Let Them Learn Bullshit!

Dreher, as imagined by Tom Tomorrow

The problem of the public funding of religious schools — let alone those explicitly promoting Creationism — seems so self-evident to even the most lightly secular of us, that it can be shocking to see how those on the other side view the entire issue.

We’ve heard time and time again the arguments for vouchers from a free market standpoint, and that’s all well and good and we can talk about that, but one would think that our opinion leaders would at least understand that there is more to education than market competition.

Enter conservative columnist Rod Dreher, who blogs on the topic of Louisiana’s moves to subsidize private (read: religious) schools with taxpayer funds (I complained a little about this in today’s Morning Heresy). Dreher at least admits that such a situation is problematic, but throws up his hands anyway, writing:

If I had to choose between a Christian academy that taught bad science, or a public school as bad as what many Louisiana parents and their children have to deal with (not in my parish, thank heaven), then I’d choose the fundie school, and try to figure out a way for my kid to have supplementary science education elsewhere.

Before I start screaming, I do want to step back and concede a couple things, just in the name of reasonableness. Indeed, the public school systems in many areas — and surely Louisiana is one of them — are disasters. (Dude, you saw The Wire, right?) I want to express my sympathy, as a parent, for the idea of just getting one’s kid the hell out of a failing school, and into anything else.

But look at the way Dreher blows the whole thing off, presuming that everyone can simply fill in the holes left by an anti-science curriculum. Now just give this a few moments of thought. Your first thought should probably be, “Hey, offering my children an entire science curriculum would be really expensive and time-consuming, particularly if I’m a parent in less than ideal economic circumstances. Perhaps even impossible!” Good, you’re on the right track. You’re already miles ahead of Dreher.

This doesn’t even begin to address the damage that such an education would do that mere “supplemental science education” may not be able to undo. Imagine being indoctrinated all day in your “Fundagelical Academy” (Dreher’s own term) about all sorts of heavy, frightening nonsense about morals and Hell and the Sky Daddy watching everything you do. Then imagine your parents making you do extra science work after you’re done with everything else. Forget about filling in the holes — how can anyone expect to repair the entire structure when its foundation is now so dangerously flimsy and full of termites?

Again, I want to grant that the education system is in serious, serious trouble. But the answer has to lie in strengthening that system, not leaving it for dead or poisoning it with scary bullshit. Dreher is saying that those people who lack the financial resources that he obviously has should simply find some way to get extra schooling for their kids, and not worry about the stuff they’re learning that’s just wrong. If they can’t manage it? You tell me.

Later in the piece, he accuses “liberals” (by which I presume he means “most people who aren’t wingnuts”) for reacting with “ideological fervor” and refusing to “deal with the realities of life on the ground.” Shrugging one’s shoulders over the miseducation of a generation of children is not an example of dealing with that reality. It’s embracing it.

About Paul Fidalgo

Paul is communications director for the Center for Inquiry, as well as an actor and musician. His blog is iMortal, and he tweets as @paulfidalgo, and the blog tweets as @iMortal_blog.
The opinions expressed on this blog are personal to Paul and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for Inquiry.

  • LesterBallard

    I think they want public schools to be bad. They think they can get rid of public education that way. 

  • asonge

    Paul: The simple truth is that rather than the fundie schools, white/rich flight into Catholic schools (they’re kinda diverse, though…they do scholarships for minorities) has led many of the sensible people who care about public education in other states to ignore public education because who cares. It’s a central irony that the kids coming out of the local Catholic schools know more about science than the public school kids, as they don’t have to deal with the parents of fundamentalists/evangelicals coming in and complaining about evolution. This thing is as much about race/class as it is about religion.

    • http://www.near-earth.com Paul Fidalgo

  • Neil

    I’m curious…just how bad is public education in different areas of America? 

     It must vary widely, because all of the complaints I hear simply don’t match what I see with my eyes.   I constantly hear about how horrible some districts are from all sides-conservatives, liberals, the media, parents.  At least some of it has to be exaggerated, egged on by the media and people with a political agenda to defame and destroy the concept of public education.  I KNOW that such people exist and are hard at work sowing discontent while cutting funding and blaming the government, as always.
     
