Showing posts with label Education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Education. Show all posts

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Betsy Devos Will Destroy Public Education, The Bedrock Of Our Republic

“Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.”  Carl Sagan

Betsy Devos is actually being considered for Education in the Trump cabinet. Oh hell no

Let's consider the words of one of the founding fathers:

"I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness...Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance." Thomas Jefferson (letter to George Wythe, August 13, 1786).

Thomas Jefferson's lifelong belief in the importance of public education as the bedrock of a free Republic was shared by many of the founding fathers.  A major reason why most of humanity has lived in virtual enslavement for most of history is that the common people have been historically excluded from the education that was strictly reserved for the wealthy and priestly classes. As students of the Enlightenment, the framers of the Constitution of the United States of America understood from reading history - and through personal experience and observation - that the elusive key to greater liberty and equality for humankind has always been education.

Knowledge is power and education is the great equalizer. The founders knew that public education - the dissemination of the power of knowledge throughout a population of equals - was vital to a free and productive society. They believed that an educated citizenry was one of the foundational "common causes" behind which all citizens ought to throw their full support for the betterment of humankind and for the good of the new nation. 

They also knew that this public education - which would become the backbone of a more just and free society, the first of its kind in human history - must be protected from ideological influences and agendas. They had witnessed firsthand the oppression and tyranny that results when religious ideology is imposed upon a people, and they tried - via the establishment clause in the Constitution - to strike a balance between protection of an individual's religious liberty and the protection of the general population from any religious group which might seek to impose its religious ideology on the entire people. 

 "...kings, priests and nobles..."
"Kings, priests and nobles" -  and their modern-day equivalent: megachurch leaders, pastors and conservative religious hierarchies - have always known this and thus feared and hated the idea of an educated public. Elites do not want social equality. More social equality is seen by powerful elites as a zero sum game: more power and wealth for the general population means less power and wealth for them, which is why education has historically been the ruthlessly guarded privilege of those elites.  Throughout history, in many parts of the world, they made sure that it was actually illegal to educate the common people. 

Wealthy, religious elites - whose wealth is sucked out of the people over whom they have religious power - fear an educated population the most and, when public education is legally mandated (as in the USA), they will do their utmost to undermine and impoverish it. They know that an educated populace will inevitably lead to the disruption of their traditional power structures. They recognise that they cannot exploit the people if the people are educated. Educated people have access to the knowledge once exclusively owned by religious elites, and can separate facts from fiction. Educated people develop confidence, independence and aspirations. Educated people fight back against exploitation.  

A rare, true church sign slogan.
"Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to ; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty." Thomas Jefferson, 3rd US President (letter to James Madison, 4th US President, December 20, 1787).

Jefferson's insight no doubt informed religious conservatives in their strategy to undermine the Republic and reduce the United States to an authoritarian theocracy. They recognized that it really was education, primarily, which enabled millions of people to rise above the poverty and disenfranchisement which has been the fate of "common people" everywhere for all of human history. And it was education of the people which was helping millions of Americans enjoy a better standard of living - earned through their own well-educated efforts - which had been impossible when they were an uneducated peasantry whose life circumstances and well-being were entirely at the mercy of a culture which allowed all power and wealth to be concentrated into the hands of a very few, usually religious, elite groups.

...which is exactly what conservatives fear most!
It was this fact -  that free public education gives power to the people instead of to religious elites - which put the American school system at the top of the religious conservatives' hit list. Filtering information through their own self-interested Biblical lens, and keeping the vast majority of people fearful, ignorant and acquiescent because of the threat of eternal divine punishment had long been the primary means of concentrating power into the hands of the priestly classes, but public education -by giving the people access to the knowledge that once was the secret posession of the clergy, and the critical thinking skills with which to assess the claims and threats of religion - undermined the theological house of cards upon which church authority rests, breaking its stranglehold over the public psyche. 

Millions of educated people who are capable of understanding the ideologies and questioning the actions of powerful groups in their midst become far more difficult to control and exploit. Millions of educated people, who have been taught history and critical thinking skills, are able to recognise when the doctrine of a religious elite is immoral, self-interested power-mongering.  Therefore, it became the first priority of the religious right movement to undermine and discredit public education while simultaneously spearheading a parallel assortment of pseudo-educational systems with which to replace it.  The Christian homeschooling movement is not, and never was, a grassroots phenomenon. Likewise, the private Christian school and college campuses mushrooming up all over the country are a targeted investment in this strategy.

As they insinuated themselves into school boards across the country - running as fiscal conservatives to get elected only to turn around and concentrate on their religious agenda once in power - religious conservatives began a determined campaign to inject religious mythology into public school classrooms, inventing fake "controversies" over established scientific theories which conflicted with Christian beliefs, and often succeeding in forcing grossly misleading "information" into school curriculums. The ongoing effort of Christian conservatives to force the teaching of Biblical creationism in science classrooms, falsely presenting religious belief as a scientific theory to school children is a chilling example of this. 

Who needs public school when all you'll ever need to
know can be found in the Bible?
In addition to these determined efforts to force schools to teach a generation of American children lies and mythology as "historical facts" and "scientific theory" (which may potentially handicap them for life), conservative school board members in key districts have also moved to prevent children from learning vital critical thinking skills. The reason why the religious right wants to reduce or eliminate higher order thinking skills in the general population is obvious - as mentioned above, properly educated people are equipped to see through the religious right's agenda - but the unintended consequence may very possibly be a population rendered incapable of meeting the demands of a competitive global race for technological and scientific innovation due to huge gaps in their education.

