Objectivity scares the hell out of people, because facts always trump wishes. I knew that when I started writing for Black Sun Journal 7 years ago. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my ardent promotion of it would lead to me being described in terms of the religious archetype “The Anointed” by someone with a graduate degree in biology! Because I equated the teaching of creationism with child abuse, I’ve raised the hackles of the “parent’s rights” crowd. They see in my words the specter of some sort of vast conspiracy by the state to forcibly educate their children. But I advocate something much narrower: Don’t lie to them. Teach them properly about science and the facts of life. Allow an impartial science panel to set binding curriculum standards. That is all.
Elisheva Hannah Levin is also a homeschooling mom, with a degree in special education. Though a scientist who accepts the theory of evolution, she still hasn’t worked out the importance of consistent standards which would prevent (among other things) the teaching of creationism as science. She sees the importance of scientific truth, but subscribes to a form of Steven Jay Gould’s NOMA, asserting that parents should still have the right to teach their children literalist creation stories. Levin wants to have it both ways.
Now my view is this: this is a free country. If people want to take the Genesis Creation stories (there are two such stories in Genesis) literally, that is their right. And if they want to believe that the world was created as the result of a cosmic battle of gods and goddesses, in which the body of Tiamat the Dragon Goddess was split in half to make the heavens and the earth, that is also their right. And I have no argument with it, so long as I am not asked to believe in Tiamat. And I also respect a person’s right to teach his/her children those beliefs. Again, as long as I may teach my own children my take on B’reshit (which is what Jews call the book of Genesis), and as long as I am free to teach my children science, I have no problem with such people. Mind you, I think they are wrong about it, but it’s a free country. I have no argument with them.
She begins her broadside by attacking my objectivity–quoting Thomas Sowell to mischaracterize my plea for fact-based education as a twisted form of religious zealotry:
(The Vision of the Anointed confers) a special state of grace for those who believe it. Those who accept this vision are deemed to be not merely factually correct, but morally on a higher plane. Put differently, those who disagree with the prevailing vision are seen as being not merely in error, but in sin. For those who hold this vision of the world, the anointed and the benighted do not argue on the same moral plane or play by the same cold rules of logic and evidence. The benighted are to made “aware,” to have their “consciousness rasied,” and the wistful hope is held out that they will “grow.” Should the benighted prove recalcitrant, however, then their “mean-spiritedness” must be fought and the “real reasons” behind their arguments and actions exposed.
She then claims that my advocacy is worse than Jehovah’s Witnesses:
Compared those who hold the Vision of the Anointed, the Jehovah’s Witness at the door is just a walk in park. The Witness after all can only try to persuade you, and you can tell him to leave and he will do it. At worst, you will have to recycle the Watchtower pamplet.
She then picks at straws, claiming there is “no such thing as consensus science” (call it what you will, there is broad agreement on the basics), that the First Amendment is silent on matters of state support of religious education (hogwash), and that miseducation about science does not cause “malformation of the brain” (call it what you want, but kids who are taught creationism by authority figures grow up with erroneous beliefs–they have been taught not to question scripture, which damages their ability to think critically and be objective).
Then she takes the “Anointed” metaphor into the political realm, denying that society at large has any common objective interests whatsoever:
For example, notice that our Black Sun Messiah asserts: “Society at large has a duty to protect…” (Quote I) and “Society has a profound interest…” (Quote II). We, taking the argument to the rational grounds of give and take of empirical evidence, generally think of society as a group of people who have a multitude of differing interests, and a few common interests. But here, Society, with a capital “S” actually stands for the Anointed, the differentially Righteous, who by the grace of their rectitude and possession of the moral high ground, should have the power to direct our lives. Even more so, Society here stands for the coercive power of the state.
I (like most people) am severely distrustful of government control. I have always had strong libertarian leanings, and ironically used to read Thomas Sowell regularly at Capitalism Magazine. Lately I’ve become less inclined toward that school of thought. What’s changed my mind is that libertarians tend to ignore secondary impacts of their actions, as well as the intangible benefits they receive from society. True individualism requires that we keep ourselves in balance with the larger world, paying the hidden costs of our consumption (externalities), and reimbursing society for hidden benefits we receive.
No one is an island, we are all in this together. Seven billion people live on “Spaceship Earth.” Only the most naive isolationists think their actions do not affect others. If we want to understand and deal with those impacts, first we have to acknowledge they exist, and we are responsible for them. This realization is part of growing up intellectually–and it’s why I became an environmentalist.
Obviously, people will always get away with what they can–out of sight, out of mind. So sometimes it takes the hated government to come in and crash their party. To say “Hey, pay for cleaning up the toxic waste generated to create all those products you love.” To say “You can’t poison the water that other people’s children drink.” And, to come full circle to our educational question: To say “You can’t poison the minds of young children–yours or other people’s.”
Do I like the idea of jackboots coming to arrest some poor confused creationist homeschooling mom? Of course not. But what I like even less is losing a generation of 21st century children to recalcitrant parents who want to teach them bronze age legends as fact. Such children grow up and vote, and they vote for leaders who in turn corrupt science and perpetuate the problem. Teaching children lies is not a private matter. It is of grave concern to all citizens in a democracy.
The only way to break this cycle is through objectivity. The only way to decide what to teach children about science is to limit it to what can be proven. I’ll admit it’s a scary thought to people who are used to getting their way. But accepting unpleasant realities is also a part of growing up. Just because parents are adults doesn’t mean they are psychologically mature, or that they have come to terms with reality. We can’t let their tantrums corrupt a generation.
However we need to do it (and believe me, I’m open to suggestions), we need to establish an impartial objective panel to set the science curriculum for all schools, public, private, and home-based. We need to put parents on notice that they are accountable for their actions. If they want to teach their scripture as literature, by all means do so. But to use scripture to teach children to contradict what we know to be true about life on our planet is mendacious and borders on the criminal.
Levin still argues in this vein that people should have the right to be wrong:
The beliefs that some people teach their children also make me cringe. And it is extremely offensive to me when I am told I am going to hell because I do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah. But I understand the limits of my power in this situation. I have no positive right not to be offended. As long as I live in a free society, I must defend the rights of others to speech that may offend me deeply. And just as I have no right to force my ideas upon them, they also have not right to force theirs on me. That is what the first amendment right to free speech is about. Roger Williams, the Puritan founder (along with Anne Hutchinson) of the religiously free colony of Rhode Island, did not agree with the other Protestants and Quakers to whom he gave refuge. He thought and said that they were dead wrong. But he steadfastly maintained their right to be wrong. He said: “Those who are at the helm must remember what it is like to be in the hatches.”
The free-speech argument is admittedly strong. Normally I would agree. But again, the parental role is a powerful one, and comes with solemn responsibilities. Would we accept it if a parent repeatedly told their child the sky was red and the earth was flat? I mean it’s free speech, right? What if they wanted to teach their children not just martial arts, but that violence was the best way to resolve disputes and get ahead in life. Free speech, right? Or what if some parents taught their children that it was a fun prank to cry “fire” in a crowded theater. We’d lock up the kids and their parents, I’m sure. So there are already clear limits to parental free-speech. We have truancy laws. Clearly society recognizes an interest in proper children’s education. I advocate that this clear common interest should extend to cover parents who systematically lie to their children about settled questions of science.
This is as simple as it gets. It’s just common sense: Stop lying to your kids.