ugh. These people. What's worse is that I live in Georgia. And that response, oh my god. Another great question: What can we do to fight these people?

repealcreationism14 karma

First, is just spread the word. Get people aware that creationism is unconstitutional and there are resources like the National Center for Science Education.

On an individual level, write an Op-Ed, call a Senator or Representative or set up a meeting with them. Get your social networks involved, your friends and family.

It's a numbers game, mobilize as many people as you can on your side to come out and support science.

deliciousstrawberry3 karma

How about both!

repealcreationism4 karma

Just got them for you.

GreenArrow42011 karma

I'm twenty-something and I go to community college. What can I do to fight creationism?

forAnonAccount48 karma

keep in mind this isn't a fight against creationism; it's a fight against its invasion into the public education sphere

repealcreationism26 karma

Exactly.

repealcreationism23 karma

The easiest things to do are tell your friends and family about the issue. For example, does your state have a creationism law or a creationist voucher program. Get the word out.

You could also sign a petition or write an Op-Ed in a local newspaper. Another thing you could do is contact your elected official and organize friends and family to do the same. Call their phone, email them, set up a meeting.

If you have creationism bills come up locally, you should also contact the National Center for Science Education for help.

forAnonAccount11 karma

How has this not been taken to the courts (state or federal) yet? It's a direct violation of the establishment clause of the first amendment, among other laws.

repealcreationism13 karma

On vouchers, Louisiana's is being tested in court.

On creationism laws, it's a very tough case, because the language is written specifically to avoid court challenges. We know exactly what they're meant to do, but they never actually say creationism in the law, despite that the sponsor of the law said it was for creationism.

kidkolumbo8 karma

Do you ever have creationist agree and say it shouldn't be taught in schools because of how the law works?

repealcreationism18 karma

Occasionally yes, but it's not too frequent of a thing.

lubbockleft6 karma

Thanks again for doing this AMA. I have a second question: have you ever had success in Lousiana (or anywhere) convincing a conservative / Republican lawmaker not to support a voucher program like the one in Louisiana? If so, what was the winning argument?

repealcreationism8 karma

I've never actually gotten into the legislative politics of vouchers before. I didn't associate them with creationism until after they passed.

At the Louisiana State Board of Education, the winning argument actually seems to be the don't fund creationism argument. The moderate republican school reformers don't want kids learning creationism any more than anyone else.

On Republicans on my side in general, Senator Dan Claitor has been a huge backer of our repeal of the creationism law.

lubbockleft5 karma

OK, this may seem like a strange question, but: if you could use only up to three words on a billboard or other large sign to motivate Texas voters to resist the coming voucher legislation in the Texas legislature, what would you say? Best I can think of is "NO VOUCHERS" or "SAVE PUBLIC SCHOOLS" but I would love your suggestion.

repealcreationism6 karma

I'd say No Creationist Vouchers, though the public school advocates have a pretty catchy one with Save Our Schools (SOS)

78SuperBeetle5 karma

As a Louisiana resident, will you list some of the schools that were teaching creationism on this voucher program?

Doctor_Bigwang5 karma

Did you receive your award whilst being surrounded by big fake jubblies?

repealcreationism5 karma

Nope haha. No bunnies there that day, they were in Hef's other mansion. This was all black tie. I do have a picture with Hef and his peacocks though.

BeauFoxworth4 karma

I'm an LSU student, and I'm dying for a chance to protest against these vouchers. I mean, didn't the Supreme Court strike down the state of New Jersey for allowing state dollars to be used to bus private school children? It seems this should be easy as sh** to get overturned.

repealcreationism2 karma

The union case against the law begins on the 28th. We'll see what happens.

KhabaLox4 karma

Should parents be allowed to teach their children creationism?

Another way to phrase the question: Is the reason this is bad is that "public" money is going toward these schools, or is it that these schools are teaching something that is "wrong."

repealcreationism7 karma

Yes. Parents are allowed to teach their kids creationism. I can wish that their kids learned evolution, but no one can dictate what a parent teaches in the privacy of their own home (or in a private school with no public funding).

andrewsmith19863 karma

Are you from louisiana?

repealcreationism14 karma

Who Dat

andrewsmith19867 karma

Nice, if I ever run into you, I'll buy you a beer.

Lafayette/houma resident.

repealcreationism3 karma

Haha thanks

TheTVDB3 karma

Ok, I'm sure I'll get downvoted for this, but I'm failing to grasp your big picture goal.

Even as a fundamentalist Christian, I agree 100% that creationism shouldn't be taught in our public schools. It's something that should be taught in Sunday School. However, a very large majority of voucher schools are Christian schools, and as a result most would teach creationism in some form. But even if they weren't, many of these schools have chapel during the school day and discuss other religious issues. Additionally, there are voucher schools that are related to other religions. Realistically a voucher school can exist that teaches almost any scientifically inaccurate topic. Is your goal the complete repeal of all voucher programs since they allow for this? Additionally, do you draw the line at religious schools or would you like to see vouchers denied for ANY school that teaches ANY scientific inaccuracy. Would it be acceptable for one of these schools to not teach creationism OR evolution at all, and then simply teach creationism during their weekend church services, since that wouldn't be using public funding for a religious topic?