Consider this plank in the Texas Republican party platform:

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority. (from a position statement in the 2012 Texas Republican Party Platform).

The Texas Republican Party is openly calling for a ban on the teaching of vital critical thinking skills. They are not shy about saying this - it is right there in their published platform statement - and, thanks to the current climate of rising authoritarian anti-intellectualism, they are not shy about saying why they want to deprive Texas students (and ultimately all students) of the right to a full education, including the development of the ability to think for themselves. 
...and only This...

They intend to change Texas law so that religious belief will replace scientifically verifiable knowledge. They intend to enshrine into law that children cannot learn anything in school which will conflict with Christian teachings. The reference to "behavior modification" is a dog whistle thrown in to arouse right wing paranoia. HOTS have nothing to do with "behavior modification"; that sentence makes no sense whatsoever to anybody who actually understands educational theory, but pseudo-intellectual sounding claptrap is the stock in trade of Christian conservatives justifying their rejection of any secular initiative. Likewise, the jarringly inappropriate reference to "parental authority" and "fixed beliefs" makes no sense, unless the crux of the position is that schools will be prohibited from teaching pupils anything at all other than what parents and churches have already told them is all they need to know. That would make public schools unnecessary and redundant. 

Which is exactly the point.

Preventing a generation of children from receiving a proper education is precisely the goal of the religious right. For those children that they have already siphoned off into fundamentalist Christian homeschooling and private Christian schools, the pseudo-education has already been well underway for more than a generation. It is the public schools which still vex them. Limping along, greatly hampered by the constant attacks, the draining of resources through determined conservative legislative attacks on the value and sincerity of public education and teachers, and the bleeding dry of funding and student enrollments via school voucher campaigns redirecting public funds into religious schools, the public school system has been under constant, vicious attack for over three decades. Unless the American people wake up and put a stop to it, the religious right may succeed in completely dismantling public education, leaving students to the deliberate miseducation of religious schooling, thus plunging the country back into a new kind of dark age, with both intellectual and social liberty lost.

...before it's too late!
"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is, not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. this is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." Thomas Jefferson (letter to William C. Jarvis, September 28, 1820).

Ironically, although President Jefferson's considered opinion that a free society depended upon a publicly-educated population was the insight upon which the religious right based its attack upon America, as soon as they had achieved their goal of majority influence over school boards and state legislatures, they acted to try to erase Thomas Jefferson and other progressive thinkers from the text books which American children will study, replacing them with conservative idols and religious ideology. 

Nearly destroying the public education system in the United States was never simply a mildly-regretted, unintended consequence of the conservative Christian campaign to "take back over" America.  Preventing people from having access to a free and intellectually rigorous education was always their goal.  Millions of publicly-educated people are the only safeguard standing between a free, democratic Republic and an authoritarian, theocratic oligarchy. The self-annointed "moral majority" understood this back in the late 1960's when they launched their campaign to undermine the foundations of American society and transform it into a theocracy with themselves (naturally) in control. The first and most critical stage of that campaign strategy was to destroy public education - the greatest threat to their power - and in that quest they have had alarming success. 

Recommended reading (No seriously, I'm begging you: read these things!): 

A thoughtful, in-depth and very readable article on the conservative Christian strategy to rewrite history, erase progressive contributions and undermine the entire foundation of American society: How Christian Were the Founders? Russell Shorto, New York Times Magazine, February 11, 2010

Why public education must be preserved, Valerie Strauss, Washington Post.

Texas textbook standards revision story here.

PBS, School: The Story of American Public Education.

Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr.  The moral imperative for education policy.

Dr. P Z Myers, A well informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will.

Patrick Murfin's brief history of public education here.

Columbus Dispatch story

Louisiana private (religious) schools voucher story here.

"...improve the law for educating the common people...the people alone can protect us against...tyranny..."

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Homeschooling Revisited

Why are there so many infants in this homeschooling logo?  Curious!

(Updated with reader Elise's comment and my response below)

I have been curious about homeschooling lately. I have always been pretty certain that I do not have the temperament for it, because even though I always loved spending time exploring with my kids when they were younger - not to mention reading with them and amassing a book collection worthy of small library status - I knew that I lacked the organizational skills and the stick-to-it-iveness necessary for success. I have to admit, though, that some days the idea of sailing around the world with my partner and our kids - providing them with the best darn home-schooled education imaginable -  is very tempting indeed!

Actors portraying the Nifty family:
citizens of the world!
Anyway, this week I have had more than the usual number of those days and thoughts about sailing away have been drifting pleasantly across my mind, so this morning - just for fun - I decided to look into what kind of resources are out there to help people like me. You know: people who like to daydream about how cool it would be to sail the world with teenaged offspring, living off the grid- independently and self-sufficiently! - learning new skills (maybe the kids could learn a few things, too) and generally becoming quite literally the coolest family on the planet!  The same people who fail to consider the challenges and frustrations of trying to help said offspring finish their high school education while gallivanting around the globe (killjoy!).

Everyone knows that the homeschooling movement in the USA is dominated by religious fundamentalists - the movement was actually inspired by Rousas John Rushdoony, the Calvinist father of American Christian Reconstructionism - but I happen to know at least one secular homeschooler (Hi Jenn!)  so it has to be at least hypothetically possible that not everything connected to homeschooling would have to be drenched in the blood of Jesus.

