Zack Kopplin may only be 19-year-old, but the that hasn’t stopped the college student from combating creationists and taking on controversial legislation in Oklahoma that he believes is counterproductive to the state’s education goals. His activism started in 2008 when the “Louisiana Science Education Act” passed a law that has continuously come under scrutiny from church-state separatists.
The regulatory structure, which critics have so-far unsuccessfully attempted to repeal, gives public school science teachers the ability to use supplemental materials in their classrooms in addition to approved textbooks. Critics claim that this creates a pathway for educators to challenge evolution while infusing creationism into lessons. Those who support the law, though, claim that the provision spawns critical thinking — an essential element for young people in educational environments.
As for Kopplin, he became disenchanted in high school after the law passed; he claims that science books were removed from some of his school’s classrooms. The teen told the website io9 that the changes were so pervasive that he felt the need to stand up against what has been perceived by some as an assault on science. Initially, he wrote a paper about the subject for his English class when he was just 14-year-old — but that was just the beginning.
“This was a pivotal moment for me,” he told the outlet. “I had always been a shy kid and had never spoken out before — I found myself speaking at a meeting of an advisory committee to the State Board of Education and urging them to adopt good science textbooks — and we won.”
While the law is still on the books, science books are allowed to stay in classrooms. io9 has more about Kopplin’s intense involvement in an issue that he is intensely-passionate about:
Indeed, it was the ensuing coverage of the science textbook adoption issue that launched Kopplin as an activist. It also gave him the confidence to start the campaign to repeal the LSEA.
Encouraged by Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University — and a staunch critic of intelligent design and the Discovery Institute — Kopplin decided to write a letter that could be signed by Nobel laureate scientists in support of the repeal. To that end, he contacted Sir Harry Kroto, a British chemist who shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley. Kroto helped him to draft the letter — one that has now been signed by 78 Nobel laureates.
In addition, Kopplin has introduced two bills to repeal the LSEA, both of which have been sponsored by State Senator Karen Carter Peterson. He plans on producing a third bill later this spring. And along with the Nobel laureates, he has the support of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), New Orleans City Council, and many others.
Kopplin argues that “creationism is not science” and that teaching the theology side-by-side with evolution “violates the separation of church and state.” He also expressed fears that laws that allow for more creationism in the classroom put students at a disadvantage when it comes to properly understanding the sciences. In the end, this, he believes, can impact the job market and the nation as a whole, especially if young people avoid — or are ill-prepared — for careers in this arena.
“Teaching Biblical creationism is promoting one very specific fundamentalist version of Christianity, and violating the rights of every other American citizen who doesn’t subscribe to those beliefs,” the teenager alleges. “So it would be stomping on the rights of Catholics, Mainline Protestants, Buddhists, Humanists, Muslims, Hindus, and every other religious group in the country.”
Here’s a 2011 interview with MSNBC during which he discusses these issues:
So far, the young man has faced an uphill battle, as he lost his first two attempts to see the “Louisiana Science Education Act” overturned — but roadblocks haven’t halted his efforts. Aside from his push for repeal, Kopplin is also taking aim at school vouchers, as he sees them as unconstitutional endorsements of creationism and religion. Considering that some of the schools that receive public funds through vouchers are religious in nature, the teenager is unhappy with the contents being taught to children.
“These schools have every right to teach whatever they want — no matter how much I disagree with it — as long as they are fully private,” he told io9. “But when they take public money through vouchers, these schools need to be accountable to the public in the same way that public schools are and they must abide by the same rules.”
Below, see a contentious discussion at a state hearing between a Louisiana senator and Kopplin that was held back in 2011:
Kopplin began tackling vouchers after he learned of a textbook that purportedly alleges that the Loch Ness Monster is alive and well today (the text apparently uses the alleged existence to debunk evolutionary theory).
Critics have called the teen names and dismissed him on account of his age, but the disparaging remarks have done little to dissuade his efforts.
“I don’t enjoy upsetting people, but you have to brush the attacks off,” he said. “I know that I’m fighting for a good cause — and I would be neglecting my duty if I stopped my campaign just because I felt uncomfortable about opposition.”