The triumph of secularism

by Chris Bertram on November 12, 2004

Pharyngula has a post about how the Texas School Board is trying to exclude not just the mention of evolution from school textbooks, but also references to pollution, global warming, overpopulation, contraception and “married partners” (might include gays). (This kind of thing doesn’t alarm the Dupe, who argues—if “argues” is the right word—that Bush’s victory is a triumph for the forces of secularism.)

{ 63 comments }

1

Marchpaine 11.12.04 at 11:10 am

How depressingly typical.

Hitchens has been arguing for some time now that whatever the Bush administration does, it somehow doesn’t matter – because those evil lefty postmodernists are out there sympathizing with terrorists!

For some reason he thinks that a few cherrypicked dubious comments by a few left-leaning intellectuals are equally important – and equally worth getting angry about – as the misdeeds and incompetence of the most powerful government on earth.

No amount of posing as a “contrarian” will really make up for the fact that, like a typical playground bully, he is just picking on a weak target.

2

Matthew2 11.12.04 at 11:15 am

I don’t know why everyone is getting angry at the Dupe: it’s his job. If he was reasonable then he would loose his salary; you know, market forces and all that…

3

siaw 11.12.04 at 12:06 pm

Some small but telling points for your reconsideration, assuming that you might ever be capable of such a thing:
(1) The US is a federation, in which the presidency has no responsibility for the content of school textbooks – are you arguing (if “arguing” is the right word) that it should? The topic of Hitchens’s piece has very little, if anything, to do with the topic of Pharyngula’s.
(2) Pharyngula asserts that “This year, they’re removing references to pollution, global warming, and overpopulation” – then links to an article from, er, 2002: “this year”?
(3) The operative verb, in your post as in Pharyngula’s, is “trying”. Evidence of succeeding beyond just one textbook – even better, evidence of succeeding without exposure, resistance or reversibility – would be more impressive.
(4) Neither you nor Pharyngula would last five minutes as copyeditors.

4

Spoilt Victorian Child 11.12.04 at 1:14 pm

Saying that “this sort of thing doesn’t alarm [Hitchens]” is a bit uncharitable, no? I mean, I can’t think of many “serious” writers who are more outspoken in their hatred of “this sort of thing.”

Furthermore, while I don’t share Hitchens’ rosy estimation of the president’s competence, the destruction of the Taliban certainly outweighs any of the president’s own “theocratic” moves, at least to this point.

5

ash 11.12.04 at 1:26 pm

I can agree on the scientific facts with PZ, and none of the political implications he implies.

This particular fight (typically an anti-evolution christian faction versus everybody else on the schoolbook boards) has been going on for as long as I have been able to read the local paper, which is since roughly 1977. In 1977, the Democratic party owned this state. Texas was not then a bastion of blue liberalism simply because the difference between then and now is purely in the political label.

This fight has dragged on through Reagan, ‘Wild’ Bill Clements, Mark White, Ann Richards, George Bush (governor edition) and Rick ‘UberMoron’ Perry and nothing has come of it. The closet they have got to getting anywhere is getting the textbooks to mention creationism. Wheeee!

If you go to Dinosaur Valley State Park (here)

http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/dinosaur/

You will pass on the way in the roadside stands with huge signs saying ‘Proof! Man Walked the Earth With Dinosaurs’ and suchlike. The stands resemble to two-headed snake lady booths at the State Fair.

When you go inside you see life-size models of assorted dinosaurs on the way to the actual Paluxy river bed. Which is a old shallow river which has slowly carved away the soil down to the limestone, exposing the much-admired dino prints. (And where the little old ladies, almost certainly Bush voters, spend occasional afternoons by the big pool near the upper end of the river chatting and not catching any fish. You have to be very polite when declining their offers of food, or otherwise you’ll be stuck there all afternoon.)

The ravenous hordes of fundamentalists (both of them) will almost certainly not be descending on your locale to rip out evolution references from your textbooks anytime soon.

Unless, of course, you insist on waging full-scale kulturekamphf, and then some seriously unscrupulous motherfucker like, say, Richard Perle, might funnel the resentment into support for building a fascist empire of some sort.

There IS a serious problem with school textbooks, at least in this state and probably in all of them. They suck. They are profundly dumbed-down even when compared to Texas textbooks from 20 years ago. When an AVERAGE community college alegebra textbook intended for the over-18 crowd is aimed at a lower reading and math level than the basic alegebra textbook I had in 8th grade, we have a serious problem. (Not to mention perfectly intelligent Ph.D. physics candidates who can’t do simple math in their heads.)

But please, continue.

ash
[‘Precious…bodily…fluids…’]

6

yabonn 11.12.04 at 1:36 pm

Diy hitchens article!

– pick a left critic
– you have a real problem with that
– because in fact it’s exactly the contrary !1!!1
– this is *A Real Problem For The Left* !!11!!11!!

7

jet 11.12.04 at 1:40 pm

Siaw and Ash just made this post look silly.

Where for art thou Crooked Timber?

8

derek 11.12.04 at 2:24 pm

In 1977, the Democratic party owned this state. Texas was not then a bastion of blue liberalism simply because the difference between then and now is purely in the political label.

You’ve got it backwards: Texas didn’t turn fundy because it was always red. It turned red because it was always fundy.

The Democratic party has behaved honorably, untied itself from stupid bigots, and lost the stone-age-moron vote. The Republican party picked up the stone-age-moron vote, and cannot behave honorably because it has tied itself to stupid bigots.

As a result, the local foibles of individual states are being played out more and more on the national stage. So much for the vaunted Republican commitment to federalism and state’s rights.

9

Passing Fancy 11.12.04 at 2:31 pm

So, Ash and Siaw have made this post look pretty silly, have they?