Yikes! Website banner for Homeschooling
Education in the shadow of the cross? That is just creepy.
This morning, I decided to idly surf the web to see what resources would be out there for a parent seeking curricula, textbooks and supporting materials in order to provide a good, non-religious homeschooling experience for her children.  I found a secular homeschooling website!  The Secular Homeschool Community homepage lists forums, blogs, groups and resources tabs for homeschooling parents who wish to provide their children with an excellent, broad-ranging, thorough education that is not based upon religious dogma.  Excellent!

Perusing the google search page again, I typed in homeschool textbooks to see how easy it might be to find books and materials to support a homeschooling curriculum as suggested on the website.  At the top of the search results was Homeschooling Books. I clicked on it only to discover that it was obviously geared toward the Christian homeschooling community in spite of its deceptively bland website name and description.

The next site I opened, sporting an equally bland name (Homeschool Supercenter!) looked much more promising.  Their textbook menu included specifically Christian resources and texts, of course, since the majority of homeschooling families are homeschooling for explicitly religious reasons. But at the top of the menu - even before the undoubtedly more popular Christian resources - were several categories of secular textbooks!

Feeling delighted that the second most referred site on the google search for homeschool textbooks offered resources for secular homeschooling, I clicked on the secular science tab and voilĂ !  A little intermediary page of full curricula packages popped up. On it, not one real science package was featured, but prominently displayed on the top line was "Apologia", a creationist vomitus of Biblical mythology and anti-education, wrapped up in a fancy package with a SCIENCE label slapped on it.

I have news for the Homeschool Supercenter:  creationism is not science. Calling it science does not make it science. Slapping on a SCIENCE label not only will not make that creationist dreck science, but it is false advertising as well.

8th edition of a creationist textbook
Further perusal of that site unearthed what looked to be some actual science resources, but after the bait and switch in the first layers of link clicking before finding the real science buried under the stealth religion, I am not sure it would be wise to purchase them.  I think a secular homeschooler would need to research every text she is considering for her children.

It must be interesting - not to mention a constant training ground for investigative skills - for secular homeschoolers to avoid the traps that appear to have been laid for them by the Christian homeschool movement. Presenting religious mythology in sciency-looking packages and hiding religious dogma in sciency-sounding language in textbooks and materials is the sneaky tactic used by the religious right to trick people into buying that garbage. If they are really lucky, they hope that people will buy into the nonsense, too, thus fulfilling the greater goal of the religious education strategy, which is to deny children a full education - especially denying them an understanding of the scientific method, free thought and skeptical critical thinking skills - thus keeping them ignorant, fearful followers of the teachings of their church.

Parents are free, of course, to deny their children a full education. In fact, it appears that millions have decided to do just that. Encouraged by anecdotal data which point to superior performance of homeschoolers compared to public school educated children, many homeschool parents are rightly proud of what their children  - and they - are able to achieve. But those "statistics"* hide the complete story. Standardized tests can only test what children can regurgitate under less than ideal conditions, not how well-devloped their critical thinking skills have become. There is no way to know whether they have been taught to simply memorize actual scientific theories (which they are told are lies) for testing purposes, while being taught that religious mythology is the actual truth which they must believe or face eternal damnation.

Christian homeschooling websites often post
 optimistic - and totally fabricated - charts like this.
Homeschooling parents who use religious texts for science and history education deny their children access to reality. Worse, like the sciency-sounding but educationally bankrupt creationist textbooks and materials with which homeschoolers dazzle each other and obfuscate reality, the Christian home-schooled child evinces an educated-sounding pseudo-intellectualism which masks a chasm of ignorance so deep the child may literally never be able to climb out of it.

The Christian homeschooling movement continues to grow. According to hopeful Christian homeschooling websites (quickly google** "homeschooling statistics" or similar), it will continue to grow a lot.  I wonder if secular homeschooling is likewise growing?  I am going to keep my eye on this topic because it is related to some other things I am working on about education and the power of the religious right.

Meanwhile, however, I will just keep dreaming!

*My own informal search on the internet for a source of this type of "statistic" report outside the homeschool community turned up zilch. All of the charts and diagrams showing homeschooling superiority that filled pages of goggle** search results came from homeschooling websites and blogs.
** I accidentally typed "goggle" instead of "google", but really, I did sort of goggle at it, too.


There is a short string of old comments below the original Hmm...Homeschooling post which I won't republish here. If you are interested in reading what a Christian apologist has to say, then you can read it here.

The reason why I am reposting the essay now is to post an unexpected new comment which arrived back in January. It took me several days to notice the new comment on a much older post, but when I did I was pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful effort that the reader had given to it.

I was knee-deep in other projects through most of the winter, so it took me awhile to get back to this topic and to reply to the comment, which I think deserved an equally thoughtful reply. Thank you for your patience, Elise, and thank you again for an excellent contribution!

