February 3, 2005

There was an interesting article in the New York Times a couple days ago, by Cornelia Dean, about the teaching of science in the public schools. She says the real story about natural history instruction in the schools lies not in landmark legal cases dealing with whether theories of Creationism or Intelligent Design should be included in text books. What we should be concentrating on is what actually goes on the the classroom and why teachers behave as they do.

According to Ms. Dean, there's considerable evidence that many teachers shy away from discussing how life on earth evolved from simple organisms because they are afraid they will be the targets of religious attacks. Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, for example, says she hears often from teachers who say they don't teach evolution because it's just too much trouble. They're afraid that people who want to substitute religion for science will raise a ruckus, so, it's easier to stay away from the whole subject.

It would be bad enough if this sort of pressure were affecting only the teaching of science. But, I fear that's its beginning to skew the teaching of almost everything.

A considerable portion of the American population cannot distinguish between the open search for truth and propaganda. Anything that doesn't conform to their beliefs comes across to them as hostile propaganda and, therefore, they want to put it down.

The teaching of history, I know, is fouled up because too many people want it to be no more than a celebration of the virtues of the American nation. Attempts to view the United States as one nation among many, operating as all nations do out of multiple motives, some of them noble and others deceptively self-serving, are viewed by many as being un-American and therefore, not to be included in the study of history.

You can probably find the same sort of influences in all the subjects of the school curriculum. There's a battle going on in the schools over whether they should be institutions of education or whether they should be organizations devoted to promoting what people think of as the proper beliefs. And right now, I'm not sure education is winning out. If education continues to be suppressed, we'll find ourselves increasingly isolated in a world where other people respect knowledge more than they respect unsubstantiated belief.



©John R. Turner

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