Thursday, April 25, 2013

Dinosaurs and Humans: Parochial Education Teaching That Science Is Wrong

As readers of this blog probably know, I am an opponent of school vouchers (see, for example, School Vouchers — Why I Oppose Them). My opposition stems from several concerns, including (but not limited to):

  • Taking away money from public schools;
  • Private schools being able to choose their students (where public schools have to take everyone);
  • Lack of academic standards for parochial schools; and
  • Use of taxpayer dollars to fund parochial/religious education.

Anyway, a story that I read last night (and the accompanying images) got me thinking about vouchers and a few other issues as well. The story comes from Snopes (which fact-checked it and found it “probably true”). The images that follow (copied from the article) are of a test given to 4th grade students in an unnamed (at least until the end of the school year) parochial school in South Carolina:


Note that the child received a perfect score! And a Smile! sticker.

I have no idea if any parochial schools in Indiana teach material similar to that which is reflected on this test, but I have my suspicions that the answer would be yes. And I have no idea if any Indiana parochial schools that are teaching this sort of material are accepting students who pay all or a portion of their tuition via taxpayer-funded vouchers. But again, I have my suspicions that the answer would again be yes.

If we were to discover that taxpayer-funded vouchers were being used to send children to a school that taught this sort of material, would that impact your view of the voucher program?

Ask yourself this: How well are children raised on this sort of education going to be able to compete on the global market? When employers are looking for intelligent, skilled workers, how well will people who received this sort of educational background fare against people from China or Europe? I doubt kids in China are learning about dinosaurs helping build the Great Wall; they’re learning math and science and skills that will help them compete … and thrive. America didn’t become the world’s superpower and dominant economy by rejecting science. The Bible didn’t split the atom or fly man to the moon; mistrust in science didn’t build the Internet or the computer; and trust in G-d didn’t create a vaccine for polio or enable organ transplants.

And yet we have parents willfully sending their children to schools where science is viewed as some sort of evil, liberal construct.

Moreover, don’t think that it’s just a few isolated religious schools. Just two hours southeast of Indianapolis, you can find the Creation Museum which says of itself (emphasis addedd):

The state-of-the-art 70,000 square foot museum brings the pages of the Bible to life, casting its characters and animals in dynamic form and placing them in familiar settings. Adam and Eve live in the Garden of Eden. Children play and dinosaurs roam near Eden’s Rivers. The serpent coils cunningly in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Majestic murals, great masterpieces brimming with pulsating colors and details, provide a backdrop for many of the settings.

It also has exhibits depicting humans living with dinosaurs:

I shit you not.

But some people actually believe this dreck.

And they teach it to their children.

In schools.

Maybe even using your tax dollars.

Part of me says, hey, if these people really want to stunt their children’s intellectual growth, that’s not my problem. Have at it. It will just make it that much easier for my kids to climb one rung higher on the ladder. But the better part of me understands (and I know that this sort of claim will infuriate the right-wingers in the room) that in a way, children belong to all of us. They represent the future, not just of their parents’ bloodline, but of our communities and our culture. That is one of the primary reasons that we have public education in the first place, why we demand that even those without children help pay (via taxes) to educate all of our children, and why we make it the law that children must be educated (even if only via so-called “home schooling”). So, no, I’m not really OK with the idea that we have schools teaching our children that science is wrong. Would you object to a school teaching kids that 2+2=5 or that the Sun orbits the Earth? Exactly.

But even if I could get by that problem, I see no way around my objection to tax dollars — money that should be used to pay for a public education for all children, regardless of race, income, socio-economic status, or disability — being diverted to allow some parents to teach their children that science is evil, wrong, or the enemy, so that their children will grow up to help lead us into the past rather than forward to the future. Similarly, those tax dollars shouldn’t be spent to teach kids that Jesus is the only way to heaven or that Muhammad ascended to heaven on a winged horse or that Moses spoke to a burning bush.* Leave that for church, mosque, and temple. Not school. Or at least not using our tax dollars.

Education that denies science is wrong. It’s dangerous. And using tax dollars to pay for any sort of religious education is also wrong.

For an interesting look at the Creation Museum, please take a few minutes to watch the video Atheists at the Creation Museum.

Updated to correct errors in links.

*I’m still waiting for the outcry when someone finds a voucher being used to pay for an education at a Muslim madrassa that teaches a fundamentalist form of Islam of the same sort that has been at the root of many terrorist attacks. I’m sure that people who want their children to learn that Adam rode a dinosaur will love knowing that their tax dollars are being used to pay to teach some kids that America is the Great Satan, that democracy is incompatible with Islam, and that jihad against America is good.

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At Thursday, April 25, 2013 7:48:00 PM , Blogger David Kenyon said...

Your comment about American conservatives being outraged at the thought of their tax dollars going to Islamic schools is quite accurate. In the minds of Conservative Christians, there is fear and insecurity. The fear is that eternal damnation awaits those who don't believe. (There are several problems I have with this condemnation of doubt and free thought.) The other part of this is the need to maintain hegemony of ideas. Are believers so insecure that any doubt or opposing thought makes them feel their own beliefs are invalid? The thought that something might show the Bible is not inerrant would shake the foundations of what these people believe. So ... instead of conceding the Bible has inconsistencies, was written by fallible men, and reflects an outdated pre-scientific metaphysics, they attack science, modernity, sexuality, human nature, logic, and anything else that might challenge what they claim is the absolute truth. In general religion provides a sense of community centered around shared morality, traditions celebrating life cycle events, and aesthetics. However, when a religious idea runs counter to observed reality, the idea must be reexamined, because lets face it: Humans constructed these ideas attempting to understand a very complex world. And this admission (humans created religion) is a great heresy in their minds ... Thus, to keep their ideas immune from any criticism, they elevate the source of their religious beliefs not as constructed thoughts from humans but as something given to humans from the divine. Anything else running counter to their ideas from the divine ... even what the rest of us would constitute undeniable proof ... must be wrong in their minds. People can defend an intellectual idea with mental gymnastics, but existential doubt changes people ... and until that change happens with the majority ... these battles will be with us.

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