I disrespectfully disagree.

Siaw was deliberately misunderstanding Chris’s point. The original post was not implying that the President is at the head of some massive conspiracy to control the content of school text books – though many of the evangelicals who make up a substantial portion of the President’s base undoubtedly do want this. All he was saying was that it seems odd that, at a time when aggressive moves are being made against the theory of evolution, Hitchens should be getting more angry about imaginary lefty terrorist sympathizers than about genuine would-be theocrats at home.

As for the small point about the article Pharyngula links to being misdated, that seems fair enough; but at worst that means he is being overly alarmist and slightly mis-spoke. It doesn’t somehow annihilate all his other points.

So, as far as Siaw goes, I think that anyone who misunderstands a point so wilfully, then composes his reply out of sneers and petty details, looks, at best, silly; at worst, malicious and stupid.

I have a bit more sympathy for Ash, though not much. He seems to think that because a controversy has been going on for a long time neither side can win it and it is, therefore, worth ignoring; furthermore, he seems to believe that most people share his educated disdain for stands with huge signs saying ‘Proof! Man Walked the Earth With Dinosaurs’ and suchlike.

He also seems to think that just because you don’t agree with someone, but kind of think that they don’t look all that dangerous now, you ought to ignore them altogether. And, on top of that, you should belittle the efforts of anyone who tries to criticise them.

As you can imagine, I don’t find any of those positions convincing.

Perhaps this unwillingness to aggressively rebut false claims and challenge lazy thinking – not to mention stupid rightwing sneers – is the “Real Problem for the Left” we’ve been hearing so much about recently. How do you think all those conservative voters got convinced?

10

Bruce Baugh 11.12.04 at 2:39 pm

If the fundamentalists do not succeed in ripping evolution mentions out of the textbooks, it will not be for want of trying. Friends of mine with school age children have shown me the results of their efforts to find good science texts for local school libraries and home schooling, and it’s hard. Appallingly so. It’s true that others are busily engaged in watering down textbooks for their own reasons, but the specific fundamentalist crusade against mentioning evolution, let alone explaining it, has done very well for itself. P.Z. Myers is quite right to personalize it, too, because much of it is the result of a very few people in just the right places prepared to lobby very hard.

11

Chris Bertram 11.12.04 at 3:08 pm

I’m happy to let others speak for me in response to SIAW, except on point (4). As it happens, I had an earlier career as a copyeditor and it lasted for considerably longer than five minutes. The trouble with copy-editing though (as I know from the other side, as an author) is that many of the more competent move on to other things ….

12

Scott 11.12.04 at 3:16 pm

Siaw’s comments are indeed nonsense, from a deliberate misread of the post.

Unfortunately, this assault on text books is not limited to the right. While destroying the integrity of science in schools has been a particular goal of the fundamentalists (and anti-environment folks) for some time, the left’s political correctness has had a deleterious effect on other disciplines, particularly literature and history (though the right is certainly active in these areas as well). That the left has been guilty of rewriting history does not excuse the right’s actions, but should force us to reflect on what the “proper” procedure ought to be to define textbooks for our children.

13

Thomas 11.12.04 at 3:26 pm

It’s a bit sad that apparently there’s centralized control over textbook purchases in Texas. If only those who had different values were allowed to purchase books reflecting those values, and attend schools inculcating those values….

But at least we’re all on the same side of that argument. 100% opposed. Why avoid the argument when we know–just know–that someday we’ll win it, and our ideas will be the ideas in those books! That’ll teach ’em.

14

Ginger Yellow 11.12.04 at 3:39 pm

Surely the proper procedure would be for people to write good textbooks and for schools to buy them, rather than putting the content of textbooks in the hands of politicians.

15

Spoilt Victorian Child 11.12.04 at 4:00 pm

Siaw was deliberately misunderstanding Chris’s point. The original post was not implying that the President is at the head of some massive conspiracy to control the content of school text books – though many of the evangelicals who make up a substantial portion of the President’s base undoubtedly do want this. All he was saying was that it seems odd that, at a time when aggressive moves are being made against the theory of evolution, Hitchens should be getting more angry about imaginary lefty terrorist sympathizers than about genuine would-be theocrats at home.

My thoughts, for what it’s worth:

  1. While you could certainly make the case that no one takes such people seriously, and that it’s thus pointless to rant about them as frequently as Hitch does, I don’t know how you could claim that there are no liberal apologists for terrorists.
  2. Hitchens makes no mention of the evolution/textbook debate in that article. In light of this, how does one conclude from this article that he is not concerned about people like Terri Leo?
  3. Hitchens’ primary argument is that, while liberals criticize Bush and his supporters for being fundamentalists, Bush has done more to combat fundamentalism than to promote it. I don’t understand why this is such a reprehensible argument to make. Nor do I understand how one derives from it that Hitchens is unconcerned with fundamentalism.

I’m not trying to be an ass about this, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

16

Spoilt Victorian Child 11.12.04 at 4:03 pm

Siaw was deliberately misunderstanding Chris’s point. The original post was not implying that the President is at the head of some massive conspiracy to control the content of school text books – though many of the evangelicals who make up a substantial portion of the President’s base undoubtedly do want this. All he was saying was that it seems odd that, at a time when aggressive moves are being made against the theory of evolution, Hitchens should be getting more angry about imaginary lefty terrorist sympathizers than about genuine would-be theocrats at home.