     I have one friend with a young son nearing school age, and she is constantly going on about how completely horrible the education system is…but she’s also a very opinionated person, hyper-critical of ANY kind of system or bureaucracy, and a Ron Paul nut- plus, we live in an area that funds its schools fairly well.  I work at one of the high schools here and it’s just fine, better than I had growing up, which wasn’t bad at all.  I’m pretty darn sure she’s just full of propaganda that others want her to believe.

    Admittedly, I haven’t been in school for almost twenty years, but I went to very modest public schools in two fairly poor, rural, and conservative areas of California(Tulare and Delano), yet ended up with an education that was completely adequate for either going on to college with no remedial courses necessary,  or entering the workforce.  My nephew, now 22, went to the same high school and is now taking college classes, no problem.  I’ve seen these schools turn out thousands of literate people with at least basic math skills, basic understandings of science, and plenty of other opportunities for those interested.  Not all of them take any advantage of it, but that’s a whole different issue.  These districts also handle huge numbers of ESL immigrant kids, and still manage to get along.

    I realize that many other places in this country are even more poor, more conservative, with less well-funded ( and often besieged) educational systems, but damn.  Even most of the crappy areas of California turn out plenty of worthy college students and professionals in all fields.  Yet every day I am surrounded by people claiming that our whole entire public education system is crumbling,  worse than useless, and has to go. 

    So, what gives?  I know some areas suck donkey balls as far as schooling goes, but I can’t help believing that MOST of the noise I hear is the standard conservative bullshit.  It has been clear to me for decades that many republicans hate any government involvement in education, and are truly doing their best to destroy what we have built by cutting funding, cutting arts programs, reducing how much science is taught, finacially punishing districts that need help the most, and by pushing their ridiculous propaganda constantly, especially every time they succeed in creating another failing school. 

    Are they becoming more successful in pushing their schtick, or do MOST places just historically truly suck that much worse than even the poor parts of Califonia?  I’m not trying to be snobby here, and I realize that California has plenty of struggling schools…but the hysteria I’m hearing is so much worse than the reality I see.

    Anyone else have a perspective from their local area?   

         

    • Nicole Youngman

       Hi Neil–I’m a sociologist in New Orleans, so I’ll be glad to throw in some perspective. :) Public schools have mind-boggling funding disparities from state to state and county to county and even among individual schools. Nationwide, California does pretty well, but not as well as states in the northeast. Most funding for public schools comes from the state level and from local property taxes, so the amount of money available is going to depend on the state/local tax base and the rate at which populations are willing to tax themselves. The Deep South is truly horrendous when it comes to school funding, and  a lot of that is due to a combination of conservative anti-tax sentiments and just not valuing education and critical thinking (which of course is related to widespread fundamentalism). Racism plays a role too–”why should *I* have to pay more taxes so those people across the tracks can have better schools?” Property tax increases are also easier to vote down than other taxes since they’re levied at the local level, so that’s a chunk of the funding base that rarely improves.

      It’s really hard for people in other parts of the country to grasp just how truly horrific and scary schools in the South and in inner cities can be. Before Hurricane Katrina, schools in New Orleans sometimes couldn’t afford enough toilet paper, and kids would try to zip out to the nearest fast food place when they had to go. Meanwhile the local school board was literally being investigated by the FBI/DOJ for all kinds of malfeasance. Ironically, things have improved since the storm–we’ve gotten a ginormous grant from FEMA to rebuild all the schools (and I do mean all), a ton of new teachers, and yes, charter schools. Things were so bad before that even liberals are cautiously optimistic about the charters–the data we have so far suggest that a lot of them have truly improved things, although some have turned out to be a disaster, too. Some schools in wealthier/whiter/more-highly-educated areas are able to give their kids a great education because of literally constant fundraising–the parents are constantly paying out-of-pocket for supplies, field trips, special events, etc. There are a bunch of studies online over at Tulane University’s Cowen Institute if anyone’s interested in all the sordid details.

