Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Anointed and The Benighted

I have been following several interesting discussion about the right of parents to educate their children within their own world-views, and the obligation of the state not to interfere in the parent-child relationship. One of the discussions is here, at the Illinois Review. Another discussion was precipitated by Dana's musings about how the view of abuse has become less than strictly defined, over at Principled Discovery. In that blog entry, Dana also features an excerpt of a piece from Black Sun Journal, which equates the religious education of children by their parents with child abuse.

At the same time, I have been preparing a presentation for my Trends and Issues in Special Education course that discusses what happens when an ideological divide takes the place of reasoned arguments in a field. In this case, the issue that precipitated the divide is the Regular Education Initiative, which has been advocated with nearly religious fervor by a certain small group of Post-Modernist thinkers. In preparation for that presentation I have been reading, among others, Thomas Sowell's 1995 book, The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as the Basis for Social Policy, which is part of his Conflict of Visions series.

In this book, Sowell characterizes what happens when a field or an issue moves from rational, evidence-based discussion to the brink of an ideological divide. Essentially, he says that the this movement creates an "us" and "them" mentality, in which one side claims 'the Vision of the Anointed.' This vision is comprised of "the perceptions, beliefs and assumptions of an elite intelligentsia, whose revelations prevail over others in the determination of policy." The other side, which often persists in an attempt at rational discussion long past useful resolution, gets cast with having the "Vision of the Benighted." The perceptions, beliefs and assumptions of the hapless Benighted group are cast as being "at best, perceptions, more often, stereotypes, and more bluntly, false consciousness."

Sowell goes on to say that those who hold the Vision of the Anointed, take it upon themselves to characterize those they deem "them" to be not only factually wrong, but morally inferior. Because the Anointed ascribe to themselves only the best of motives, they do not feel the need to define their terms or to present logical arguments or empirical evidence for their rightness. They are right because they are the caring and compassionate few, the Ones Who Know What is Best for Us All, and if only we would let them get on with the business deciding momentous questions on the basis of their Vision, we'd all be led to the Promised Land. Sowell says it better than I:

"(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."

Sowell calls the vision of the anointed a "vision of differential rectitude." (Emphasis in the original). I call it a quasi-religious world view of the elect and the damned, in which the elect do not recognize any obligation to be tolerant towards those who disagree with them, but rather feel compelled to use the coercive power of the state to bring the Benighted damned to salvation.

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.

Let's just take a look at two quotations from Black Sun Journal with the above metaphor for the ideological divide in mind. In this case, it is homeschoolers, and particularly those who are teaching their children their own religious world view, who have been cast into the Vision of the Benighted. The Black Sun author clearly sees herself as The Anointed.

Quote I: Home schooling is a discretionary option for parents, the quality of which can vary widely. Because of this inconsistency, it may not be in the best interest of children, who often have no choice about their participation. Society at large has a duty to protect the minds as well as the bodies of vulnerable children from abuse by authority figures. In most cases, home schooling parents have a strong religious agenda, and therefore on First Amendment grounds such education does not meet the standards for a generalized public subsidy. A case can also be made that to the extent home schooling attempts to undermine the principles of consensus science, not only should it be denied government support, it should also be expressly prohibited. (Emphasis added).

Digression: By the way, as a working scientist, I am very troubled by the phrase "consensus science." In science, ideas are not developed by consensus, but by rigorous experimental design, which is regularly reviewed and criticized by colleagues. Argument and challenge are ideally the order of the day. "Consensus science" is an oxymoron.

Another Digression: I am also puzzled by the reference to the First Amendment. The First Amendment describes a limit on government interference into the religious lives of the people. It does not prescribe that the government coerce secularism in the private lives of individuals, which is what our Anointed One is calling for, in saying "...it should be expressly prohibited."