My thoughts, for what it’s worth:

  1. While you could certainly make the case that no one takes such people seriously, and that it’s thus pointless to rant about them as frequently as Hitch does, I don’t know how you could claim that there are no liberal apologists for terrorists.
  2. Hitchens makes no mention of the evolution/textbook debate in that article. In light of this, how does one conclude from this article that he is not concerned about people like Terri Leo?
  3. Hitchens’ primary argument is that, while liberals criticize Bush and his supporters for being fundamentalists, Bush has done more to combat fundamentalism than to promote it. I don’t understand why this is such a reprehensible argument to make. Nor do I understand how one derives from it that Hitchens is unconcerned with fundamentalism.

I’m not trying to be an ass about this, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

17

Emma 11.12.04 at 4:27 pm

OK, I’ll bite. Point me to a single instance of Bush combating fundamentalism which involved principle and not political expediency.

18

Spoilt Victorian Child 11.12.04 at 4:36 pm

I don’t presume to know Bush’s motives for doing so, but I’d think deposing the Taliban would count as combating fundamentalism.

19

Jack 11.12.04 at 4:37 pm

S.V.C. I think the idea is that Hitchens is arguing that since some Islamofascists are religious fundamentalists and Bush is fighting them, a Bush vitory is a victory for the forces of secularism.

Chris’s point is that there are some religious fundamentalists against whom Bush is not fighting in his own party in his own state.

20

bull 11.12.04 at 4:47 pm

The problem with this post is the statement that “Pharyngula has a post about how the Texas School Board is trying to exclude …” That statement is wrong.

Check out the NY Times article cited by Pharyngula. It does not stand for the proposition that the Texas School Board is trying to do anything of the sort; it states that last year some wacko group complained about evolution but that the Board DID NOT DO ANYTHING. The next cite by Pharyngula is very vaguely closer to being accurate, but it really states that people have complained and the Board will review textbooks.

In short, the post is glib drivel.

21

chris 11.12.04 at 4:53 pm

Come now, SVC! Bush’s motive for getting rid of the Taliban was that they were hosting the training facilities of an organisation dedicated to launching murderous attacks on the United States. He would have done the same if they’d been 24 hour party people with degrees in evolutionary theory. As President of the USA, it’s hard to see what else he could have done.

22

Spoilt Victorian Child 11.12.04 at 5:07 pm

S.V.C. I think the idea is that Hitchens is arguing that since some Islamofascists are religious fundamentalists and Bush is fighting them, a Bush vitory is a victory for the forces of secularism.

Chris’s point is that there are some religious fundamentalists against whom Bush is not fighting in his own party in his own state.

Fair enough. I should state that I have a lot less faith in Bush than Hitchens does, and I’d certainly be happy if he were to come out against creationism, the exclusion of gay teachers from public school, and other such nonsense. However, I do think it’s more important that he deal with Islamic terrorists.

Come now, SVC! Bush’s motive for getting rid of the Taliban was that they were hosting the training facilities of an organisation dedicated to launching murderous attacks on the United States. He would have done the same if they’d been 24 hour party people with degrees in evolutionary theory. As President of the USA, it’s hard to see what else he could have done.

Of course you’re right. But is it necessary for Hitchenson’s argument that Bush is attacking these people because they’re fundamentalists? I’m not sure.

23

Dubious 11.12.04 at 5:31 pm

Hitchens seems to be self-appointed scourge of the left-liberal conscience. Left-liberals often seem to appoint themselves the same in regards their societies.

I think all groups need such contrarian self-immanent criticism. It helps keep them from becoming tribal (whether of nationalist or ideological stripe)chauvinists. It helps them avoid arrogance and self-deception.

Hitchens, as I see it, is trying to get left-liberals to live up to their potential. He’s not trying to get the conservatives to live up to their ideals, nor is he trying to increase left-liberal self-congratulation. That’s why he doesn’t spend much time on critiquing the right.

Does anyone know of anyone similar on the right?

24

PZ Myers 11.12.04 at 6:04 pm

People seem to be making excuses for the school board in Texas, that because they haven’t implemented many of these changes, the system isn’t as bad as it is made out to be. What people are ignoring, though, is that it has been a damned hard fight to oppose the actions of people like Terri Leo — I’ve helped consult with the publishers and lawyers and scientists who have been in the hearings in Texas, the reason Texas textbooks aren’t far, far worse is because good people have worked strenuously against the Leos of that place.

Think of the money that gets poured into lawyers. Think how this foster reluctance by publishers to include anything that the ignorant yahoos on the Texas school board will turn into a circus. This all has a chilling effect on teaching good science.

25

MS 11.12.04 at 6:16 pm

Spoilt,

“Of course you’re right. But is it necessary for Hitchenson’s argument that Bush is attacking these people because they’re fundamentalists? I’m not sure.”

Kinda, especially since Hitches establishes it as the first step in the US crusade to secularize the middle-east, a crusade whose second step involved rolling one of the more secular governments in the region (Iraq).

It’s very much to the point that, rather than an effort to secularize the ME, we’re picking our targets for other reasons – more viable in the case of Afghanistan, much less so with Iraq.

We’re only fighting fundamentalists in Iraq because we knocked over the relatively secular government that was there before. It seems a foregone conclusion that whatever government Iraq ends up with as a result of our secular muscle-flexing, it’s going to be far less secular than the one they had before…

26

nic 11.12.04 at 6:19 pm

However, I do think it’s more important that he deal with Islamic terrorists.

Come on… Even assuming he was really dealing with that in a proper way, it certainly doesn’t involve putting everything else on hold!

Terrorism doesn’t create a list of mutually exclusive priorities, and a presidency, a government, a nation’s institutions at large are not one single person that can’t simultaneously walk and chew gum. As far as I know, school boards don’t deal with terrorists and the FBI and CIA and the Pentagon don’t deal with textbooks and gay teachers.

