Thursday, March 06, 2014

The Secular Saints Go Marching On . . .

Trumwill writes:

When deciding where I want my wife and I to land, I sometimes say “I don’t want to live in a place where I am the only vote on the school board in favor of teaching evolution.

It is thoroughly depressing the degree to which the Left controls the public education system. Up until recently, I would have thought this was was a function of Big Ed / Teacher's Union power, but at least in Φ's lily-white little burg, the truth is more complicated. I volunteered to serve on a parents committee that (among a dozen other "stakeholder" committees) interviewed candidates for school superintendent. With a couple of partial exceptions, I was the only conservative among the 20 or so participants, and the loudest voices were liberals. I asked a school board member why the group was so unrepresentative and he told me that this was who the volunteers were. (The truth of this is also more complicated: the opportunity was not widely advertised; my wife found out about it by accident, and people who worked in public education were suspiciously overrepresented. Still.)

But I have my doubts about how useful "evolution" is as a proxy for Liberalism. I was actually surprised, once I became a public school parent, how little evolution plays a role in the elementary curriculum. As I have blogged many times, I don't really have a problem with evolution as long as it stays in its own sandbox, which, on the internet at least, it never does. My older daughter, in contrast, is a strong creationist. I don't have a problem with this either -- if anything, I am proud of her for her informed non-conformism -- but I have warned her that if she follows her ambition of pursuing biological sciences, she will have to get used to working within an evolutionary paradigm.

I can think of several possibilities why the virus of aggressive evolution has apparently run its course. It may be that the issue has been gamed out, that the forces of Organized Creationism have fought evolution to a draw, at least in our district. If this is true, I haven't heard about it, and I see no evidence for it in any other aspect of the education program. More likely in my view is that the Left has lost interest. Evolution was their preferred vehicle for anti-Christianity, but Christianity has been driven out of the schools regardless. Another motivation is that the implications of evolution have become more apparent, leaving the Left discomfited. It could be that the Left decided that the constituency for evolution-as-atheism was never going to be very large, and it was better to find a new fault line.

Which they did.


In the three grades to which my own children have had some exposure, the curriculum has said exactly nothing about Roger Williams, Lord Baltimore, John Smith, George Oglethorpe, Henry Hudson, and William Bradford. It has said nothing about Alexander and Patrick Hamilton, John Adams, John Jay, James Madison, and John Marshall. It has said nothing about the Missouri Compromise or the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Louisiana Purchase may have come up (Sacajawea, natch), as was the Northwest Ordinance (which created our state), but that's it.

So no American history in the elementary grades. What do they teach?

Martin Luther King. Harriet Tubman. Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges. And then back to Martin Luther King in a Never. Ending. Cycle. I do not exaggerate when I say that not a week or two went by that my children were not given a book or a reading or a lecture or a movie about !!Diversity!! It became a game for us: they would come home and say, "Guess what we learned today!" and I would be able to guess the answer in four tries merely by running through the list of names above.

Several things about this.

First of all, as someone who cares next to nothing about Black History, I can easily rattle off a longer list of names from my own elementary education 35 years ago, and maybe muster a sentence or two about them: Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington. I remember learning about Huey Newton and Malcolm X, as well, although to be fair, that may have been in high school. So if the point is make sure that Famous Blacks Are Included, then the overemphasis on the Big Four is doing a disservice. Not that they shouldn't be included in a study of American history. They should. But remember, my children aren't actually being taught American history.

Second, I object to the obsession. I would probably raise objections to any obsession of neutral poiitical content. I especially object to obsessions that bring my daughter home to tell me that she's tired of being told how her ancestors are always cast as the bad guys.

Few of the students believe this propaganda. But they are exquisitely sensitive to taboos and the power that enforces them. In Junior High School, no profanity is unfamiliar to them, but honest discussions of race leave them in utter terror.

And it terrifies their parents, too. In private discussions, they have admitted that they have noticed the propagandistic nature of this curriculum, even when they have no political axe to grind. But nobody dares speak up. Which I believe is basically the point of the exercise: make people afraid.


newrebeluniv said...

My own daughter is in college to learn nursing. She recently joked about a mandatory course she is taking on women's studies. She called it "How women invented everything".

trumwill said...

As I may not have indicated at the time, the evolution comment is entirely about signals. As a matter of science and evolution, we could easily do that at home. The bigger concern is that a community with a school board that rejects evolution is likely a community that would not particularly accept us and one where we would not feel particularly comfortable.