Quote II: It is for this reason that I consider religious education to be a serious form of child abuse. No matter what kind of beliefs they might hold about underage sexuality, we don’t allow parents to sexually abuse their children because we understand that they don’t own their children’s bodies. Likewise we should understand just as clearly that no matter what their religions might demand they teach, parents do not own their kids’ minds. Society has a profound interest in the truthful education and proper formation of its future citizens. Therefore it should be expressly against the law to teach children a curriculum that so blatantly and directly contradicts science–even and especially in private. Such curricula should be treated like child pornography. Because miseducation is at least as damaging to children as sexual abuse. We’re talking about the malformation of the brain a child will possess for life. It goes without saying that it does not matter whether it is conducted in the home or in a private group setting, it should absolutely, positively never receive any government subsidy or funding. (Emphasis Added).

Digression: Malformation of the brain? I am a neuroscientist, and I can tell you that teaching specific ideas does not create malformation of the brain. Brain problems are more likely to occur in children who are not brought up in loving families with strong attachment to parents. I would worry much more about the Brave New World quality of child rearing at the hands of the state that this author implies.

Another Digression: Also note the statement "especially in private." Privacy and private life are the result of liberty and capitalism. No such distinction as that between private life and public life exists under any form of Fascism.

Still Another Digression: This is the second time this Anointed One has mentioned government funding. Just for the record, although I have not conducted a scientific poll, my experience of homeschoolers is that we pay our taxes for public schools we do not use, and in general, we are opposed to government subsidies because they would inevitably lead to Pols (as we called them in Chicago: Royko used to say they were incapable of walking and chewing gum at the same time) sticking their noses into our private lives.

I think the tone and the assertions of knowledge without evidence alone tells us that this is definitely a person with The Vision of the Anointed. I noticed in the discussion at Black Sun, and the discussion with another Anointed person over at the Illinios review, that homeschoolers, in general, try to stay with the argument from reason. Out of esteem for our fellows, we tend to think of them as operating on the same moral plane as ourselves, and do not realize that we have been cast into The Vision of the Benighted. I believe that we must start attacking their ideas on the highest level, as ideas.

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.

These are not ideas that are compatible with a government that is limited to Constitutionally defined concerns. It is not an idea compatible with a government confined by the Rule of Law. These ideas promote the view of a government that respects some persons over others, and in which the Elect would get to work their will upon the rest of us, whether we like it or not. Such ideas must be challenged not only at the level of point-by-point discussion of the facts, for the Anointed do not need empirical data, they are in a particular state of grace. Rather, they ought to be challenged on the level of the ideas themselves.

I do have a question for the Anointed of the Black Sun: You presume to impose the tyranny of your wishes upon others, to forbid them from teaching their children religion. But you are not in the majority. You wish to remove the guaranties of the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States, because you believe they allow the Benighted to pass on their Benightedness. And yet, you, as an atheist, are undoubtedly in the minority. Once the protections of the rights of individuals are removed, at your behest, what will stop the Christian majority from making it illegal for you to teach that atheism to your children?

What will you do when the shoe is on the other foot?


Amie said...

That opinion infuriates me! Honestly, if these people had their way...what would be the purpose of becoming a parent? To simply provide the state with good little citizens?

momof3feistykids said...

Wow, there is so much to comment on here, I wouldn't know where to begin. Parents do not own the minds of their children, this is true. But NEITHER DOES THE STATE.

Digressing a bit ... I was also troubled by the term "Consensus Science." It sounds to me like scientific truth (according to this writer) is what our government says it is. And we all know the government NEVER twists scientific facts to suit their own ends. (Rolling eyes). Oy! I'd better not get started.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Amie: I shudder to think of what would happen to our children and families if these dictator-wanna-be's had their way.

Momof3: No parents do not own the minds of their kids, as I often observe, when I tell my mother that my son "has a mind of his own!" ;) But parents, by virtue of parenthood, do have an obligation to raise their kids and acculturate them, and so far, the evidence is that no substitution is as effective as ordinary, oft-mistaken parents and families at doing this job. The state actually has very little interest in the children, and certainly does not own them. Rather, we have ceded to the state the obligation to protect our rights, including the rights of children.

Dawn said...