27

jet 11.12.04 at 6:20 pm

PS Myers, I’m with you, pour on the invective. There isn’t really a way to change the mind of someone who believes evolution has no merit, so all you can do is poison the well and hope your name calling is louder than theirs.

28

Jim Harrison 11.12.04 at 6:39 pm

The Creationists lose all the battles, but win the war. They don’t succeed in getting their point of view into the classroom, but they do prevent the adequate teaching of evolution, which, from their point of view, is more important.

29

Giles 11.12.04 at 6:49 pm

I’m sorry But I cant see why anyone thinks that Global Warming or population is a school level subject – sure it can be taught at uni but what on earth are they doing in school text books

30

Passing Fancy 11.12.04 at 6:59 pm

First, Bull.

Truly, you are well named.

Since you want to be picky about particular facts, let me begin by pointing out that Pharyngula’s post is based on articles from The Dallas Morning News, Mother Jones, ABC News/Associated Press, Salon.com, Terri Leo’s website, Leiter Reports and a bunch of skeptical or liberal blogs. Not, as you claimed, the NYT. A minor point, but then, if you are going to set yourself up as a stickler for accuracy, you ought to be accurate yourself, no?

Speaking of which, the second article Pharyngula cites does not, as you claim “really state[s] that people have complained and the Board will review textbooks.” In fact, it describes how conservative groups attacked a range of textbooks and how the School Board responded favourably to those attacks.

It says: “In November, the Republican-dominated state board of education voted to reject the textbook [on environmental science, claiming that overpopulation might be a problem]; publishers withdrew a dozen other books that had been challenged [by conservatives], and revised several more. In one text, a passage on the lifestyles of Native Americans and European settlers was modified after conservatives criticized its “anti-settler” tone. In another, a reference to carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, as a “pollutant” was removed.” That sounds a lot like the School Board doing something to me.

Also, the two other articles Pharyngula cites also describe the School Board actively intervening, just as Chris describes.

From the first: “The Texas Board of Education approved new health textbooks for the state’s high school and middle school students Friday after the publishers agreed to change the wording to depict marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”

This because: “On Thursday, a board member charged that proposed new books ran counter to a Texas law banning the recognition of gay civil unions because the texts used terms like “married partners” instead of “husband and wife.””

As for the other one, “Of the four books just approved in Texas, only one of the student editions mentions, in passing, a form of contraception or disease prevention other than abstinence.”

By the way, the Salon.com article also points out that Terri Leo, “an active member of the Republican party” according to her website, also wanted to include such lines as “Opinions vary on why homosexuals, lesbians, and bisexuals as a group are more prone to self-destructive behaviors like depression, illegal drug use, and suicide.”

Only the first article Pharyngula cites is remotely shakey. You claim that it “states that last year some wacko group complained about evolution but that the Board DID NOT DO ANYTHING.”

This is misleading. True, the Board ultimately did not remove evolution from textbooks.

But, if you had followed the story up in the Dallas Morning News, you would see that this was not an isolated attack by “some wacko group”. It was “an intense campaign by opponents of evolution – including thousands of e-mails, faxes and phone calls to board members” (“some wacko group” makes it sound like two guys and a dog squatting in a shack wearing tinfoil hats).

The Board ultimately voted not to use the anti-evolution textbooks 11-4; but those 4 were indeed trying to cut evolution out of the textbooks and fought hard for their corner.

So, this was hardly a case, as you seem to imply, of the Board just dismissing some nutjobs and “DOING NOTHING”. It was a hard won victory for supporters of science. And remember that, as the other articles show, the Board still wound up pushing quite a conservative agenda, on the subjects of marriage, overpopulation, sex education, pollution and contraception.

In short, Bull, don’t be so glib yourself.

31

Bellman 11.12.04 at 7:01 pm

Glies, you don’t think that a discussion of overpopulation or global warming is an approrpriate topic in high-school? Issues of overpopulation come up even in zoology or botany classes. Or perhaps you think that the Texas School Board is only concerned with grade-school texts (which is not the case).

32

Spoilt Victorian Child 11.12.04 at 7:12 pm

Hitches establishes [the invasion of Afghanistan] as the first step in the US crusade to secularize the middle-east…It’s very much to the point that, rather than an effort to secularize the ME, we’re picking our targets for other reasons – more viable in the case of Afghanistan, much less so with Iraq.

I’m still not sure that Bush needs to be engaged in a continuing war on Islamic fundamentalism in order for Hitchens’ argument (that Bush does more for secularism than the left) to be valid. I think, at this point, it’s simply a matter of weighing the damage done to the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other Islamic terrorists against the Bush’s domestic policies.

Of course, you then have to weigh that against what the left would have done. That’s the point at which I stop agreeing with him, but I do think it’s debatable.

We’re only fighting fundamentalists in Iraq because we knocked over the relatively secular government that was there before. It seems a foregone conclusion that whatever government Iraq ends up with as a result of our secular muscle-flexing, it’s going to be far less secular than the one they had before…

Yeah, no argument there.

As for Nic, you’re right, that was a fairly pointless thing for me to say.

33

passing fancy 11.12.04 at 7:14 pm

Second, Chris:

You have my respect.

Copywriting is a tricky job. Apparently, it’s easier if you hold the paper upside down. Apparently.

Third, Giles:

Global Warming and Population not school level subjects? Why on Earth not?

This may be the only scientific education that many children ever receive. As citizens, they will have to make decisions about what to do about the environment and their decisions will have a knock-on effect that could influence everyone. Shouldn’t they be informed, accurately?

34

PZ Myers 11.12.04 at 7:36 pm

Global warming is a straightforward topic with a high degree of relevance to everyone — it’s not esoteric, it’s not difficult to understand, it’s going to have long-term effects that will matter to students. It’s exactly the sort of thing that ought to be taught. Same with overpopulation. Same with contraception.