Thanks for your response, if you have time to get to this. And thanks to the Redditors that don't downvote something simply because they disagree with it. AMA's shouldn't just be circlejerks. They should bring up tough questions as well.

repealcreationism3 karma

To the first part, any school that teaches science wrong, religious or not. It would not be acceptable for them to not teach evolution if they accept public money.

If they are not accepting public money they can teach whatever they want, but once they accept money, they must follow the public rules.

JoeeoJ-3 karma

[deleted]

repealcreationism6 karma

I think it's getting better slowly but surely. I think we have to keep fighting for every inch though. It will be a very long time before we make sure all students learn evolution.

CustosMentis2 karma

I'm interested in how these voucher systems strain the education budget in these states. When a student receives a voucher to go to a private school, does the money for that student's tuition come from the education budget or does it come from funds newly appropriated for the voucher system?

I realize this is a fairly general question and may differ between states/school districts, but I hope you can enlighten me on this.

repealcreationism2 karma

Also, teachers have been laid off because of the losses from the voucher program in Louisiana.

repealcreationism1 karma

It comes from the education budget in Louisiana. We'll see what it is in Texas in a few days when the bil is introduced.

myth1n2 karma

Im from texas and I had no idea something like this might be coming to Texas, this makes me sad.

repealcreationism2 karma

humpharder2 karma

What other states are guilty of this type of education?

repealcreationism2 karma

Lot's though we only have the research in Louisiana, we assume other states like South Carolina are doing it the way Louisiana is.

http://www.federationforchildren.org/facts (a pro voucher org) has a full list of where there are vouchers

clemsonomatopoeia2 karma

What do you do when people use "science" to disprove evolution? (and by extension prove creationism)

I've heard so many arguments... from salinity of the ocean to gaps in the fossil record ... that I feel that people can cast enough doubt on evolution to make creationism seem almost plausible.

repealcreationism5 karma

Because all the evidence points to evolution and the overwhelming majority of scientists support evolution.

I usually point people to resources like http://evolution.berkeley.edu/

YourLovelyMan2 karma

The old way of shoe-horning in creationism was either by teaching genesis or intelligent design. They were pretty blatant violations of the First Amendment. But now Tennessee and other states are enacting laws that just say evolution and climate change should be questioned in the classroom, with no mention of alternatives. Do you think they would fail under the same scrutiny?

repealcreationism5 karma

This law in Louisiana is actually what I'm fighting. We know it's to teach creationism, and the goal right now is to get rid of legislatively.

LURK3Rnomore2 karma

Would you rather fight one creationist sized duck or one hundred duck sized creationists?

repealcreationism2 karma

100 duck sized horses.

Mothamayi2 karma

My mother is an Elementary School teacher in Louisiana and is actually planning on quitting her job soon due to the voucher programs and the new ridiculous standards that have been out in place for teachers. What you're fighting for is important, thank you.

repealcreationism2 karma

Tell her thanks

urbangentlman2 karma

I just want to say, keep up the great work. I grew up in EBR parish and it's the pits. I went to Lee High right before they shut it down.

Geaux Tigers!

repealcreationism1 karma

I spent a year at Lee too when BRH was under construction.

Sylens212 karma

I have a legitimate question, and not just praise (though I do have some of that for you): What has, so far, been your biggest hurdle, and how have you handled that?

repealcreationism2 karma

College. Rice is very demanding, and honestly I value my activism more than I value a class essay. I have learned how to value each piece of work I'm doing and whether or not I can put it off or not do it.

nadroj932 karma

What is the angriest/most outrageous reaction that you've personally experienced from someone who disagrees with this cause? While it wasn't dealing with the evolution/creationism debate, I have experience growing up in a rural Missouri town, and I know how crazy the fundies can get when someone challenges their beliefs.

repealcreationism5 karma

I've once been blamed for Hurricane Katrina

_Volpina_2 karma

I grew up in a deeply religious region in Southern Norway. Still, creationism is something I never heard of. The general belief is that the bible's interpretation of the creation of the earth and mankind is an allegory. My very religious mother tells me that creationism is never discussed in the bible discussion groups she's part of.

