March 23, 2006

Is there hope for Arkansas?

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at March 23, 2006 8:31 PM

Doesn't look like it:

“Bob” is a geologist and a teacher at a science education institution that serves several Arkansas public school districts.
[...]
Teachers at his facility are forbidden to use the “e-word” (evolution) with the kids. They are permitted to use the word “adaptation” but only to refer to a current characteristic of an organism, not as a product of evolutionary change via natural selection. They cannot even use the term “natural selection.”
[...]
In his words, “I am instructed NOT to use hard numbers when telling kids how old rocks are. I am supposed to say that these rocks are VERY VERY OLD ... but I am NOT to say that these rocks are thought to be about 300 million years old.”

It's just insane that in the 21st century, young earth creationists are de facto deciding the curriculum in some parts of this country. In this case we should just refer to the Kung Fu Monkey motto: "Everybody who wants to live in the 21st Century over here. Everybody who wants to live in the 1800's over there. Good. Thanks. Good luck with that."

Tags: Creationism, Evolution, Religion
Comments

I never cease to be amazed at how weak the faith of some professed evangelists seems to be. Having just recently gotten through my own crisis of faith, I know how scary it is to feel that the basis of one's faith is threatened, and to look into that dark abyss. However, if all you can base your faith on is some confused interpretation, written thousands of years ago, of things they could not possibly understand, you really need to re-examine your faith. And if you have to actively prevent other people from learning what you think is wrong due to that, you really don't need to be in public office.

Posted by: Chris LS | March 23, 2006 10:06 PM

I really like the kung fu monkey motto!

I'd like to comment breifly on the last line Chris wrote: "And if you have to actively prevent other people from learning what you think is wrong due to that, you really don't need to be in public office."

Obviously, I agree with it. I would just take the clause about public office quite a bit farther. I place little value in humans who engage in such activities and feel that the world is better off without them. It's not just that they shouldn't be in public office. People not in public office shouldn't be doing it either! Having such beliefs is one thing (then we can just agree to disagree), but attempting to impose them in such a manner is horrible.

OK, so it's probably obvious I'm not in a good mood. Life isn't the greatest at the moment, and I'm definitely having some nice 'Is this really worth it?' thoughts.

Posted by: Mason | March 23, 2006 10:21 PM

OK, that was too ambiguous.

I meant, "Is being a professional scientist really worth it?"

Um, don't misinterpret this in other ways.

Posted by: Mason | March 23, 2006 10:22 PM

If you forsake modern science you should be denied its gifts. No medicine, No computers, no airwaves to spread there misguided lies... i think we should take a page from isreal. Biuld a big electrified fence / concrete wall and throw them on th e other side.

Posted by: shellock | March 24, 2006 4:37 AM

I'm with Chris too. The hypocrisy really annoys me, and I think they're hypocritical out of fear. It's like "Let's teach that God is this infinite, all-present power, and then let's freak out when the scientists want to put God 13.5 Gyr away instead of a more cozy 6000." Get a grip, folks. God can be more frighteningly infinite than you can wrap your human brains around and still love you. It's one of those Great Mysteries you like to talk about so much.

Posted by: Laura | March 24, 2006 8:12 AM

I'd recommend fencing off Mississippi and Alabama. All 1800s folks can go live in there. No great loss, one way or another. *8)

Posted by: Chris LS | March 24, 2006 8:13 AM

Arkansas state motto: "For the last time, 'Deliverance' happened in GEORGIA."

Posted by: JSpur | March 24, 2006 8:58 AM

I think the "You guys over there, us over here" idea is funny, but also potentially dangerous. Ignoring a fundamental problem of a large part of society isn't going to make it go away. Yes, it's a very hard thing to deal with, and incredibly frustrating when people disagree with you for reasons beyond comprehension, but just saying "Okay. I give up on that whole area" is pretty much how things got so bad in the first place. The South vs. the North competition in difference in values has been encouraged as healthy over the decades/centuries rather than confronted as a problem, and while I hear nothing but contempt for what they might call "traditional family/Christian values" down there, I don't think I've ever heard over the years anyone's plans to make things better by encouraging higher standards of education, and better schools to begin with. Of course someone in Boston is going to make more sense about these issues. You can't throw a rock in Boston without hitting an excellent school. When it comes to more rural or industrial places, though, the attitude is simply "Well, they don't WANT to join us in the 21st century, so fuck them." If America had put half the funds into teaching America that patriotism was going to school instead of joining the military over the years, this country would be a very different place. But there is this prevailing idea that we need the "cannon fodder" of America, who are too stupid to be able to do anything more than farm, or two ignorant to have ambitions above it. The problem is that this isn't a three-hour dilemma that will be solved with cold, hard logic. It will take decades and decades to fix it, especially when the voices of science don't want to be heard. But it's worth trying to fight a losing battle, and debating these points among a crowd of people that disagree rather than agree with our points of view. Look at that converted Christian in Afghanistan that's going to be put to death. That's a good enough reason as any not to let a fundamentalist idea fester and just ignore on the hope that it, and everyone who believes in it, will just die out with luck.