I can sort of see that evolution may not be of such direct import to most people, but it is the foundation of a significant scientific discipline, and it ought to be taught for the same reason that a well-educated electorate ought to be aware of the principle of supply-and-demand and know that Shakespeare wrote plays and that Paris is a city in France. They may not ever do any kind of economic analysis or literary criticism or manage foreign policy, but they ought to have some basic level of knowledge.

And also, we are fighting a large, well-funded mob of fanatical dingleberries who are trying to do the equivalent of forcing our kids to learn that Paris is the capitol of Czechoslovakia. That alone is a good reason to specifically counter their lunacy with some targeted instruction in the topics they are challenging.

35

abb1 11.12.04 at 7:44 pm

Hitchens:

George Bush may subjectively be a Christian, but he—and the U.S. armed forces—have objectively done more for secularism than the whole of the American agnostic community combined and doubled. The demolition of the Taliban, the huge damage inflicted on the al-Qaida network, and the confrontation with theocratic saboteurs in Iraq represent huge advances for the non-fundamentalist forces in many countries.

Lol. He’s right – the American agnostic community hasn’t done much for secularism. Certainly much less than Genghis Khan and subjectively Greek Orthodox priest Joe “Soso” Djugashvili.

36

Michael Blowhard 11.12.04 at 7:50 pm

Fie on anti-scientific nuts, of course. But would it be worth mentioning here that the PC-ifying (and bland-ifying) of American textbooks has been a much bigger and more widespread phenomenon?

By the way, the customers for textbooks in America are generally entire school systems. So, unfortunately, bigtime politics and bigtime bureaucracies are going to play roles in what those textbooks are like. I’ve known some people in the public-school-textbook industry. And their business was — quite straightforwardly — competing with other textbook creators to sell their wares to school systems. Our textbooks are the result of that process. Who’s reviewing what the bureaucrats and pols order up? Which, as far as I’m concerned, helps make the case for school vouchers. If schools (and not huge school systems) could order their preferred textbooks, the range of textbooks available would certainly grow.

Me, I’ve never known what to make of the textbook wars. I got through school without paying much attention to textbooks — encyclopedias were soooo much more helpful. I enjoyed learning, but textbooks are boring. And I couldn’t learn when I was fighting sleep. If few people actually pay much attention to textbooks, then why do we worry about them? Maybe it’s no more important than worrying about what brand of toilet paper your school system buys. But for all I know, maybe millions of kids really do sweat over these books, and get deeply marked by them …

37

Xavier 11.12.04 at 7:54 pm

They have a point on the environmentalist stuff. Grade school education about the environment is about as honest and unbiased as grade school education about drugs. Environmental education is pure indoctrination, and I think it’s inappropriate. The only article that Pharyngula cites about the environmental issues isn’t very specific about the conservative complaints, and it comes from Mother Jones so I don’t put much faith in it.

38

Passing Fancy 11.12.04 at 7:57 pm

Fourth, Spoilt Victorian Child –

(strange name, by the way – not enough cold showers, team sports and muscular christianity?)

I have two problems with Hitchens.

1) Hitchens seems to me to be imposing a false dichotomy on his readers. He’s saying either you are with Bush (if you are secular) or with those left wing guys who sympathise with the fundamentalists.

Now, obviously, there are many people who are on the left who do not support fundamentalists. That’s a category Hitchens misses right there. In fact, he has to work really hard to pretend it doesn’t exist.

There are many people, too, who are critical of America, think of her as quite a bellicose, hypocritical power – but who don’t want to see another terrorist attack.

In other words, there are more options than the ones Hitchens offers. Just because Bin Laden et. al. are wrong, doesn’t mean Bush is right; nor does it mean that American theocrats should be ignored or downplayed.

2) Hitchens does not name any specific left wing intellectuals except Michael Moore. He just rants, vaguely in their direction.

I know that in the past Hitchens has disagreed with, for example, Tariq Ali. But he doesn’t bring him up. He talks about a “gallery of pseudointellectuals” – in fact, he blames “the left” in general. But he doesn’t cite anything specific.

Personally, I think there is a world of difference between claiming that a specific statement by a specific academic is false, hurtful, ignorant, duplicitous, dangerous to America etc. and accusing all “the left” and “a gallery of pseudointellectuals” of excusing every Islamic horror going. A good example of the former would be Greg Palast laying into Mary Beard for her rather stupid comment that the United States had September 11 “coming”.

39

Uncle Kvetch 11.12.04 at 9:07 pm

Fourth, Spoilt Victorian Child – (strange name, by the way – not enough cold showers, team sports and muscular christianity?)

It is the title of a most excellent tune by that most excellent band, The Fall.

Wonder what the infinitely irascible Mark E. would have to say about this discussion(uh)…

40

Steve 11.12.04 at 9:08 pm

The following quotes are from a Passing Fancy post, above.

1) “In November, the Republican-dominated state board of education voted to reject the textbook [on environmental science, claiming that overpopulation might be a problem…
2) In one text, a passage on the lifestyles of Native Americans and European settlers was modified after conservatives criticized its “anti-settler” tone…
3)In another, a reference to carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, as a “pollutant” was removed.”
4)“The Texas Board of Education approved new health textbooks for the state’s high school and middle school students Friday after the publishers agreed to change the wording to depict marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”

This because: “On Thursday, a board member charged that proposed new books ran counter to a Texas law banning the recognition of gay civil unions because the texts used terms like “married partners” instead of “husband and wife.”…

5) “Of the four books just approved in Texas, only one of the student editions mentions, in passing, a form of contraception or disease prevention other than abstinence.”