I get the impression that creationism is a more widespread belief in the USA than in any other nation in the western world. Am I right? If so, why is that?

repealcreationism2 karma

Yes, although other countries also have it.

bigrob12 karma

Why does this issue need to be portrayed as a religious or lack there of issue, which is, I grant, what is specifically, rather than what it is generally, which is an issue on self determination? Isnt this thinking of 'we know whats right and what wrong' a dangerous path to go down? And doesnt it seem like that those who would advocate your position on the left reject these sort of authoritarian line of arguments when it comes down to 'we know whats good for you'? Arent these lines of arguments rejected by liberals thinkers, and Im not using that term pejoratively, when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan or dealing with indigenous people anywhere? Dont these type of arguments actually undermine democracy and are rightly rejected as paternalistic and almost intellectually imperialistic?

repealcreationism4 karma

Because of the First Amendment. Funding creationist vouchers is promoting a specific religion.

Haikus3n5312 karma

Can you help start a Secular Science party in the USA? If we can get enough congressmembers, we will be able to create the need for a caucus or coalition, requirnig compromise to get most things past into law.

repealcreationism4 karma

I honestly don't know how that would work, I think a member of congress to do it, and honestly I don't know if there is the backing right now.

SeanReberry1 karma

I have a question about the constitutionality issue for the voucher. If the money is given to parents, and parents use it for a religious school, does that one degree of separation have an effect on the constitutionality. To me, it's the same issue as the government (not/)being responsible for every dollar spent out of a unemployment or welfare check. Do you see it being in the same category?

repealcreationism2 karma

According to a supreme court case yes, but there is a test for the schools in the program. There must be clear secular choice.

magentalovely1 karma

I remember that was a lot of controversy regarding Texas changing their history textbooks to focus on Christianity and eliminating many important things from history. However, this could happen because of the economic stake Texas had in the textbook industry. Is there a way to beat this economics? Or will we always have to deal with this problem from places like Texas because they have so much influence?

repealcreationism1 karma

I think things will change, we just have to keep fighting.

WhopperNoPickles1 karma

Can you explain what is meant by "vouchers" and how that works?

Also, I work as a contractor at Johnson Space Center and if (a) you ever need support I will gladly volunteer and help out with anything in the Houston area, and (b) you ever want a private tour of JSC I can try and arrange something.

Keep fighting the good fight, my friend. We're all behind you.

repealcreationism2 karma

Where the state takes public school money and gives it to private, often religious and creationist schools.

avarensis1 karma

How does a society reach out to the least informed at a young age to bring others out of ignorance by instituting logic, reasoning, and an open mind? All too often the ignorant are made to feel that others think they are stupid by default and that can hurt their ability open their mind and question their beliefs and be proud of their beliefs. As of now there doesnt seem to be any stark contrast for these people to see that they are backward or missing out on anything. Perhaps it would be a worthy goal to find methods of dare I say it seducing those persons in some way to have them feel their beliefs are worth questioning.

repealcreationism1 karma

What?

[deleted]1 karma

[deleted]

repealcreationism1 karma

That's the other side's argument too. The problem is there suggesting money should go to religious schools which would violate the constitution.

Montybrython1 karma

What is your personal opinion on Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens?

repealcreationism4 karma

I've met Dawkins before, I like him and I'm really grateful that he always publishes what I send him.

I never met Hitchens, but he was fearless.

kjoonlee1 karma

Hi, a bit off topic, but...

If you've heard stories about South Korean textbooks dropping evolution, do you have an opinion on that? Thanks.

repealcreationism2 karma

I've heard about it. There was a report that the western media actually misunderstood what was happening. The end result either way was fine though, South Korean texts are teaching evolution.

http://www.nature.com/news/science-wins-over-creationism-in-south-korea-1.11377

kjoonlee3 karma

I was really really worried that they really might drop it. :(

Hope you succeed in your cause too!

WellHeresMyFourthAcc3 karma

I was really really worried that they really might drop it. :(

On the bright side, maybe America's competitive edge wouldn't erode to quickly due to Korea's superior education.

repealcreationism5 karma

On the other hand, maybe america would become more complacent if we were being beaten less badly.

strong_grey_hero1 karma

Are "Creationist vouchers" actually a thing, or are you using the Creationist argument to characterize all voucher programs? Do you support home schooling at all?

repealcreationism3 karma

I have no opinion on people who home school with their own money. For a little info on why we're calling them creationist vouchers, go check out creationistvouchers.com

yipyapyip1 karma

How's the system devised? I know that some past voucher programs (in Ohio and Arizona) promoted choice-based schemes by which state/federal funds were directly sent to parents, not sectarian schools, thereby eliminating the dreaded "circuit" between gov and a religious institution. Do the LA funds go directly to the schools?

repealcreationism3 karma

The irony of the directly to the parents program it its a massive welfare program which was passed by groups who deride welfare most of the time.

repealcreationism1 karma

The Louisiana system goes directly to the schools.

WaterandThinAir1 karma

I just want to say thank you so much for doing this AMA. It's immensely interesting. I'm currently working on my senior undergraduate thesis (I'm studying Zoology) and it's on evolution and creationism. I was wondering if I could PM you with a bit of my information to see if we could have a conversation? Because that would be beyond awesome. It's one thing to read about these things happening...it's another to get to talk to actual people involved. Thanks again!