Posted by: Josh | March 24, 2006 11:00 AM

Josh: It's a good sentiment, but I see two problems. The first is that, as the article mentions, it's actually the local fundamentalists themselves who control the funding for schools. That's the reason there's a problem at all: if they tried to censor this geologist as a matter of policy, it'd be thrown out instantly by the courts, but instead they make vague threats about pulling his funding and he has to comply (at least, if he wants to reach the students at all).

The other problem is that, while outreach is a good thing, these people are actively hostile to science. I'm not sure that anything can be done when they're putting their fingers in their ears and chanting "I'm not listening." I think the best way is to try to reach the school-age kids instead and introduce them to a broader worldview, but this goes back to the problem of local control of the schools.

The point of the KF Monkey motto as I see it is not that we should wall off the fundamentalists from the rest of society, but that they are welcome to try to live an 1800's lifestyle as long as they don't try to force us to as well. If they don't want their kids learning modern science, they are welcome to homeschool them or enroll in a religious school, but they shouldn't dictate the curriculum for the entire community.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | March 24, 2006 11:27 AM

Maybe I'm just being reflexively anti-authoritarian again (hey, there's a reason I always come out at the extreme chaotic end of the alignment scale on those D&D quizzes!), but I'm thinking flagrant, en masse rebellion by the real science teachers would be a fun option. If all the capable science teachers are fired, and the science education centers defunded, all in the same academic year, I'd think that would cause quite a bit of publicity and commotion. And actually educate a bunch of students for a short period of time. Unless I'm badly wrong about the job market for teachers, these people could trivially get jobs elsewhere (we're always complaining about large class sizes, not enough teachers, etc.). Anyway, if I were in "Bob's" position, I'd either quit in disgust or get myself fired like that (to be fair, the linked article seems to be "Bob's" effort at fighting back, in a less confrontational way).

Posted by: Justin | March 24, 2006 12:45 PM

Completely off topic: Does anybody have electronic access to "The Scientist"? Their March issue apparently includeds a ranking of the top places for a postdoc to work (not scientific issues, but job issues). I'm too lazy (and busy) to bother walking over to Millikan to look at this.

Posted by: Mason | March 24, 2006 1:42 PM

Mason: Looks like UCB has access. I'll e-mail the article to you.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | March 24, 2006 2:04 PM

AG: I realized while I was writing my little diatribe that the expectations of success for my proposal would be minimal at best, for many reasons. On the other hand, when these sorts of societal hostilities occur within our nation, this is one of the points where I tend to lean towards big government rather than small government. After all, back in the first half of the century, large amounts of the population were actively hostile towards blacks. This still hasn't changed enough, but we are making slow progress towards fixing this problem. Similarly, this issue is one of basic free speech if Arkansas public school teachers aren't allowed to use the word "evolution". Fundamentalist reactions that end up trying to close off doors of learning to their own children is a matter of direct interest and necessary intervention for America. The human rights involved in keeping one's own child ignorant and feral to outside views besides ones own is nothing short of a completely evil atrocity, and cannot be fixed by simply letting them live in their own world. That sort of method simply creates a perpetually festering swamp that grows worse and worse with each year, and like a cancerous growth on the end of America, it will just more poisonous until people willing to be active force it into proper treatment.

That metaphor really got away from me there. I admit it.

Posted by: Josh | March 24, 2006 6:31 PM

It's interesting that the issue of homeschooling comes up... I have a lot of contact with homeschoolers of all sorts, so I can speak to this issue of kids being closeted up for years and only exposed to fundamentalist Christian views etc. One kid I know whose parents are particularly fanatical in this respect left home for college no longer a creationist. Kids have ways of discovering the world, despite the best efforts of their parents, don't worry!

Posted by: lidarose | March 24, 2006 7:23 PM

I agree that some kids discover the world to an acceptable degree after their parents have forcibly tried to stunt them from looking at outside opinions. However, not all of them do. And like Saudi Arabian women, I am not so concerned with those that do escape to live functional, fulfilled, and happy lives, or as much of a chance as one has at such, as I am at those who don't escape from the educational equivalent of being bound and gagged in a dark room. "Things will work themselves out" is not an acceptable answer for me. I don't have ulcers and I don't have violent urges over these issues, so worrying about them only tells me that maybe the issue is actually important, and I shouldn't just go by the middle-class mantra of "don't worry, be happy"...

