Monday, December 27, 2010
In Support of Public Schools Teaching Intelligent Design and Other Nonsense
The debate with Baruch Pelta seems to have fizzled out, though I think for all the right reasons. We agree, in practice, on too many things and neither of us is interested in throwing around ad hominem polemics in an attempt to manufacture a disagreement. We have, though, continued to talk in private and what we found is that my pursuit of orthodox libertarian politics may in fact be a far more effective generator of disagreement than any defense of the Orthodox Jewish religion. This is particularly the case when it comes to public schools and the teaching of intelligent design.
Both Baruch and I support evolution and oppose intelligent design theory. That being said Baruch adopts a traditional liberal approach and supports the existence of public schools as instruments of teaching "objective facts." He draws a line between evolution, to be enshrined as objective fact, and intelligent design, which can be dismissed as mere religion. From this perspective attempts to teach evolution in public schools, even in the face of opposing parents, are a defense of the public good while attempts to teach intelligent design, even when backed by parents and local school boards, are attacks on the freedom of religion.
As a libertarian I oppose the existence of government funded public schools. As J. S. Mill understood, any attempt to bring government into education, by definition, means one group trying to impose their values on others. The teaching of evolution is a good example of this. While I accept the theory of evolution and desire that my children study it as part of the private education I hope to one day purchase for them, that is simply my opinion. I recognize that there are other people who do not accept evolution and do not want it taught to their children. In a free society I must accept the fact that their views, no matter how based in ignorance, are of equal value to mine. Because of this, I have no right to make any attempt to use government (by definition a coercive act) to advance my views, no matter how right I think I am and how good my intentions are.
To justify the teaching of evolution, its supporters need to resort to an arbitrary distinction between religion and other opinions, with one being given special protections and allowed to be forced upon children as fact. Not only that, but the government is deemed capable of deciding what counts as science and what is a religion. This is sophistry, in which facts are simply those things one agrees with and religion is that which one opposes. Thus the very concept of freedom of thought is rendered meaningless.
I have yet to meet anyone seriously willing to defend public schools as in keeping with the maintenance of free thought. What I usually get it is this defiant attitude of "public schools are here to stay and I should get with reality." As if pragmatism could ever excuse a fundamentally unjust system. So here it is; if we are going to have public schools, and it looks like we are going to be stuck with them for the near future, this is what you will need in order to minimize government infringement on personal liberties. If government is going to decide that education is an arena worthy of its interest then the government must be prevented from putting a meaningful definition on the term. The government can give money for "education" and it will be left to parents and school boards to decide what "education" means and spend the money accordingly. If they decide that science education means intelligent design or even creationism that should be their right. To be clear, white supremacist parents should also be left to decide that holocaust denial is a form of history and use government money to teach that.
Under such circumstances, giving over a meaningful education is likely to be a problem. This is a price I am willing to pay. It is the price that every supporter of freedom agrees to pay; believing in freedom means that allowing people to pursue their own misguided and destructive beliefs, no matter how horrific the consequences, is better than employing the slightest bit of coercion. Of course, as a supporter of freedom, I am also an optimist and believe that, in the long run, getting government less involved with education will mean more good teachers giving over a meaningful education to outweigh the intelligent designers, the creationists and even the holocaust deniers.