Excellent post. I recognized something with the Stephen Downes character that Dana's (at Prin.Disc.) been dealing with but couldn't define it. I think you have defined it perfectly though.

Anonymous said...

I have some conflicted feelings about this topic, because there are some parents whose "isolationist" policies, including homeschooling, make it more difficult to detect and prosecute abuse and/or neglect of children. And I have no "solution" for this.

When I first started homeschooling, I was careful to follow the letter of the law in submitted the correct paperwork and having a yearly assessment done (in our case, by a certified teacher), as required by state law. I didn't find this a particular burden, although I was always a little anxious as I went through the process of getting the forms and letters submitted, in the correct order, to the correct places. Now I live in a state with no reporting requirements whatsoever, fortunately, because I find (to my astonishment, because I've always been a law-abiding citizen), that I have changed my mind about the state's role in my children's education. I want to function as a "com plete" adult. I don't have so much as a traffic ticket on my "permanent record", and I bristle when I have to provide my social security number before I can get a driver's license, or when someone suggests that I, as a home educator, need some sort of oversight. And yet - I cringe when some of my home-educated violin students tell my kids that they're going to a not-very-nice place in the hereafter, after they find out that my kids don't know that the dinosaurs were "wicked animals that got left off the ark". Sigh...


BlackSun said...

As the so-called "anointed" I would ask you:

Would you agree that there should be certain impartial non-negotiable standards to which all parents should be held regarding science education?

That is my only point. No one is trying to "steal away your children." All this nonsense about government "tyranny" is only a smokescreen to divert attention from the fact that many parents who 1) teach creationism and 2) withhold sex education from their children are guilty of lying to them and keeping them deliberately ignorant.

This should not be permitted. As a "working scientist," you should damn well know better. I don't care who sets the standard--whether government or a broad-based panel of peer-appointed scientists. The only proviso is that the panel should be free of all political and religious meddling.

Kids have a right to be educated into the reality of the universe in which they live. Saying otherwise is way beyond morally bankrupt, it's criminal. Shame on you.

Neither chemistry, physics, math, or biology are matters of opinion. On the main points of knowledge, there is broad and deep consensus. The disagreements of which you speak are minor and only at the margins. For example, no credible scientist supports any form of creationism.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Deborah: The problems of child abuse and isolationism are not confined to homeschooling, although there are those that would like to argue that they are. Children who are abused come from a multitude of environments, including state custody, and in fact there is a great deal of evidence that children are more likely to abused outside of parental custody.
That said, certainly the state has the obligation to protect the rights of children in cases of child abuse regardless of whether it occurs inside or outside the family. No society or state, whether free or totalitarian, however, will be able to stop all violence (against children or anybody else); a perfect life simply cannot be had. Take a look at The Minority Report sometime. It is a science fiction story about a society that arrests people who are predicted to be about to commit a crime. That society only suceeds in the transfer of the perpetrators of violence and injustice from the criminals to the government.

In any case, the Black Sun Journal's argument is that teaching children a particular world view is, in fact, child abuse. I disagree with that definition. Black sun asserts (and continues to assert--see his/her (?) comment) that the state should step in and enforce the teaching of a particular world-view, Black Sun's world-view, because the teaching of any other world view is asserted to be child-abuse. This certainly goes beyond any current legal definition of child abuse.

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."

Black Sun:
In answer to your question thus:
"Would you agree that there should be certain impartial non-negotiable standards to which all parents should be held regarding science education?"

My answer: No. I do not agree.

Parents are not agents of the state, but free citizens, who have the right to educate their children as they see fit, regardless of my (and your) opinion of their ideas.
Do teachers of science have an obligation to standards? Yes. By contract, they must adhere to the standards of the institution to which they are contractually obliged. Public school teachers are bound to the district and state standards that their institutions promulgate.