Here is Elise's comment and my response:

I see I'm a little late here, but I wanted to chime in. There is more than one homeschooler who is doing it for completely secular reasons. I really appreciate your point of view, and thoroughly enjoyed reading your article; particularly, "the Christian home-schooled child evinces an educated-sounding pseudo-intellectualism which masks a chasm of ignorance so deep the child may literally never be able to climb out of it." I might have to use that one some time. I really feel strongly that you are right about that, except that being a Christ-follower does NOT equate to being an empty-skulled, blind tow-er of the line of BS spewed by so much of the Christian Right. I (mostly) identify as a Christian, as do my children (by their choice), but we are solidly liberal in religious matters, and we certainly do teach evolution and the Big Bang. We also boycott Chick-fil-A, and support Starbucks, both of which decisions I have used as mini-lessons about social responsibility and equal rights. I am a strong believer in a well-rounded education, and in teaching the actual truth, rather than some narrow-minded group's stunted view of it.
You are completely right that there does seem to be a hidden agenda in much of the material available to homeschoolers. So much so that I have found it necessary to first skim descriptions of all resources and discard any that mention anything remotely Christian before I waste my time with it. It's so sad!

I am saddened, not merely that you feel the way you clearly (by the comments) do about Christianity, but more so that Christianity has failed so miserably to project anything remotely Christ-like for you or others to find uplifting. I was raised wholly Christian, but have recently come to realize that Christianity, as a religion, is a farce. Your quote of Pascal is dead-on. And I have recently come to realize that Christ himself (even if you only read him as an interesting historical figure) was radically anti-religion! I am starting to see that the Atheists and secularists have more in common with Christ than most Christians! But I maintain that there are more secular-minded homeschoolers than you probably realize. I am part of a secular group in our community that has discussed Pagan spirit days that lead to Halloween, the Yuletide and Hanukkah this past year. You might have to look a little harder for us, but we're there. Don't discount all homeschoolers as Religious nuts!

Well, I have just turned a quick comment into a bit of a rant. I apologize for that. I hope I wasn't too offensive to anyone with enough of a brain to think for themselves. In conclusion, my real points were: 1. You are right about homeschoolers being predominantly "Uber-Christian Right" morons pushing their agendas (and ignorance) on everyone. Like you, I'm saddened when I think of the generation kids being brought up to NOT think for themselves. 2. There are those of us who think homeschooling is the best option for the exact reason of offering our children a fuller, more rounded education. Traditional school is certainly not immune to the Christian Agenda. Finally, I'm trying to spread the word that not everyone who is a "Christ-follower" adheres to the Christian religious model of hate, bigotry, ignorance, and oppression of ideas. I have a suspicion that there are more of us than you'd think, but that we're so much more moderate or liberal that we just don't ever get heard above the spewing of the Right's idiocy. So I'm speaking up. Thanks for listening.

Hi Elise, thank you for your comment. I am glad that you speak up against bigotry when you see it, and that you are trying to teach your children everything that is good and positive about Christianity.
Before I respond to the excellent meat of your comment, I must respectfully object to the way you have characterized my argument as an attack on Christians using words like "morons", "empty-skulled" etc. I have never said anything like that because quite frankly I do not believe that. Christianity - and in particular its fundamentalist flavors - provides ample grounds for criticism and I try to be unstinting in my rebukes of it and all religions, but I reserve my stingers for the faith itself (including its powerful networks of promoters) not its lay adherents. Most people come to religious belief as children when they are defenseless against its effects on their psychological hard-wiring. I recognize that most believers are good people - many are highly intelligent, too - so you could say that I hate the 'sin', but not the 'sinner'.  :-).
I believe that allying oneself with the most powerful majority in this country is a very rational - if unreasonable - decision that millions of Americans make quite consciously. It's the smart, sensible thing to do. Rejecting religion is the irrational - although reasonable - thing to do. Publicly expressing unbelief is neither smart nor sensible because of the personal cost, though obviously for people who have higher moral values, the price for doing the right thing is one they may be willing to pay. For many other people, the social cost of coming out as an atheist is too high - they fear for their families, for example - and they must stay in the closet about their unbelief. In many areas, this is sadly necessary. I have said as much in many of my posts. It is dangerous to identify as a nonbeliever in our gods-soaked culture, and of course it is even more dangerous in some other cultures in the world. People who stay silent about their unbelief are rationally, sensibly choosing to remain within the fold where they and their children will be safest - sleeping with the enemy is safer than being identified AS the enemy by the majority which holds the power to make your life a living hell.
So, I'd like to make it perfectly clear that I do not think people who identify as Christ-followers are "morons" nor have I ever said anything of the sort. You can find examples of my writing about this here and here and here and here.
I thank you for pointing out again that there is a small but growing number of secular home-schoolers. I know several of them myself. The point of my article was that for people like them, the materials available for educating their children are nearly all religiously-based, though often the religious agenda is hidden in order to trick non-religious homeschoolers into buying those materials without realizing it. As you point out, this can easily happen unless a parent is very alert.
I sincerely appreciate your kind thoughts, but you need not feel sad for me or most atheists. Most of us feel we've made a very lucky escape from something immensely damaging and tremendously immoral. I, too, was raised in a Christian home and, contrary to your assumption about me, I grew up very much valuing the positive aspects of religion - so much so that I was well on my way to dedicating my life to a religious order in my late teens. 
I was a practicing Christian for 40 years. Although I am pretty sure that most religionists don't really believe it when they suggest that an atheist must either never have heard about how great religion can be OR was "hurt" by someone somewhere sometime and is just angry at religion, I would still like to point out that I, like most atheists, had a thorough religious upbringing - practiced a religion for years and loved my church - but came to understand that it is a morally bankrupt system of social control which harms people far more than it helps them. It was very difficult to give up the privileges and advantages that identifying as a Christian confers - belonging to a socially-acceptable (and quite powerful) community, fellowship, beloved rituals, music and a sense of cultural roots - but for most atheists the immorality of sincere religious belief left them no other morally defensible choice. 
There is a lot about religion that is good and appealing to all of us - that is why it survives even when people know on some level that it is, as you say, a "farce", that its doctrines are untrue and its claims to the moral high ground are deeply unconvincing. As I matured, I gradually realized that what is good about religion is what is good about humanity. It is human morality that imbues religions with their most beautiful aspects, but in most cases religious dogma provides a workaround for human morality to fulfill a political or social agenda (to concentrate power unto itself) which is chilling. Most good theists are good in spite of their religious beliefs, not thanks to them.
Most atheists are intimately familiar with religion. Many have read more of the Bible than most believers do. They know the theology and the dogma, and they understand where it leads when followed by true believers to its logical conclusion. It isn't lack of exposure to the "good news" that turns people into atheists. They understand what that message really is, and reject it for the opportunistic justification for power-seeking that it is. Whatever is good about religion is derived from human morality not the other way around. We literally are "good without gods". It is religion that seeks to thwart that human inclination toward empathy to fulfill its own ends. It is a lie that we need religion to have good morals; indeed, religious dogma codifies and justifies immorality. Religion's abiding lesson is obedience to authority, even if that authority commands that we persecute, rape, oppress or murder people.
Religious indoctrination begins in childhood for a reason - it is almost impossible for children to resist it when they are immature and dependent on parents for survival. The fear, guilt and anxiety which is inculcated through early religious instruction leaves psychological scars which few human beings can erase even if they grow up to embrace a more reasonable and moral world view. This is the understanding that underpins the religious insistence upon childhood indoctrination. And fear that we might be wrong - that eternal suffering will be inflicted upon unbelievers - is the lingering legacy of that early indoctrination that prods us to indoctrinate our own children, even if we attempt to transmit a kinder, gentler version of it to them. That lingering psychological fear, combined with the very real and rational awareness of the threat that a hostile, powerful majority poses to the actual physical and psychological safety of the unbelieving minority and our children seals the deal. We say to ourselves; "better safe than sorry".
For these reasons, I submit to you that children do not "choose" their religion. 
You sound like a thoughtful and thoroughly decent human being. I am so happy that you are trying to raise your children to be open-minded, well-educated and truly caring about their fellow human beings.
Thank you again for your thoughtful comment. I wish you every success in your homeschooling effort!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Modern David and Goliath Story - Teenager Zack Kopplin Takes On The Christian Right