What I find interesting is that none of the topics have anything to do with evolution, and none of them are hard science-they are all policy or political or moral issues 1) is the closest to a ‘hard science issue that (conceivably) is being suppressed. 3) seems odd, and without more information, its hard to see what’s going on here. But 2), 4), and 5) are pretty clearly problems with the political/social/moral tone of a textbook, and not with the hard science of a textbook.

So what is this argument about? That evolution is being rejected in Texas (none of the above examples have anything to do with evolution)? That Other hard science is being rejected in Texas (only two of the above are even arguably hard science related)? Or is it just that one political viewpoint is winning out over the other, and you just happen to hold the losing side?

Steve

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Giles 11.12.04 at 10:28 pm

Global Warming clearly isn’t appropriate at school level since the subject is hardly well understood or even settled. Population might be appropriate but again I don’t see what its relevance is for a school leaver – in what way would an understanding of this subject enhance a school leavers job prospects.

As regards the “informed voter” argument – in my experience no normal school kid pays any attention to teachers on issues of social or political relevance – indeed most are likely to spend the 10 years after leaving school instinctively rebelling against those ideas. School kids are far more likely to pick up their ideas from their peer, parents (again opposite effect) and papers.

More importantly I think that teaching subject for “voter reasons” violates an important liberal principle – namely the right not to vote. As the recent US campaign showed the young tend not to vote – is this a good thing? Probably – they don’t vote because they a) don’t care and or b) aren’t informed enough to vote. If this is the case then I think most voting theories would hold that it is optimal that they don’t vote and mess the system up.

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Robin Green 11.12.04 at 11:23 pm

Population might be appropriate but again I don’t see what its relevance is for a school leaver – in what way would an understanding of this subject enhance a school leavers job prospects.

Ah, I see – education is all about “job prospects”.

When non-Americans make jokes about Americans not knowing where Iraq is, they are not deriding their job prospects.

Also, conflating informing voters with forcing them to vote is silly.

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agm 11.13.04 at 12:17 am

“Global warming is a straightforward topic with a high degree of relevance to everyone”

On some level, I agree with Steve and Giles about some of this. In no way is the global warming discussion settled — specifically, PZ Myers is right that everyone agrees on an increase in the earth’s average temperature, but damned if there is true scientific agreement on its causes and their relative weights. I recently attended a colloqium in which a gent from Australia presented a graph with something like 20 different effects reported in the literature, which must be accounted for to explain the current global warming trend. One of the most surprising results was that there are two ozone effects (heating in the stratosphere, cooling in the mesosphere, have to look up to be sure which regions). Would anyone here care to assign middle or high school students papers from the literature to get even a glimmer of what scientists are researching about when we’re saying “global warming”? Answer: very few, because so few will understand that it that it is a waste of time. The best will catch on that we’re not even telling them a small fraction of is known, the rest will just say, “Big deal, other than a grade, why should I care?”

As a secondary matter, you people must have come from nice schools, cause where I come from ensuring that everyone can read, write, add, have the opportunity to learn an instrument, etc are significantly more important and recieve less attention than what sentences are in the school book. And training and pool of instructors in public schools in urban areas is atrocious; it amounts to tilting at windmills to quibble over the content of a textbook when the warm body at the front of the room is an English teacher made responsible for teaching algebra or chemistry.

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h. e. baber 11.13.04 at 4:21 am

Let’s see–won’t the market kick in at a certain point? Most parents aren’t going to home-school their kids or demand dumbed down textbooks if they recognize that it will lock them out of good colleges and good jobs. When it comes to peripheral items, like banning the discussion of global warming, should we really care? Personally, I don’t expect, or want, schools to teach “values” or promote good attitudes about the environment, gay relationships, or whatever–I do that at home. I expect my kids’ schools to pump them up with the facts and teach the technical skills that will enable them to perform on the SATs, do well in college, and get the credentials for good jobs.

Fundamentalist parents know that if they stick their kids with a seriously “Christian” education they’ll undermine their prospects for getting good educational credentials and good jobs, and lock them into a crumby little religious subculture where there just aren’t that many good jobs available. I don’t think there are that many parents who are prepared to zap their kids’ prospects, even for the Kingdom of God’s sake.

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s_bethy 11.13.04 at 5:47 am

I expect my kids’ schools to pump them up with the facts and teach the technical skills that will enable them to perform on the SATs, do well in college, and get the credentials for good jobs.

And for God’s sake don’t teach them anything about our culture, or its historical context, or critical thinking, or politics, or vital issues of the day. Don’t clutter their little minds with anything extraneous to the cubicle they’ll soon inhabit.

Sorry to sound so harsh, but my kid is more than a resource for your Market.

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vernaculo 11.13.04 at 10:55 am

A. That this much energy, here and in the society at large, is devoted to this topic is pathetic, and ultimately a condemnation of all of us.
B. That the very people who most valiantly defend evolution as a sensible explanation of how we got here are part of a mindset that spends most of its time devising ways to thwart that process at every turn is equally pathetic.
C. Fundamentalists for all the noise they make about it don’t really care about evolution as it occurred in the past, they care about evolution as it’s occurring now.
D. The evolutionary forces at work on the human genome are no longer coming from outside the human system but from within it, and absent some kind of input or redirect from a force with their best interests at heart the fundamentalists see, accurately, that they can easily be left behind by a pragmatic rationalist culture.

Isn’t it at least understandable that they would rally around a moral code that tells them they’re central to life on earth, rather than marginal and soon to be redundant?
Ignorance, meaning dull-witted and willful incomprehension, may be detrimental to human progress in the long run, but to the ignorant it’s what life is.