As to the first sentence of your last paragraph:
"Neither chemistry, physics, math, or biology are matters of opinion."
I agree. In fact, if you look at my post "Don't Call It Science!" I argue the same point. However, I do not base my scientific argument on consensus, but on the definition of science and evidence. Arguing from consensus for a scientific viewpoint is asking for problems, because paradigm shifts in science of necessity start out as minority viewpoints that oppose the consensus of the day. For more about this, I invite you to read The Road to Jaramillo: Critical Years of the Revolution in Earth Science by William Glenn.

The rest of your comment is a combination of assertion without evidence, the use of the logical fallacy ad hominem attack, and the assertion of a positive "right" with no Constitutional basis. These tactics are common to those who hold the "Vision of the Anointed."

I will not argue them, because they are not arguments.

But you have not answered the questions I asked you at the end of my blog entry:"...What will you do when the shoe is on the other foot?"

Anonymous said...

Elisheva, What you say about child abuse is undoubtedly true. I was suggesting that abuse and neglect could be harder to detect in an extremely isolated family. As a practical person, I recognize that we don't live in a perfect world; as the parent of "free" unschooled children (who are at this moment writing stories and reading them to each other), my heart bleeds for children who are under the absolute control of abusive and/or neglectful parents.

I disagree with Black Sun's stance on "appropriate" science education. It is not only patronizing, but doesn't even result in their desired outcome for people who attend public school. When I was a child, homeschooling was rare, which suggests that many homeschool parents who teach their children "creationism" are themselves products of the pubic school system.

And the "child abuse" argument is ludicrous.


BlackSun said...

"But you have not answered the questions I asked you at the end of my blog entry:"...What will you do when the shoe is on the other foot?"

Like in Iran, for example? I'm counting on the fact that the world will eventually see the benefit of (hopefully peaceably) eliminating theocracies. Secular government must prevail.

You might want to check out my more thorough response to your arguments.

BlackSun said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BlackSun said...

Since links are disabled here, search on "Black Sun Stop Lying to your Kids" to read my thorough rebuttal.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Hi, Deborah: Yes, I understood your points but I thought what you said was worthy of elaboration for others who might read. My heart also bleeds for abused children. However, I once held a job as a house-mother for a local agency that provided beds for children being brought into the system for abuse and neglect, as well as other problems. I can tell you that those children were also effectively isolated and far more likely to be abused in the foster care system they were going into from this facility. And with respect to the California case, those children had been under the scrutiny of child protective services for nearly 20 years, and yet the abuse was ongoing.

Black Sun: "Like Iran" is not an answer to the question. It begs the question, because what you are advocating is that a small minority of people, who have the Truth, should have the right to dictate to others who do not agree how to raise their children. Exactly like Iran. Iran is a country in which the state controls the ideas and beliefs that can be expressed and taught. If the protections of the Constitution are removed, then why do you assume that your ideas will be the ones mandated? It is far more likely that the Christian majority will mandate their ideas, simply because they will have the numbers to do so and a system in which individual rights to dissent are no longer protected. I prefer an imperfect but free system in which people choose how to live their own lives and raise their own children. But you are advocating for a system in which people will have the state tell them what to think and how to raise their children.You assume that it will be your ideas. So what will you do when you are subject to the dictates of a majority that you disagree with?

BlackSun said...

"If the protections of the Constitution are removed, then why do you assume that your ideas will be the ones mandated?"

You're still not getting it!

I don't want my ideas implemented. I don't know what the solutions are. No one's opinions should carry the day. Only what's scientifically supportable. I want the best, most objective policies in place. What those are should be determined empirically, not through popular vote.

If we are to attempt to salvage our democracy, we must have sound objective education. Demonstration of critical thinking ability and detailed knowledge of issues should be a prerequisite for voting. Pass the quiz--get the ballot. Fail the quiz? Read the position papers again, take the quiz again. Pass the quiz, get your ballot. Fail the quiz a second time? You don't get to vote.

This laissez-faire idiocracy in which we live is no shining example. For every educated voter, there's a loser doing eenie-meenie-minie-mo in the voting booth. The tone of the debate gets worse every election. When choosing a leader, substance should not be some kind of distant memory. Something has to change.