When Zack Kopplin was in his sophomore year at Baton Rouge Magnet High School, in 2008, he started his fight against a new law called the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), which has earned him fame and notoriety for being a notable advocate for science in defiance of this law's disguised attempt at introducing creationism into the classroom in Louisiana.*

For your Saturday Inspiration, may I present a modern day David vs Goliath story:

When Christian fundamentalists in the Louisiana legislature passed the Louisiana Science Education Act, it was a signal that the religious right had finally declared open war against reality-based public education. This law virtually guarantees that growing numbers of children will be deprived of education as the modern knowledge available through comprehensive educational curricula is replaced by medieval constraints on learning where all access to knowledge must be restricted to whatever can be Biblically referenced.   

Alarmed and angered by these developments, LA teenager Zack Kopplin pushed past his shyness and fear of retaliation to protest the law. Zack began by writing a research paper on the subject while still in high school. Since then, he has sought and gained the support of 78 nobel laureates in his effort to persuade the Louisiana legislature that the LSEA was not just a mistake, but potentially disastrous for Louisiana children and the future economic growth of the state. He was disappointed in that effort: the Louisiana legislature refused to repeal the law. To Zack's (and many others') horror, Tennessee soon followed Louisiana's example and passed a similar creationist bill of their own.

Zack's concerns are founded in chilling reality. Not only has the LSEA opened the door for creationism to be taught to unsuspecting children by dishonestly calling it "science", but the Louisiana legislature - with the blessing of Governor Bobby Jindal - has also passed bills for school voucher programs which funnel public tax dollars into religious schools which teach this overtly religious material. This blatant violation of the Constitutional prohibition against government endorsement of religion was made possible through a cleverly packaged bill purporting to support "academic freedom".

While science has been in the crosshairs of religious fundamentalists for decades, it is not the only school subject in danger. History is being rewritten in Texas (the source of the vast majority of textbooks used by all American schoolchildren), while Bible-based Mathematics (yes, Math!), Economics and  Literature, currently being taught inside the Christian homeschooling movement, are poised to be launched into the public school curricula as soon as Christian fundamentalists succeed in getting their agenda passed in state legislatures around the country. Louisiana is far from the only Republican-controlled state to be pushing through these anti-education measures, either. In addition to Louisiana, Tennessee, and Texas (unofficially), four more states are considering legislation which will allow religious fundamentalists to do an end run around both the Constitution and reality-based educational standards.

Fresh legislation has been put forward in Colorado, Missouri and Montana. In Oklahoma, there are two bills before the state legislature that include potentially creationist language.
A watchdog group, the National Center for Science Education, said that the proposed laws were framed around the concept of "academic freedom". It argues that religious motives are disguised by the language of encouraging more open debate in school classrooms. However, the areas of the curriculum highlighted in the bills tend to focus on the teaching of evolution or other areas of science that clash with traditionally religious interpretations of the world.
Four US states considering laws that challenge the teaching of evolution, Paul Harris, The Guardian, January 31, 2013.