On the merits, I actually favor teaching evolution side-by-side with Intelligent Design.

It's annoying the extent to which atheists tie science to their own cause. Which is to say a lot of them celebrate science specifically to signal their rejection of god, which isn't good for atheism, religion, or science.

I do increasingly take a more favorable view of things like Black History Month and Women in History and such. Not to the exclusion of the more traditional history that are sometimes overlooked.

Dr. Φ said...


A couple of points:

First, as I have blogged before, the various minority months are today used less to celebrate accomplishments that to build group solidarity by reminding minorities that white men are evil. Hence the only Famous Blacks that get mentioned are civil rights activists.

Second . . . I would invite you to unpack for us why, as a nominally Christian, sometime Republican, white married heterosexual, you uniquely fear social rejection from Creationists. (This is distinct from the concern that a community so far back in the sticks as to escape the notice of the people who make it their business to ram evolution down our throats, if such a community still exists, would be unpalatable for broader cultural reasons, which I kind of get.) Did Creationists beat you up for your lunch money when you were a kid?

trumwill said...

1. While there are areas we disagree with regard to school curriculum, I do share at least some of your disdain for the "America: A Story of Collective Guilt" style textbooks we have. My comment was more in reference to it being taught, not necessarily an endorsement of how it's taught. (Though my high school textbook laid the guilt on thick in a lot of areas, the highlighting of women and minority accomplishment part wasn't actually all that bad. I don't have any problem believing it's gotten worse in the intervening years, though.)

2. There's nothing unique about it. It's largely the same rationale for why the vast majority of Utah is out of the question: Cultural incompatibility. Creationism, in my experience, tends to be a signal for (or at least corresponds with) larger cultural beliefs I am not really compatible with. Such incompatibilities are masked in heterogeneous environments, but in a religiously conservative more homogeneous culture, the ways that I differ from the core become more important.

As with Mormons, I tend to get along with creationists and the devoutly Christian on a one-on-one level, though concerns start to surface when faced with the prospects of being firmly on their turf.

I grant that when looking at environments where I am most likely to have difficulties, I tend to focus on social conservatism more than other groups, but that's because (a) we've historically looked in rural areas, where that's one of the most likely things I expect to run into, and (b) I don't have to do any due diligence to avoid accidentally ending up on a Navajo reservation, or South Texas.

Dr. Φ said...

Of course, I entirely agree that beyond a certain threshold, a certain number of people "not of us" with whom we are required to share common space affects the quality of community in a way that having "a black friend" (or if you prefer, "a so-con friend") does not.

But at the district level, we segregate ourselves by race/SES and not much else. This is largely because social liberalism has been imposed nationwide by judicial fiat; indeed, I can't think of a single "social issue" in which the policy options of the Right have not been severely circumscribed.

It is true that there are regional cultural differences (coastal vs. heartland); there might be urban vs. rural differences beyond what can be explained by demographics, occupation, etc. But I have not in my travels encountered a commuting zone where I had a choice between a "Republican" district and a "Democrat" district, all else being equal. (To be fair, all these commuting zones have been around large military installations, which might impose some range restriction.)

Utah might be an exception to this generality, but that is mostly prejudice on my part: none of the many Mormons of my acquaintance have given me reason to be other than positively disposed towards Mormons. It is true that I would not normally choose to live outside the driving distance to a Evangelical or Reformed church, which might effectively screen out parts of rural Utah (although I don't really know), but that's discrimination in favor of something specific, not discrimination against Mormonism (or anything else, for that matter).

My present community is the only one in which I or my wife regularly socialize with our immediate neighbors. Generally, although our children might play with the neighbors' children, we have expected to drive to be around personal friends of our choosing. My expectations of my immediate neighbors have never really gone beyond what their race/SES imply.

So again: given your profile (you're not black or gay or a single mom or a militant anything), what "cultural beliefs" are you so "not really compatible with" that you fear we would "not particularly accept" you? Put another way, what exactly do you think we so-cons do when we get bunched up together?

trumwill said...

Social isolation, mostly. The greater the whiteness of the population, the less whiteness grants you. The more other things, like specific church affiliation and various beliefs, do start to matter.

Not that I'm worried about people putting flaming poo on my front porch, but man I got enough problems fitting in as it is and my daughter (and hopefully a future daughter or son) already have their social decks stacked against them.