Let's start with educating the next generation objectively.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Black Sun: You certainly have changed your tune. In the post I quoted, you asserted that religious education is child abuse, and that it ought to be outlawed, especially if done in private.

In your most recent post on your blog you admitted that you thought the government should intervene and force parents to teach your views, because they are right. This would require a suspension of the Bill of Rights to accomplish, because you are talking about controlling what citizens would do in their own homes.

I don't know if they teach 1984 in the public schools anymore, but what you proposed, and now have backed away from, would require the same kind of intrusion into private life that is depicted. You would need to have Big Brother Watching the benighted "idiots."

When pressed three times, you still refuse to answer the question of what you would do if, as is likely, it was your views, which are considerably in the minority were the ones outlawed.

I think you did not think about the implications of your initial statements when you made them.

As for the wanting the 'best, most objective' policies in place, my argument is that our servant-government has no right to put any policies in place that interfere with the private lives of citizens. The United States is bound by a social contract called the Constitution which limits government coercion to the public sphere, and only in order to protect the rights of the people.

You may not agree. But in order to implement any such policies you must suspend the Constitution.

As for your poll-test, it sounds a good deal like the forced "political education" that friends and relatives who survived the Nazis and the Soviet Totalitarian State have told me about.

I think I'll pass. They escaped to American for a reason, and I will not waste their sacrifices for my freedom.

And since I see that you are unwilling to stand by what you said, nor are you willing to consider the rather obvious implications of what might happen to you in the state you envision, there is not much else to be said about this.

You and I will continue to disagree.

BlackSun said...

All your whining about totalitarianism completely ignores the fact that objective government would have a clear check and balance: the facts. Democracy has no such limitation. It's one big bloated argument from popularity. Government by logical fallacy.

The only thing that tempers the tyranny of the religious majority in this country right here, right now, is the Constitution, for which I'm grateful. The establishment clause prevents the exact scenario you outline (creating a theocracy or "outlawing" the secular). So your question is irrelevant. It would never happen.

But the constitution doesn't go nearly far enough. I advocate strengthening the separation of church and state, and adding provisions about required performance metrics for elected officials and their policies. Fail the metric, lose your job.

Objective government would also prohibit any deficit spending under any circumstances. Or diversion of funds from the precise program for which they were collected. There would be many benefits to the society as a whole, but you can count on the special interests to hang on to their perqs with a death grip. Which is why my plan (or anyone's plan to fully eliminate intellectual or political corruption) will never be implemented.

The whole objective government thing is a thought experiment and an exercise in idealism. So you can relax now.

But I am still completely serious about the mandatory science curriculum. Even if it couldn't be enforced, the government would still be on record as requiring it. And I'd love to see all the creationist propaganda confiscated. When you consider the raw danger to young inquiring minds who trust their parents and teachers to tell them the truth, it's no better than kiddie porn.

Which is why I still can't believe you're a scientist defending teaching creationism. A commenter over at BSJ asked a good question: Would you be in favor of allowing parents to teach their children the Holocaust never happened?

Because that's the history equivalent of what you support in terms of science education. Since you're Jewish, I'd suggest you seriously reflect on that.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Oh, Black Sun, you make me laugh!

I am beginning to understand that you are either pulling my leg or you have some kind of brain malformation. Perhaps your parents taught you too much religion?

You have no plan but you do have a plan? You do not want to have your plan implemented, but yo do want to force people to do things your way? You want to outlaw the teaching of religion, but you want to strengthen the separation between church and state? You respect the Constitution, but you want to confiscate literature? I suppose next you'll say that it was not all right for Comstock to confiscate birth-control literature, but it is alright for you to confiscate creationist pamplets, because...well, after all, Comstock was not doing it for the same higher purposes as you, he was Benighted!

Oh, me! Your own comments demonstrate just how much you have bought into the Vision of the Anointed.

This is all just too funny! I suppose I could continue for a few more good laughs.