1. At a moment in time when the violent death of innocent Muslims is increasing daily, use of terms like ‘Islamofascists’ is bigoted and adolescent; and like most bigoted terms, it’s a mark of cowardice.

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modus potus 11.13.04 at 12:31 pm

Evolution is only the biggest issue for the anti-science crowd. Geology, cosmology, parts of nuclear physics — all have come in for opposition. Why? They contradict a literal interpretation of the Bible.

It’s that simple. Teaching of these things is seen as anti-religious, or tantamount to teaching “secular religion.” There is simply no room for compromise here if your faith requires strict Biblical literalism (as nearly all fundamentalist and evangelical Christians do). “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it” is a common bumper sticker in many areas. To doubt the Bible is to be damned.

Reasoning and negotiation is useless with this crowd. You’ve got to push back hard at the earliest opportunity, for they will not retreat.

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Dan Simon 11.13.04 at 6:37 pm

The Creationists lose all the battles, but win the war. They don’t succeed in getting their point of view into the classroom, but they do prevent the adequate teaching of evolution, which, from their point of view, is more important.

This comment–and this entire thread, which generally concurs with its mindset–is proof positive of who has the upper hand in the culture wars. Hint: it ain’t the millions of folks hoping against hope that the myriad things they find deeply objectionable about their local school’s curriculum will no longer be literally forced down their children’s throats by a compulsory education system.

Personally, I’d much rather that the school system teach my (as yet still hypothetical) children about the theory of evolution and its central role in modern biology. Indeed, I doubt that high school-level biology can even be taught properly in its absence.

But if a large majority–heck, even a large minority–of my neighbors objected to its inclusion in the curriculum, I’d happily consent to its removal, in return for their understanding that teachings that I found deeply objectionable would receive similar treatment, out of respect for me. After all, I can teach my own kids about evolution, along with all the other gaps that the local public school leaves in their education–as long as they’re not at the same time being brainwashed to believe things that vigorously obstruct my extra teaching.

But that bargain obviously makes no sense to the folks at Crooked Timber. After all, they consider their own beliefs so utterly orthodox that it has simply never occurred to them that the school system might one day actually succumb to the clamorings of people whose views do not closely match their own.

In case you didn’t notice, George Bush was re-elected president two weeks ago. You might want to rethink your blithe confidence that your views will always and forever so dominate the school system that the ideal of being respectful of unappealing minority viewpoints can be safely jettisoned.

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carib 11.13.04 at 6:41 pm

Hey , these folks are participating the political process. They have a right to petition the government, vote, run for election, and organize. That’s all good for democracy.
Now this irritates pz myers & others who think ( and I agree) that evolution is scientific fact and shouldn’t be challenged, but, hey, its a marketplace of ideas out there, and even stupid ideas have their backers.
Look, folks, creationists aren’t going to disappear, because you don’t like them. They’re here to stay, and its no use getting your knickers in a twist because sometime, somewhere, in the USA , some creationists are pushing their views at a school board.
You still to fight them, unfortunately, but hey, that’s the price of dliving in a democracy.

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raj 11.13.04 at 6:55 pm

Dan Simon · November 13, 2004 06:37 PM

Um, Dan, if, as you say, the theory of evolution plays a central role in modern biology, how can one teach modern biology without including the theory of evolution? Doing so would be similar to teaching (Euclidean) geometry without starting from Euclid’s axioms.

This culture war by the fundamentalist Christians against modernity (note the analogy with the Taliban, and it isn’t limited to evolution–it also extends to modern physics and the Big Bang theory) will result in the demise of public education in the US. Get yourself prepared for it.

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Dan Simon 11.13.04 at 7:06 pm

Raj: You may be right that there will ultimately be nothing left once contentious materials are removed from the classroom. If so–that is, if the public simply can’t come to an agreement as to what children should collectively be taught–then the public education system shouldn’t exist.

I’m not quite so pessimistic as you, though. I think there’s still enough that just about everyone can agree on, to make public education worthwhile. That’s why I haven’t (yet) jumped on the “vouchers” bandwagon. Perhaps you should consider doing so?

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raj 11.13.04 at 7:11 pm

carib · November 13, 2004 06:41 PM

>You still to fight them [creationists], unfortunately, but hey, that’s the price of dliving in a democracy.

And that fight will ultimately lead to the demise of public education. Get prepared for it.

I’m amused at the issue relating to dead-tree textbooks. The internet provides a myriad of sources for information. Dead-tree textbooks may be useful, but, despite the fact that they were necessary in decades past, they are certainly not necessary now.

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raj 11.13.04 at 7:27 pm

Dan Simon · November 13, 2004 07:06 PM

>That’s why I haven’t (yet) jumped on the “vouchers” bandwagon. Perhaps you should consider doing so?

Vouchers? No, most certainly not. I have a lot of issues regarding school vouchers, but, let’s get something straight. School vouchers are nothing more than special purpose welfare. Like food stamps–which got through in large part because they were supported by the agri-business industry–for obvious reasons. School vouchers enable certain individuals (parents) to redeem vouchers to provide indoctrination for others (their children) at taxpayers’ expense. It is interesting to note that more than a few people who are in favor of the “welfare” of school vouchers oppose welfare in other contexts.

If I am supposed to pay for the education of other peoples’ children, it strikes me that I should have a say in what is being taught with my money. And in where the money is going. With school vouchers, I have no say in any of that.

You should realize that most proponents of school vouchers are nothing more than hypocrites.

Be prepared to pay for your own childrens’ education. Bush II’s proposed privatization of social security–if any of it gets through–will also tend towards a demise of public education, although for a different reason.

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Jim Harrison 11.13.04 at 10:10 pm

Conservatives are so postmodern, they apparently believe that evolution will not have occurred if they can keep it quiet enough.