Why are religious fundamentalists so determined to inject religion into science curricula (and into public education, generally) anyway? What possible benefit can there be in denying reality and refusing to accept the scientific theories which enabled humankind to develop technologies and medical treatments which these same people presumably do not refuse to use? The answer is sadly banal. Christian fundamentalists are attempting to destroy secular public education for the same reason that religion has always opposed allowing the people access to real education: for the preservation of the religious elite's power and wealth.  

American Christianism - like all religions - is a symbiotic relationship: religious elites derive their power and wealth from legions of followers who look to pastors and preachers for leadership and who believe that the religion they promote is true. Church is big business. From the enormous, multi-million dollar mega-church corporations to the one-man storefront church business, there is a huge incentive for preachers and their organizations to do whatever they need to do to maintain their "moral authority" over their flocks and thus hold on to their power and wealth.

The allure of religion
For their part, Christian believers provide a steady flow of income and huge political power to their church leadership (in the form of the "Christian" vote) in exchange for a sense of order and purpose in life, moral guidance and perhaps most important of all (though seldom acknowledged as a separate reason) the sense that they are valued members of a powerful majority.  For many born-again believers, that sense of belonging to a powerful majority is one of the few comforts they have in an often bewildering, disempowering and depressing life. 

The foundation for this mutually beneficial relationship is the Christian belief system. The moral authority of the religious leadership depends upon general acceptance of - and willingness to profess belief in - the doctrines of the faith. It is this belief system which is the weak link in the power structure of the business of religion. When the supremacy of the belief system is challenged, the power of the leadership is threatened. 

The problem for both the fundamentalist leaders and their willing followers is this: Christian beliefs - like most religious belief systems - are founded in mythology and the supernatural so evidence-based reality is obviously a threat to that foundation. Reality-based education, the goal of good, secular schools, is a direct threat to religion because by teaching children empirically supported facts about the natural world and giving them the critical thinking skills to continue to seek the truth about the world and our place in it, it teaches them the skills they need to understand how religion manipulates and controls the culture and to see how that manipulation is often motivated by very worldly, selfish goals. 
The Christian right has long suspected
that colleges are their enemies.

Well-educated people may not lose their belief in gods, but they often move away from organized religion. As more and more educated people moved away from organized religion during the last century - and gained independence from religiously-mandated tithing, rules for living and political activism - the wealth, power and influence of the church began to decline. The religious elites realized that public education was their mortal enemy. In the 1970's, a group of influential evangelical Christian leaders joined forces and formulated a plan to "take back America" - and a major focus of that plan was to undermine the public education system which they saw as the most dangerously effective dispeller of religious mysticism.

It wasn't only religious leaders who wanted to maintain the illusion of religious Truth™, however. If that were the case, they would have failed miserably since they are a relatively small elite with nowhere near the number of votes they would need to control elections or influence legislatures. They needed an army of loyal followers willing to act against their own material interests to provide the financial backing and votes needed to support the fundamentalist Christian agenda. Incredibly, they were able to marshall just such an army of dedicated, ideologically-driven followers within a couple of decades. Why?

Why would millions of people vote against their own interests and support a leadership which is working to deprive them of rights and their children of education?  On some level they know the Bible-based worldview is flawed and that the anti-science movement is wrong. They know it - even if they refuse to acknowledge it - because they use science-based technology, medicine and reproductive technology every day. Yet they deny the truth and vote to deny the truth to their own children and their neighbors' children, too. 

It is tempting to chalk this up to stupidity or irrationality, but that is a mistake. Christians are no more stupid than any other Americans. They can understand the truth but they choose to ignore it. Religionists see that the power lies in going along with the fiction, and they see what happens to people who refuse to bow to religious power. People gravitate to power and they can see that in a democracy the power is with the majority, so many make a choice to join the majority. That is not stupidity, it is calculation. In a purely objective calculation - looking at the negative social consequences experienced by outspoken non-Christians, for example - it may actually be more stupid not to go along with the Christian majority.  

The charge that Christianists are "irrational" is probably without merit, too. We cannot know what people really believe in the privacy of their own thoughts, only what they profess to believe. We can, however, see that perfectly sensible people say and do objectively irrational things for very rational reasons.  For example, when people endure hazing rituals in order to be accepted into a highly desired group, it is clear that they do not "believe in" the irrational things they must say or do to win a place in the group, but it is equally clear that they are willing to do whatever it takes to be members because they do believe in the value of belonging to the group. Self-professed Bible-believing Christians may or may not believe that the Bible is literally the source of all truth and knowledge, but they definitely believe that belonging to the Christian religion is worth saying that they do. When you consider the harm that they know they would experience in their social, personal and professional lives should they refuse to submit to the pressure to profess the Christian faith, it is undeniable that in a very real sense it is more rational to go along with Christian fundamentalism than it is to fight against it.

So, while it is true that supporting the Christian Right's agenda is harmful to their own material interests, for many Christians the psychological benefits - they might call it their spiritual interests - of belonging to the church are more important. Church followers were, and still are, anxious to preserve the fictional foundation upon which their own position in a powerful majority is built.  They support lies in order to preserve their religious privilege. Feeling safe in a modern world full of cures and conveniences made possible by science, they cannot imagine losing those gains so very few followers of fundamentalist Christianity can see any downside to denying reality in this manner. They don't see that, having grown up with a decent education themselves, their religious "belief" is a choice, but for children who know nothing else but indoctrination (backed up by the fear of hellfire), there may be no psychologically safe "choice" possible. They only see the upside: the consolidation of their group's position of supremacy in American society: the continued normalization and forced public acceptance of false beliefs which supports their own psychological comfort and social position. 