The Holocaust denial question is not a good question. It requires almost no reflection on my part. The asker assumes that it was because people could speak freely in their own homes that Hitler was able to murder millions of people. That assumption is completely wrong. No, it was because it was illegal for anyone in Germany to teach anything or speak anything that was not "Party approved" that the Shoah happened. Everyone who disagreed understood that they would be sent to camps and killed if they spoke out on behalf of the Jews. Interestingly enough, it was a small number of religious Christians, mostly Protestant, the people that you disdain, who were the most likely to risk their own lives to save the lives of Jews.

It is precisely because of the Shoah that I will continue to defend the freedom of people who disagree with me to do so.

Clearly, you need to do a bit more critcal analysis of history. Maybe some homeschoolers could tutor you in critical thinking about this. My homeschooled fourteen year old saw through your argument immediately. He says: It was Fascist government of Germany that suspended the rights of its citizens, confiscated literature, and outlawed the teaching of religion by parents to children. In fact, they removed all German kids from parental influence through the Nazi Youth Movement and through fear and intimidation by instructing children to inform on their parents. The Nazis did all these same things that you wish to perpetrate against religious people in this country."

Oh, my! Your screeds are no more than special pleading. You are Different, more Objective and Intelligent. You Know What's Best For Us. Everyone who disagrees with you is an Idiot. If only we would just get our consciousness raised, you, the Anointed One, could lead us to the Promised Land.

Oy! A good belly laugh is wonderful for the soul!

Good-bye, O Black Sun Messiah. This has been an interesting diversion.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this revealing observation of Black Sun Journal's general elitist, half-cocked, biased, steam rolling arrogance. 'Anointed' Black Sun,
"If the Boot FITS..."

Anonymous said...

This is my favorite part: "But I am still completely serious about the mandatory science curriculum. Even if it couldn't be enforced, the government would still be on record as requiring it."

There we go. As long as the government's on record, I guess we're good.

Elisheva, you are just not getting the point. He's not trying to get his opinions taught. They are not his opinions. They're simply the factual truth.


Elisheva Hannah Levin said...


You are so right! I have invited t the troll for dinner, and look at the mess he made!

I needed to have stopped at this:

Black Sun, you make me laugh...


Unknown said...

IMHO, It boils down to this:

Fact: Evolution is the dominant scientific theory in Biology.

To not teach your children Evolution means you are not teaching Biology.


Because Evolution best explains the fossil record (as radiocarbon and uranium dated), the existing species of life, and the ongoing processes of biological change; Evolution is necessary for a student to understand modern biology.


You can't teach physics without gravity;
You can't teach chemistry without atomic theory;
You can't teach biology without evolution.

End of story.

PS-- The whole rights-based argument is hooey. I'm angry that another future citizen is going to be scientifically illiterate... we need every ounce of brainpower if we want to tackle the world's problems.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

I have published Matt's comment (above) with some reservations.

I do need to make a clarification, because Matt is using the straw man argument. I am not sure if he is being deliberately obtuse or not. It is common among the Anointed to assume that anyone that disagrees with them on one thing disagrees on everything.

Matt is "angry" that another citizen is not learning evolution.
It sounds like he is assuming that I am not teaching my son the theory of evolution.

If that is the case, Matt may rest assured that, in fact, my 14 year old probably knows more about the modern synthesis of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection than most students his own age. He attended many a graduate seminar with me when he was little, and played in my office and lab while I worked (this probably wouldn't be allowed now--but my major professors were of the old school), or helped with experiments. By ten years of age, he was developing his own evolutionary hypotheses for various observations he had made as a matter of course--probably in self-defense after hearing them bandied about the dinner table for most of his life. His father is a physicist/mathematician (theory and cosmology), his step-father is an engineer, I am an evolutionary biologist, and his adult sister is a chemist. He has had advantages in science education that most people do not have.

Everyone in our family accepts the overwhelming evidence for evolution by natural selection (modern synthesis).
However, we have grave reservations about social Darwinism which is not at all scientific in its definition of fitness.

So, Matt, if you are worried about my son, you can rest assured that he probably has more experience in the real, nitty-gritty work of science than most.