Whatever democracy means, if it comes to mean that the public can decide to teach kids that pi is 3, it is just stupid.

How about a little reality testing now and then?

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william 11.14.04 at 3:29 am

I work for the Texas Freedom Network, the key organization in fighting this sort of textbook censorship in Texas. If you’re interested in helping us fight, give us a ring at 512/322-0545. Or at http://www.tfn.org.

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Davon 11.14.04 at 3:31 am

So, Mr. Simmons, if I can get a sizable constituancy for the teaching of Nature’s Simultaneous 4-Day Time Cube as science to your child, you’ll gladly negotaite with my people so long as we’re willing to back you on the exclusion of the point of view of your choice from your local educational system?

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Giles 11.14.04 at 4:07 am

I’m not sure why biology couldn’t be taught without studying evolution – sure the subject would be shorter but evolution just explains how things got here, not how they work now.

And evolution is not perfectly understood either!

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Dan Simon 11.14.04 at 4:55 am

So, Mr. Simmons, if I can get a sizable constituancy for the teaching of Nature’s Simultaneous 4-Day Time Cube as science to your child, you’ll gladly negotaite with my people so long as we’re willing to back you on the exclusion of the point of view of your choice from your local educational system?

Negotiate to have your drivel included in the curriculum? I should say not. My whole point is that the real danger to the education system is not what various groups manage to get excluded, but rather what complete nonsense they might get included, and thus force-fed to millions of impressionable children. (Indeed, many people believe that that’s already happening. And I’m inclined to agree–although I don’t consider the teaching of the theory of evolution to be evidence for that claim.)

Now, if you want me to back the exclusion of the crackpot theory of your choice–or even of a reasonable idea that’s nevertheless controversial enough to be highly objectionable to some significant segment of the population–then I’d be willing to consider it.

By the way, the name’s Simon, not Simmons.

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Davon 11.14.04 at 6:07 am

I should have made it clear that my post was meant to be light-hearted, by the way. I expressed myself rather awkwardly, however. And I did miss the point of your post somewhat. Further, I apologize for the mistake regarding your name.

Let me arrange the situation differently, however. Imagine if I were to accumulate a large constituancy for the time cube, and insisted that, because there was a large number of people objecting to the teaching of many aspects of science which the time cube spiel denies, that concepts such as Greenwich Standard Time, etc, not be taught.

My point, in so far as I was serious, was along the lines of what you and raj were discussing: that negotiating the content of school curricula has the potential to lead to absurd outcomes.

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Dan Simon 11.14.04 at 8:09 am

negotiating the content of school curricula has the potential to lead to absurd outcomes.

But I don’t think the outcome you described is absurd at all. The public education system is based on the premise that society has, by consensus, agreed on a body of educational content that should be taught to all children. If that consensus simply doesn’t exist (say, with respect to most of what we consider to be science, if “time cube” adherents become a large fraction of the population), then it is not at all absurd to recognize that fact, and therefore to omit the controversial topic from the curriculum.

The alternative is to have some other criterion–say, simple majority rule, or rule by the educational bureaucracy, or the judiciary, or the academy, or some other authority–determine the content of the curriculum. And if you can’t imagine a situation where each of these hypothetical authorities decides to use the curriculum to propagate ideas that you and I know to be complete nonsense, then I submit that you have a very poor imagination indeed.

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David Tiley 11.14.04 at 9:17 am

Raj is right about the role of the internet in this. I can imagine a future where we pay for advertising which says: Hey! Kids of Texas! click here for the truth about evolution and contraception – and open your mind so you will get a decent job! (or some such..)

What happens when teacher asks: How did the world start? And the bright kid with lib’ral parents says: Evolution, teacher. And the teacher passes on and says: Some of us believe this idea is contrary to God’s science. Who agrees with this? And then says: hey, lib’ral brat, your theory is not quite proven.

When you whack a central tenet of an entire discipline necessary to participate in the modern world, you can’t just slot it in and out. The whole thing is corrupted and you can no longer teach biology. And there are serious social tensions in the school community.

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raj 11.14.04 at 3:31 pm

Dan Simon · November 14, 2004 08:09 AM

>But I don’t think the outcome you described is absurd at all. The public education system is based on the premise that society has, by consensus, agreed on a body of educational content that should be taught to all children.

It should be obvious that there are more than a few pockets of society that have not agreed to the “body of educational content that should be taught to all children” that others might want their children to be taught. Or, to put it differently, that want their educational content to be taught to all children, whether or not parents in other parts of the country want their children to be so indoctrinated.

Moreover, they want their educational content to be taught at taxpayers’ expense, whether or not more than a few of the taxpayers want to their tax monies to subsidize the indoctrination.

>The alternative is to have some other criterion—say, simple majority rule, or rule by the educational bureaucracy, or the judiciary, or the academy, or some other authority—determine the content of the curriculum.

The alternative is to have parents pay for the education of their children.

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peggy 11.14.04 at 7:40 pm

I’m not sure why biology couldn’t be taught without studying evolution – sure the subject would be shorter but evolution just explains how things got here, not how they work now.

Giles is incorrect in this statement.
It is a fact due to evolution that bananas and humans share 50% of their genes. The modern day subjects of biology- from the immune system to the skeleton to the purpose of flowers are all informed by the theory of evolution. This year’s Nobel Prize for explaining the sense of smell and that of 1987 for immunology were both based on the insight that the body uses the principle of Natural Selection to fight germs and to recognize odors.
As a high school student in the 1960’s, I was excited by learning about both genes and DNA, both new at the time, and propelled into a scientific career. Censoring evolution means denying all kinds of potential scientists, not just biologists, a chance. (Also- it means denying the economy their contribution.)

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