Rice University sophomore takes on creationism laws
January 25, 2013 Houston Chronicle by By Erin Mulvaney
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.
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.
A school voucher foe
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.
During a hearing last year of the Senate Education Committee, Kopplin voiced his concerns that Louisiana’s voucher program allowed the teaching of anti-evolution material.
The Baton Rouge native comes by his interest in politics naturally. His father is first deputy mayor of New Orleans. As a child he was obsessed with the Scopes trial on evolution.
As a high school senior he launched a project to repeal the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act. The law allows teachers to use supplemental materials when teaching subjects such as evolution and climate change.
“We should be teaching our kids good science,” he said.
Kopplin dismisses criticism that he is “just a kid” or merely parroting the views of his parents or liberal professors. Others credit him for taking a leading role in spearheading opposition to the Louisiana law.
When he first sought to repeal the law, Southeastern Louisiana University philosophy professor Barbara Forrest helped Kopplin make connections in the science world. She said he spearheaded the effort in 2011 to repeal the law, which she warned him was an uphill battle.
‘Puts adults to shame’
Still, when the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to keep its science-based textbooks in 2010, after Kopplin joined a group pushing for the effort, he called it the “largest victory for science that Louisiana has had for eight years.” The Baton Rouge Advocate suggested at the time he was, “the newest giant-killer in state education policy.”
“What he’s doing puts adults to shame. The takeaway is where are the adults? Where are the scientists? Where is the business community?” Forrest said. “These communities should be embarrassed for a young person to take on this load.”
After several years of fighting to repeal the law, the soft-spoken teenager realizes the odds were against him. “Most of the work is going to fail,” he conceded. “You get the lucky break and keep doing work until you get another lucky break.”