Public apathy about the creep of religious fundamentalism into the public sphere will have a profound impact upon the future of this country. This is not a fringe movement which poses no threat to our reasonable, sensible little corner of the world. This is a powerful, well-organized and - until very recently - stealthy campaign to concentrate power into a few hands, using religion as the weapon to subdue and incapacitate the people. Nearly 50% of the population already professes to believe that the creation myth explains our existence and the Bible is literally the source of all knowledge. That number could jump to an overwhelming majority of future voters if an entire generation of schoolchildren is deprived of the ability to think critically or to understand the basic principles of math and science which underpin nearly all of modern technology and medicine.

A child devastated by the  
"good news" of Christian
indoctrination. (Jesus Camp)
The school voucher concept was the brainchild of religious extremists who were determined to completely dismantle the secular public school system and reduce all education in this country to a training ground of future foot soldiers for the conservative Christian elites. They have been working on this elsewhere in the world (in places where the public education systems are far less robust than in the USA) through their "mission" programs, too.  The United States was a tougher arena for the Christian war for supremacy, but little by little, the religionists have succeeded in chipping away at the Constitutional protections which once guaranteed that American children would have access to an education free of ulterior agendas. Laws like the ones that Zack Kopplin is fighting in Louisiana deprive children of a real education while indoctrinating them mercilessly with the mythology, eschatology and psychological terrorism of fundamentalist Christian theology. The Christian right intends to return Christendom - within a generation or two - to an appalling condition where a majority of the population will not understand the nature of reality and will be too cowed by theological terrorizing to ask any questions about it. 
"Give me a child until he is seven
and I will give you the man."

Coming soon to a school near you: Belief instead of knowledge. Feeling instead of thinking. Obedience instead of understanding. Acceptance instead of justice. Conformity instead of liberty. Fearful self-loathing instead of hopeful confidence. 

Unless America wakes up to put a stop to this madness, the result of these laws will be the perversion of every cherished American ideal. Christian fundamentalists have been working on this particular strategy to control American society for more than 30 years (before that, they tried other strategies which were not as successful). If this sounds alarmist to you, consider that these religious extremists are counting on that. They are counting on the moderate middle of America to dismiss those who are raising the alarm, while they continue their stealth campaign to destroy the foundation of religious liberty and establish a Christian theocracy in the USA. If we continue to ignore this situation and allow religious extremists to write, lobby for and pass laws which enshrine a particular religious ideology as the government-endorsed national ideology, the consequences for religious, political and intellectual freedom - not to mention technological and economic development - in this country will be disastrous.

Please read more on this topic and spread the word.  Below, you'll find some links worth checking out (even if you have no time to read, please take 5 minutes to watch the video linked at the bottom of this post):

*Meet Zack Kopplin: The Millenial Fighting Creationism in Louisiana (Q&A), Dillon Zhou, policymic, January 28, 2013.
How 19-year old activist Zack Kopplin is making life hell for Louisiana creationists, George Dvorsky, i09, January 16, 2013. Loch Ness Monster used to debunk evolution in state-funded school, Claudine Zap, June 25, 2012
Christian Fundamentalists teach US Children Loch Ness Monster is Real to Disprove Evolution, Lucy Sherriff, The Huffington Post UK, June 25, 2012.
New Creationist Bill in Colorado, Ed Brayton, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, January 27, 2013.
She Brainwashed Me With Science, Ed Brayton, FTB, January 24, 2013.
Another Clueless Legislator on Evolution, Brayton, January 26, 2013.
Texas Public Schools: Still Teaching Creationism, Josh Harkinson, Mother Jones, January 28, 2013.
Critics say Montana allows creationism in schools, Associated Press (OregonLive), January 25, 2013.
Loch Ness Monster seen as real dinosaur in biology books taught in Louisiana school, Eric Ortiz, NYDailyNews, June 26, 2012.
14 Wacky "Facts" Kids Will Learn in Louisiana's Voucher Schools, Deanna Pan, Mother Jones, August 7, 2012.

If you doubt that the school voucher idea is for anything other than to undermine secular, public education for American citizens, please take five minutes to view this video excerpt from the documentary, School Choice: Taxpayer-Funded Creationism, Bigotry and Bias.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wednesday Wonder - The Longest Time (The Coral Triangle)

Every now and then I come across and video that makes me both smile and think. This is one of them. As one of the commenters below the video on YouTube pointed out: this is what the video campaign promoting science to girls should have been more like.

Lyrics are in the video. It's a great song (Billy Joel's "The Longest Time") and you will learn something new! Please do watch - it's great!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tuesday Tonic - Do You Believe in Me?

Your Tuesday Tonic - This is one of the best things you may see all week. It is 8 minutes of awesome.

Dalton Sherman, from Charles Rice Learning Center in Dallas, speaks at the opening convocation in front of thousands of Dallas teachers, and he brings down the house.