That's certainly not a criticism, lidarose, though I admit that it sounded like it. I have a weakness towards strong language, and there is an inverse proportion to the amount of drinks that I have to the degree I am able to control that weakness. But I absolutely respect your opinion on the matter if that's the way you look at it.

Posted by: Josh | March 24, 2006 11:41 PM

Your point is well-taken, Josh. Don't worry, be happy, was not what I was trying to say, though it probably came across that way. I was trying to keep my post short this time.... I didn't mean that we should cease and desist all efforts to continue to teach real science in the schools and to get the truth to kids who are homeschooled as well -- all that is important! I was reacting to an earlier remark that indicated a perception of homeschoolers as all being sheltered (in a negative way) and kept from the truth. I don't think this is always the case or that it is a problem confined to homeschoolers -- it really doesn't have anything to do with homeschooling: there are way too many kids nowadays (in schools and otherwise) who are being done this disservice, as well as being taught math and other subjects in terrible ways, and thus being deprived of a good solid education. I don't have the answers to these problems; I wish I did. I am trying to do what I can by helping homeschoolers to get a solid background in math (my line of work) and by encouraging them to apply to colleges that will broaden them and expose them to true science, etc. I also try to steer students away from creationist-based curricula whenever possible, and I do have that opportunity every now and then. How about some of you scientists getting involved in teaching science to homeschoolers, or being mentors to homeschoolers (and school kids, for that matter) who are interested in science? There is always a great need for this.

Posted by: lidarose | March 25, 2006 9:44 PM

I think the homeschooling remark in question was mine; I certainly didn't mean to suggest that all homeschoolers are sheltered, but was just referring to the fact that some fundamentalist families homeschool their kids for the express purpose of sheltering them from concepts like evolution. I've met a number of people who were homeschooled for other, much better reasons, and acquired a stellar education that way. So it wasn't meant to be a blanket statement about homeschooling.

What I was originally getting at was this: if biblical literalists don't want evolution taught to their kids, they have a couple of options. One of them is to opt out of the public education system, either by homeschooling or enrolling in a private religious school that teaches creationism. The other option is to try to force the public schools to adopt a creationist curriculum. Obviously the first option is harmful to the kids and makes outreach difficult, but it's still preferable to the second option, assuming that the families in question are going to try to prevent the teaching of evolution one way or another.

I agree that there's not enough outreach being done by scientists, to homeschooled students or otherwise. Academia with its publish-or-perish culture doesn't value outreach very much, and an hour spent talking to high school students could have been spent in the lab working on one's tenure case (or whatever). It's becoming more and more important that the citizenry be informed about science, so it would be good if we could find a way to change this.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | March 26, 2006 12:08 AM

The only way to make such a change (and this has been discussed by a number of the professional societies) is to get some "credit" for such service. Liberal arts schools and teaching schools tend to be quite good about this, but at research schools, one is essentially going to be strongly encouraged (at least tacitly and very likely actively) to spend time on other things. In practice, when professors at research schools get involved in mathematics (and science) education, it is people who are far along in their careers and, in particular, people who are already fully tenured.

There really is strong encouragement to not do such things---especially for people who don't even have tenure-track jobs yet. I advised a lot of undergrad REU projects at Georgia Tech, and several professors told me I should be spending my time on "more important" things. (One went so far as to say that one more paper was worth more for my career than mentoring 3-4 more students. Of course, I had the pleasure of proving them wrong by doing both---not having much of a social life sometimes gives one such luxuries.)

It's true that getting more grassroots involvement of scientists would be extremely useful, but the campaign to do such things needs to be made to organizations like the APS. Otherwise, the culture won'[t get changed enough to make it realistic, because most scientists who ignore the pressures and do it anyway won't remain scientists for long.

Posted by: Mason | March 26, 2006 1:06 AM

I'm surprised that no one has yet commented on how I've been in L.A. all of six months and I've already become the obnoxious actor preaching activism when I don't actually go out and do anything myself. God knows the thought occurred to me in mid-rant.

Posted by: Josh | March 26, 2006 12:48 PM

Josh: That is simply part of the Los Angeles background noise that So Cal natives like me basically filter out automatically.

Posted by: Mason | March 26, 2006 2:13 PM

Heh, I suppose I do my part for the "scientist mentoring homeschooled kids" thing. Of course that's only because my two siblings are homeschooled... :-) And I put a lot more effort into being a bad influence than actually teaching them useful knowledge (unless belching counts as useful). I suppose I'm not doing such a good job of either these days, now that we no longer live within driving distance.

As Buffy said, "Home schooling - it's not just for crazy religious people anymore!"

Posted by: Justin | March 26, 2006 4:28 PM
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