Yes, Let’s Protect the Kids from Bullshit History and Science

This is a follow-up to John K. Wilson’s Posts on Mitch Daniels’ misunderstanding of academic freedom.

Mitch Daniels’ and the Purdue Board of Trustees’ public defenses of his intention as governor of Indiana to prohibit the use of Howard Zinn’s histories in Indiana public schools focus largely, again, on Zinn’s supposed deficiencies as a historian. This focus is in itself the best evidence that Daniels does not understand that the core issue here is not whether Zinn’s books should be taught, at any level, but whether a political figure ought to be inserting himself into an academic issue, at any level—in particular, an academic issue that has very obvious political dimensions.

Whatever one thinks of Zinn’s histories, they have been criticized but never wholly dismissed for the political perspective that informs them: that is, their credibility remains a matter of professional debate, albeit one in which positions seem very plainly defined, and not something that has been settled unequivocally or definitively.

In other words, Howard Zinn is no David Barton, the dilettante historian whose radical reconsideration of Thomas Jefferson delighted so many Far-Right ideologues. Indeed, that Barton and his very vocal supporters were eventually called to account by politically conservative historians demonstrates that faculty from across the political spectrum are willing to put professional standards above ideology.

But for all of the Far-Right talk about Left-wing ideology being forced upon impressionable minds, most of the bullshit history and science being propagated in American classrooms today, especially at the K-12 level, is contained in textbooks produced by Far-Right educational publishers and is being presented by teachers who are themselves Far-Right ideologues or who are being pressured by Far-Right ideologues to present nonsense as if it were fact.

In August 2012, Deanna Pan contributed to the Mother Jones website a piece titled “14 Wacky Facts That Kids Will Learn in Louisiana’s Voucher Schools.” Under a plan promoted aggressively by Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, public subsidies are being significantly shifted from public schools to what is amounting to a parallel system of charter schools. The justification for this program has been that the public schools have delivered such an deficient education to students in poor districts that a more academically credible alternative is required. But here are some of the things being taught in those alternative schools, and you can decide for yourselves how academically credible they are:

1. Dinosaurs and humans lived on the Earth at the same time. (Lewis Black characterizes the holders of this belief as people who must think that The Flintstones is a documentary.)

2. There is historical evidence that dragons existed—and not just in someone’s imagination.

3. The “Trail of Tears” was clearly part of the divine plan because some of the Native Americans who did not perish eventually converted to Christianity.

4. More than anything else, the solutions to Africa’s endemic problems depend on sending more Christian missionaries to the continent.

5. Although a few slave owners were cruel to their slaves, most treated their slaves humanely.

6. Much of what the Ku Klux Klan has done has actually benefited communities because the Klan has promoted Christian morality and has sometimes targeted moral reprobates.

7. The economic impact of the Great Depression on ordinary Americans has been greatly exaggerated for political purposes by Left-wing politicians.

8. Fetuses are comparable to slaves, or vice-versa, and therefore, the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision has had worse consequences than the Dred Scott Decision.

9. The Communist threat to America will continue as long as attacks on the traditional family continue.

10. Many writers in the Canon are over-rated—most specifically, Mark Twain and Emily Dickinson.

11. “Modern” math is suspect because God has created the laws by which the universe operates and God’s laws are absolute.

12. LGBT individuals have no more claim to civil-rights protections than rapists and child molesters.

13. The underlying aim of environmental activists is to eliminate the economic advantages enjoyed by developed nations.

14. Globalization is a sign of the “rapture.”

Deanna Pan elaborates on each of these items and thoroughly documents their sources. Her full article is available at: http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/07/photos-evangelical-curricula-louisiana-tax-dollars

Bobby Jindal has famously proclaimed that the GOP needs to stop being the “stupid party.” A first step in that direction would be for Bobby Jindal himself to stop promoting schools that offer nonsense and ignorance as an alternative to history and science.

A second step in that direction would be for Far-Right politicians to recognize that bias is not simply inherent in those points of view that they find ideologically objectionable.  Bias is also inherent in finding other points of view ideologically objectionable.

Although some manifestations of bias are clearly reprehensible, most are just the equivalent of strong points of view. But the presumption that one’s biases represent objectivity is incredibly self-serving, if not delusional, and it can have consequences that are reprehensible.

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