RELIGION POLITICS-You’d think public education in America has suffered trials and tribulations enough in recent years.
After coping with slashed funding that leaves fewer teachers to teach more kids for less money, smoke-and-mirrors policies passed off as innovations that end up leaving more children behind, bubble-in testing that screens out the truly creative and innovative students and teachers, you’d think that it couldn’t get much worse.
And if you looked at Texas, you’d see you were wrong.
Not because Texans don’t think education is important; they do. But a majority of the 15-member State Board of Education wants public education done Texas Style. Which means that science textbooks and science classes must teach Creationism along with Evolution, and give it the same value.
And this all gets important in a hurry, since public school textbooks stay in use for many years. And what books are adopted by the major market states commonly get purchased by other states.
What’s the difference?
Evolution, after all, is simply the idea that the universe has a history: that stars, galaxies, planets and living things have changed through time, and that living things have a genealogical relationship.
Creationism, in contrast promotes a literal view of the Old Testament story of creation, and teaches that everything on Earth was created in six 24-hour days 6,000-10,000 years ago by the direct intervention of a supernatural deity or force named God. All mountains, canyons, species, and fossils were laid down by Noah’s flood.
This is the rationale behind the Creationist Museums in several states, including California (Santee and Cabazon). These places have layouts that look like natural history museums, but contain exhibits showing humans and dinosaurs living together.
Some forms of creationism hold that natural biological processes cannot account for the history, diversity, and complexity of life on earth. Such anti-evolution creationists have been leading opposition to the teaching of evolution since the 1920s.
The 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee is a famous example of this opposition.
Current efforts to re-brand Creationism as Intelligent Design (derided by some as “Creationism in a lab coat”) have not dampened the fervor or efforts of Creationists in Texas and other states to have their beliefs set into law and taught in public schools.
This all comes to rest on our front doors for three main reasons:
First, Texas is the second largest textbook market in the United States. Publishers naturally want a share of this lucrative market, and are pressured relentlessly to adapt their materials to suit Texas Board of Education requirements. One of these requirements stems from the Creationist argument that Evolution is just a theory; and since Creationism is also a theory, both Evolution and Creationism have equal value and should be taught that way.
Texas is the current front line in the war, but school districts in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and California have already fought battles.
And these Texas-style science books may well be sold to California schools.
The second reason this bar brawl of an education issue might be landing on our front door as a big issue is because an opening skirmish has already been fought. In 2005 Roseville Joint Union High School District, near Sacramento, was attacked and sued by a local Creationist for not including opposing arguments to the teaching of Evolution.
Many California school boards also have politically conservative trustees who favor Creationism or its ideological cousin, Intelligent Design.
The third reason this issue will probably end up in more of our school boards in the near future is the money.
Much of the support material used by Creationists is generated by the Discovery Institute. Billed as a non-profit public policy think tank, this Seattle, Washington-based group provides books, videos, and lecturers to support Creationists school board battles in other states.
And although it’s based in Seattle, Discovery Institute is largely funded by Orange County multi-millionaire and former mental patient Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr. The only child of Home Savings founder Howard Ahmanson, Sr., Howard, Jr., contributes millions to anti-gay movements like Proposition 8 and anti-evolution groups like Discovery.
So the question becomes, then, how can education professionals, students, and their families deal with this tsunami of secretly and massively funded Creationist/Intelligent Design misinformation?
Two Promising Approaches:
One, treat all Creation theories equally.
This shouldn’t be an issue, since many are strikingly similar. They tell of creation from a void, of first people, of divine gifts and responsibilities.
So if the Genesis version is to be taught, equal weight should be given to other creation stories.
Some are violent and bloody, like those from the Norse or the Babylonians. Some, like those from Japan or India, are introspective and intellectual. Some are poetic and hopeful, like those from the Hopi or Jicarilla Apache.
Second approach: treat all pseudo-sciences equally.
If schools are forced to teach Creationism science-that-is-not-science, the curriculum should be expanded to include all such pseudo sciences.
If Evolution can be argued as being just a theory, then Astronomy is just a theory too, so Astrology should be given equal weight. So maybe Ptolemy and the Medieval Church had it right: the sun and stars really do go around the Earth. And our Earth really is flat (Frisbee-shaped, really; satellites go around the rim, giving the illusion of roundness) and really is supported on the back of a giant turtle.
Geology classes should instruct students that Edmund Halley was right: the Earth really is hollow.
The aurora borealis and aurora australis are caused by the luminous atmosphere leaking out.
Earthquakes are caused by the mass migrations of the residents who live inside this hollow Earth, or maybe the occasional crash at one of the UFO bases.
And Chemistry, also being just a theory, needs to share academic status and time with Alchemy. Lectures can focus on the latest research on Planet Affinities, and lab sessions can be used to transmute lead to gold, which would also help defray the costs of classroom upkeep and teacher salaries.
There is hope.
More often and in more places, educators, students, and parents are standing up to the faith-based bullies, loud and well-funded as they may be.
And as this is written, in October of 2013, all the textbook publishers are standing together to tell the Texas State Board of Education that they will not dumb-down or dilute their books.
FFaith is faith and science is science. Fervent belief or a show of hands doesn’t determine whether gravity works or not.
And, really, all the storm and bluster about “freedom of speech” or “fairness” from the Creationists would be funny if their intention was not to ruin our education system and kick our science and technology back to the 19th century.
(John MacMurray is a retired La Habra teacher and former Democratic candidate for State Assembly. He blogs at LAProgressive.com where this column was first posted. A must visit. LA’s most important Progressive voice.)
Vol 11 Issue 85
Pub: Oct 22, 2013