Sunday, February 14, 2010

Young Earth Creationists Want Your History Textbooks Too

Historian Russell Shorto has a long article in the New York Times magazine about school board debates as to how to teach the issue of the religious intentions of the founding fathers. Did the founding fathers wish this to be a "Christian country?" Shorto is one of the leading historians today in understanding the complex role of religion in the scientific revolution and the rise of modernity. I would have liked to have seen more of him explaining to readers why this issue defies simple ideological verdicts of yes America was founded as a Christian nation or no it was not. Instead, Shorto focuses on the Texas school board and its leading conservative, Dan McLeroy. McLeroy wishes to make sure that children learn about how Ronald Reagan restored national confidence, Phyllis Schlafly, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the NRA. He is also a young-Earth creationist, who believes that the Bible is the ultimate source of our legal principles. (Why can't young Earthers just stick to destroying science and leave history alone?)

Those of my readers not from the State of Texas might think to breathe a sigh of relief; McLeroy is not on your State's school board so he does not affect you. Here is the problem, the major textbook publishing companies, for a variety of reasons, take their cues from the Texas school system. They will publish their history textbooks with Texas in mind and these textbooks are then used throughout the country, including a school near you. Let us be very clear. McLeroy, through his power of blackmail, has control over what sort of history your children will be learning and he is not just out to try to teach creationism to your children; he is also trying to teach a Christian apologist narrative. Imagine if Artscroll and Rabbi Berel Wein were being put in charge of writing history textbooks. Do you believe that McLeroy cares about a historical method or any critical analysis of history?

As a Libertarian and a follower of J. S. Mill, this is a good example of why I do not support government-funded public schools. I ask all of you, dear readers, who believe in government-controlled public schools, how can you trust the government to not abuse this power to ideologically indoctrinate your children? Would you trust the government to run the media? Government-controlled public education means that people like McLeroy will have control over your children and there is nothing you can do about it. I have every intention of making sure that no young-Earth creationists have any influence in the education of my children by sending any future children of mine to a carefully picked private school. (If need be, I will homeschool my children myself.) Every parent in this country deserves this opportunity and should not be forced into the hands of McLeroy simply because they cannot afford to pay twice over for their children's education.

As a history teacher, this is a good example of why I refuse to use official textbooks. I know that any official textbook has been held hostage to the interests of non-historians, out simply to score ideology points. Thus it is hopelessly tainted. I will stick to history books written by historians and answerable only to historians.


OTD said...

They should do what the Orthodox do. Make their own schools where they can rob their kids blind of an education without any nosy government poking around!

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

You make a good point about using only private books by historians and not textbooks.

Actually, I think McLeroy has a lot of basis. It is true that the textbooks have been underplaying the religious elements of American political culture.

As for creationism: I wrote an extremely lengthy letter to McLeroy, articulating my concerns. I told him that history and science should be taught only with regard to objective facts, and that any ideological conclusions should be left to the students. Therefore, I said, the fact that America was Christian and that the Revolutionary War was also called the Presbyterian Rebellion, etc., should be distinguished from the opinion of whether it should continue to be Christian today.

McLeroy told me that he agreed that facts and opinion should be distinguished. He didn't elaborate on which of my specific remarks he agreed or disagreed with, but it appears that he more or less agrees with my basic assertion that facts and opinions must be distinguished.

As for creationism: I said that science class should only teach the objective scientific evidence for a and against evolution. By contrast, I said, creationism is a religious opinion and should be confined to philosophy class. McLeroy didn't give me his own opinion on the matter, but he told me that the most recent science standards contain no mention of creationism.

The new science standards are here. To quote some of the relevant passages:

*** "Nature of science. Science, as defined by the National Academy of Sciences, is the "use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena, as well as the knowledge generated through this process." This vast body of changing and increasing knowledge is described by physical, mathematical, and conceptual models. Students should know that some questions are outside the realm of science because they deal with phenomena that are not scientifically testable."

*** "The student is expected to ... (B) analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record;"

(I assume "analyze and evaluate" means they'll be taught the evidence both for and against evolution.)

Of course, the devil is in the details, and it remains to be seen how the textbooks will put these guidelines into practice. But just judging on these guidelines themselves, and my communication with McLeroy, I am not terribly concerned.

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

Here, we further read, "In science class, you—the grassroots—stood up to the left and their friends in the education science lobby and won a major victory for scientific integrity—a victory that has increased in importance with the recent scandal of the far-left’s politicizing of global warming. New standards that scientifically question evolution, the origin of life, and climate science will ensure that science will not be "sold" to our children, but will be "taught" to them by examining the strengths and weaknesses of scientific explanations."

Again, the devil is in the details. But assuming that the objections to evolution are based on solid science, and are not politicized, then I have no problem.

I of course believe in evolution, but as long as the subject is taught faithfully, with all the relevant scientific data provided, then let the students decide for themselves.

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

Of course, I also support school vouchers. The government shouldn't pay for the sectarian aspects of the education, but it should indeed pay for any part of the curriculum that meets the relevant educational standards in science, history, etc.

PrincessMax said...

I support government funded education because without it, different assholes would deny non-white kids and poor kids the ability to read and write. Basics first, then nuance.

Izgad said...


I have a business opportunity for you and a chance to make the world a better place (depending on what holds a greater appeal to you). Why don’t you open the PrincessMax Open School for Tolerance and Educational Investments? You can allow anyone you want to attend no matter their creed or skin color. You can also offer poor children the opportunity to put themselves down as investment companies. Let us find talented but poor children and agree to fund their education in exchange for a sizeable return when they become successful. With free market capitalism everyone can win.

Izgad said...

You can also fund schools by selling advertising space. We get Nike to fund sports by allowing them to put their swoosh symbol everywhere. Let Nike compete with the Catholic Church for the chance to be able to put a swoosh or a crucifix in every classroom.

Clarissa said...

" I ask all of you, dear readers, who believe in government controlled public schools, how can you trust the government to not abuse this power to ideologically indoctrinate your children?"

-Because I trust everybody else even less. I have worked both at public and privately owned universities and the difference is that at a public university nobody tries to control the ideology of what I teach and publish. In privately owned schools it was the opposite.

Izgad said...

There is a difference in that private institutions pushing their beliefs are doing it with their money. (No I do not support federal money going to faith based initiatives.) When a government institution does it they are doing it with other people’s money. When I first came to Ohio State, my advisor sat me down and lectured me about being careful about what I say about religion and politics lest I offend the wrong person. We were officially sat down and given teacher training sessions where we were ordered to push a very specific ideological agenda. There were clear privileged groups whose feelings were to be protected and other groups noticeable by there not being any mention of protecting their feelings. Teaching at a Jewish school I am being told to push a specific Jewish agenda. I do not mind. One, I do not particularly care and will continue to teach history the way I think it should be taught. Two, I am being funded by Jews with the intention of serving a Jewish agenda. If my funders decide that what I do does not fit them then they are free to fire me. So by definition there can be no issue of anyone having anything pushed down their throats.