"We need you to know that what you're doing is the most important job in the city today...Do you believe in me? Because I believe in me and you helped me get to where I am today. Thank you. Thank you."

via bergmandi, September, 2008.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Public Education - Public Enemy #1? Business Says Yes, Too!

Note: This is the second post in a series on public education. The first post in the series can be found here.

(Noah) Webster echoes the belief that proper education is the first defense against tyranny. “In despotic governments, the people should have little or no education, except what tends to inspire them with a servile fear. Information is fatal to despotism . . . In our American republics, where [government] is in the hands of the people, knowledge should be universally diffused by means of public schools.” He believed that “the more generally knowledge is diffused among the substantial yeomanry, the more perfect will be the laws of a republican state.” Minneapolis News Blog, September, 2011.

Public education levels 
the social playing field.
The ultimate result of good public education is a population which will not willingly allow itself to be subjugated and oppressed. Educated people are empowered people. Those who can not only read and write but have access to history, math, science and technology, are better able to think independently, to face challenges without the fearfulness that ignorance brings, and to come up with innovative ideas built on their education which can potentially elevate any person to a position of leadership in a society. 

Education increases opportunities for the common people while it pushes aside the veil of ignorance which has always been used to hide the agenda of the elites who have historically controlled society. The American public school system, imperfect though it is, has managed to foster an astonishing and prolonged era of unprecedented national intellectual growth, creative and scientific innovation and technological progress.

“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”  John Adams, 1785.

" ...the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not
 more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to 
kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us
if we leave the people in ignorance." Thomas Jefferson
The ultimate goal of good public education is a society where the self-interest of millions of well-educated citizens will provide an effective counter-balancing effect against the potential tyranny of powerful religious and wealthy elites. The great American experiment was the attempt to build a society where liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness by the common people would be made possible for the first time in human history because an informed and educated population would have at its disposal the tools for success which were formerly reserved for the privileged few.

In short: the ultimate goal of good public education is to create the conditions wherein the American Dream might actually become a reality.

At first blush, it would seem logical then, that business and industry would welcome and support a system of public education which has become the engine for innovative ideas and economic growth. But, they do not. They favor limited public access to education, preferably privatized for greater control by special interests, and never subsidized by public taxation.

There are at least three good reasons why the business sector, like the church, hates and fears public education: 1.Educated people can see through false, manipulative ideologies which have long been used to control and abuse them. 2. Educated people are more cognizant of their human worth and will insist on the personal respect to which they are entitled as citizens in a putatively egalitarian society. 3. Educated people know how to organize themselves to fight for a political voice, for better arrangements to encourage more social equality and for fair pay for their labor as the producers of the goods and services that provide the growth and wealth which drives the economy.

...and we can't have that!
The truth is that the American Dream - and especially the attempts to provide people with the means to fulfill it through public education - has always been more of a nightmare to wealthy and religious elites, even though they use this language today to convince their supporters that what is good for the elites will be good for everyone. Business and industry want a pool of uneducated or poorly educated workers whose cheap labor can produce the goods that create wealth for the elite. When public education reduced the number of Americans who were willing to work like serfs, Big Business simply took its production jobs offshore, where - wait for it - there are large pools of uneducated or poorly educated people whose cheap labor can produce the goods that create wealth for the elite.

“Learned Institutions . . . throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty and dangerous encroachments on the public liberty.” James Madison, 1822.

The power, influence and wealth of elites depends upon a large population of ignorant, dependent and obedient poor workers and a small, well-controlled pool of talented staff who have been given a narrowly targeted indoctrination "education" in only the highly-focused areas cherry-picked for maximum utility to Big Business. People who are lifted out of the cycle of poverty and ignorance by freely accessible education will be none of these things. Graduates of a classical, broad, liberal college education are inclined to think too much and want to make the world a better place - lofty ideals which are in direct opposition to the ideal corporate environment. It is not for nothing that colleges all over the country are being "gifted" with attractive, brand spanking new business schools underwritten and overseen by wealthy donors.
What does a college degree
mean today?

A good, liberal, free public education system is inimical to the ambitions of wealthy elites, and therefore has always been the target of attacks from business and industry. Like religion, Big Business cannot realize its ambitions for power and wealth unless there is a large, permanent underclass of uneducated people to use as producers and consumers of their products and services. Like religion, Big Business favors a private (expensive) education model which will ensure that access to real education is limited to the privileged few, while the majority will receive just enough education to be of use to wealthy business and religious elites.

Thus was born an unlikely and unholy alliance between profit-driven, amoral Big Business and the elite upper echelons of the church of the most radical liberal of them all - the Christ who preached the moral virtues of poverty, humility and tolerance - the Christian right.

Recommended Reading (Did I merely say recommended?  Read these!)


Founding Fathers: On the Importance of Public Education, Minneapolis Newsvine, September, 2011.

The Assault on Public Education, Noam Chomsky,

ALEC & Battle Over Public vs. Private Education, Bob Sloan,

Education and technology: Supply, demand and income inequality, Claudia Goldin, Lawrence F. Katz.

Prolonged Attack on Public Education and Unions Leaves Teaching Profession Woeful,

The Price of a Free Society, Paul Starr, The American Prospect, May 2005

Which MBA? Paying the Piper, The Economist, July 2012


Righteous, Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement, Lauren Sandler, 2007.

What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, Thomas Frank, 2005.

American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, Kevin Phillips, 2007.

God's Politics, Jim Wallis, 2005

Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond, 1999 (Pulitzer Prize winner).