One of the saddest things about our educational system is how parents and the public have been marginalized in decisions about their childrens’ education.
There is, to be sure, ostensible representation through elections for local school board members. Yet, the power of school boards to represent their voters is highly constrained by mandates imposed by state and federal education bureaucracies. Any assertion that parents and communities have a say in their own childrens’ education is belied by such controversies as the Dover PA case over the place of Intelligent Design theory in the biology curriculum. I wrote about this in 2007 in an article for The Christian Century.
The principal question that arose in the Dover case is whether parents and elected school boards do, in fact, have a meaningful role in deciding what their children should be taught. Sadly, the answer from the Dover case was clear: no, they do not. Despite all the high-flown rhetoric that has swirled around the evolution teaching controversies, the argument is not about evolution at all, or science versus religion, or any of that. The argument over evolution is really a proxy for the deeper question of who gets to decide our childrens’ education? Edward Larson’s marvelous history of the Scopes trial Summer for the Gods
makes this point eloquently.
These thoughts were prompted by a short news item in the 1 March 2018 edition of Nature: “Florida bills to impact schools.” The bill in question would allow “the public to review educational materials and to suggest alternatives”. Decisions on whether to act on the suggestions would rest with school boards. On the face of it, the Florida bill seems to be a mild recalibration of the political landscape to devolve more authority to elected school boards. This seems right and proper.
Naturally, this is regarded as a Bad Thing by the right thinkers. It would “expose schools to activists who oppose the teaching of topics such as evolution and climate warming”, according to the environmental science activist Brandon Haught. Naturally, the Nature article presents him as a disinterested school teacher, without letting the reader know of Haught’s own inconvenient activism (he is Communications Director and Co-Founder of Florida Citizens for Science). One wonders, is it “activists” he is worried about, or activists who disagree with him?
And of course, the activist group National Center for Science Education is there with disapproving comments of their own, whose spokesperson Glenn Branch (Deputy Director of NCSE) frets that the bill would make it “easier for individuals to target such topics” (i.e. evolution and climate change). Can’t have that.
Which only raises the question: what’s wrong with that? The sad fact is that both Darwinism and climate warming have become points of dogma in the Progressive catechism, not to be challenged on any grounds. Yet, in both evolutionism and climate science, the fields themselves are much richer than can be contained within the dogma. Evolutionary thought right now, for example, is exceptionally rich, even to the point that it is looking like Darwinism may, in fact, be false (the major argument I make in Purpose and Desire). And climate science, behind all the public posturing and doom-mongering, is uncovering the remarkable and unpredictable drivers of climate, including adaptation to changing climate (a topic also close to my heart).
Mightn’t it be time, then, to open things up a bit in how we teach these subjects? And might not the public be better equipped to pry open the gates defended by self-interested activist groups like the NCSE? Might not our childrens’ education be enriched thereby?
Just a thought …
Turner, J. S. (2007). Signs of design. The Christian Century
Larson, E. J. (2008). Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion, Basic Books.
Guglielmi, Giorgia. (2018). Florida bills to impact schools. Nature
555(1 March 2018: 15.