If you are sincere in your worry, this should relieve your mind. If you are deliberately mistating my position then you'll come up with a new twist.

Unknown said...

Your reply sounds solid enough to me; my concern is that the philosophy of science sometimes goes out the window with evolution. (Throwing the baby out with the bathwater is the phrase that comes to mind.) If you teach children to reason, and give them firm moral examples and ethics to match, then you're doing a good job. Kids are great learners, teach 'em to use their mind and heart and there's little they can't accomplish.

Don't know how Social Darwinism came up. That whole philosophy is really just an pseudo-scientific excuse for anti-social behavior; I wouldn't dare defend it. It's another sort of monster altogether, and has nothing to do with my point.

My point was that ID/Creationism shouldn't be taught as part of biology because it doesn't hold up as a scientific theory. Young earth creationism (in particular) doesn't hold water unless you presume that god set out to trick us with the fossil record... a dubious proposition to my mind. (I was glad to see this wasn't your position.)

It seems to me that as the human mind encounters the universe, what we observe and can reason out was meant for us to find. Our minds needed that process of exploration to develop a refined sense of understanding. This pursuit of reason and understanding should be central to any educator's mission.

My central irritation, as (poorly) expressed in my last post, would be that religious literalism regarding revelation can supplant the best thinking and observations that science has to offer. The potential for the short-circuiting of science education (especially in the home-schooled environment) is what angers me.

I was relieved to hear the specifics of your son's education. I was Montessori schooled up to kindergarten, and wound up being placed in a private school after very bad experiences in the 7th grade. Thus, I am no stranger to the failure of the public school system to adequately accommodate gifted youth.

Homeschooling strikes me as a powerful tool for parents to mold their children. It's also an out from a decrepit public school system. As I mentioned, I was privately educated. I probably would sympathize with your reasons for not wanting to send your son to public school.

I plead ignorance to the state of home-schooling in general. I don't have kids yet, and so haven't studied educational options. However, I do feel that there should be a catalog of standardized material that a home-schooled child should be familiar with. I'm really talking subject tests, like the SAT IIs, including one on civics. Grant an exemption to compulsory public education based on satisfactory results of these tests. That should screen out any deficiencies in the child's education. Parents still teach how they see fit and the state gets an informed citizen. win/win.

Here's where the rubber meets the road: What is it that kids should know about Evolution, in order to be considered educated on the topic? I'd say you have to be able to identify the theory correctly and apply it to Darwin's finches and antibiotic resistant diseases. That's enough for a decent student to draw their own conclusions.

Hope that clarifies enough for you; sorry for the length. =\

Anonymous said...

Not to beat a dead horse, but...
BS (I LIKE that moniker!) talks about tests as a prerequisite to voting. His knowledge of science might be broad, but his knowledge of history is limited. Forget about Nazi Germany, we had literacy tests in this country! They were used in the South to keep blacks from voting, and were not outlawed until 1964!
BTW: I would present both sides of the evolution debate to my kids--including the fact that Matthew Jennings Bryan prosecuted the "Scopes Monkey Trial" because some of Darwin's theories discussed eugenics and "superior races." Or I'll give my kids the Origin of Species and let them figure it out.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

AztecQueen--Thanks so much for stopping by. I have to admit that when I first saw a new comment for this post, my heart sank, thinking it would be one more ideologue's deliberate misinterpretation of my position. I was delighted to see some other kind of discussion.

1) Yes, we had all sorts of ways to prevent the "wrong" people from voting in all kinds of places: from poll taxes to literacy tests.
2) It is true that Darwin was used to justify eugenics and other, ugly and non-scientific social-darwinist schemes. Unfortunately these are now used to tarr the science with the same brush, which is unfortunate.
3) I did not know much about why William Jennings Bryan took the prosecution for Scopes, only that he did. Do you have some good sources on that for a high-school aged kid? What is interesting is that he was a populist progressive--which just goes to show how convoluted our political labels are today, since he is usually cast as a conservative--which he was not.