      So now we have these damn vouchers that’ll take money out of the public schools and give it to the private/religious ones. There’s been some pushback–you may have seen articles about one fundy “school” that was taking a ton of money from vouchers  and literally instructing kids from DVDs, and one LA legislator made the news when she freaked out after learning that Muslim schools would be eligible for vouchers too.

      But here’s the thing. I had a chat with a co-worker at a shop I work at part-time who’s black and Catholic and has a daughter in a horrible school that she’s desperately trying to get her out of. The school’s about to “go charter” under some kind of new management that she doesn’t trust, so she’s going to apply for a voucher so that she would be able to send her daughter to a good Catholic school where she WOULD get a good education. I hate vouchers with a passion, but I’m not about to fault this woman for being hopeful that they’ll make a difference for her family.

      Sorry, this has turned out to be long enough to be a couple of blog posts of my own, but my community is right in the middle of all this!

  • L.Long

    I saw a poster with the KKK on it and the words ‘when states are allowed to control equal rights…..’   Its the same with education.  Get the educators together to determine a USA public ed system and standards and that is what must be met.  Then the states can control the running of it.  Why? Because the companies (what are left in this country) will leave the states that can comply and people will leave to get better ed and jobs.  Places like Mo & Ks can then become bastions religion, ignorance and poverty.

    • Kelley

      You say: “Because the companies (what are left in this country) will leave the states that can comply and people will leave to get better ed and jobs.  Places like Mo & Ks can then become bastions religion, ignorance and poverty.”  I wanted to repeat this because you are the first person I have seen who has said what I have been predicting.  I want to build on it if you don’t mind.  So “places like Mo & KS” and most of the southern states (I live in NC…  but I am thinking about defecting)  and a lot of the mid-western states will become bastions for the uneducated and poor (and let’s not forget to mention racists…because here in the South that all seems to go hand-in-hand).  Then those states,  let’s call them the Ignorangelical States of America will split off to become the ISA.  Maybe there will be no civil war, because the people in the prosperous and educated states will better educate children with the help of their educated patents and not be dragged down by the children of parents who believe in science and not religious fairy tales, or who would rather move backward and not forward and overturn rulings like  Tennessee v. Scopes and Roe v. Wade.  With no industry and education, the ISA will become 
      third-world, like so many other countries where religion dictates policy.  Then we will see what “border issues” are all about!    That will surely be a sad thing to happen to the USA.  It has happened in so many societies and in nearly every case, it is religion… or more specifically,  religious people and institutions, who seek to push their beliefs onto others via social and legislative conventions.  The reason they are successful at destroying cultures in this manner is because they, without shame nor guilt, claim their ignorance and delusions with pride.  They organize.  The power does not come from a supreme being, it comes from their ability to unite and influence by legion.  

      • Kelly

        OOPS.  Revision: Maybe there will be no civil war, because the people in the prosperous and educated states will better educate children with the help of their educated patents and not be dragged down by the children of parents who believe in religious fairy tales and not science, or who would rather move backward and not forward and overturn rulings like  Tennessee v. Scopes and Roe v. Wade.

  • Glasofruix

    “Indeed, the public school systems in many areas — and surely Louisiana is one of them — are disasters.”

    Maybe if the US stopped their attempts to stea.. secure oil supply and fuelled some of that cash that serves to purchase air to ground missiles to fund schools, things might have gone a little better?

  • Rex

    Paul. It sounds like you think that anyone who doesn’t share your metaphysical predilections is mentally impaired. Do you know for a fact there’s no driving force involved in life development? If so, how do you happen to know that? Setting evolution aside, how do you explain the first living cell? Humans have failed to do that in a laboratory, yet it is presumed that the first cell occurred at random. If you have the answers, I’m more than willing to listen. Otherwise I dont see that you are justified in pushing those who don’t agree with you away from the table.

    Rex

    • phantomreader42

       There is not a single creationist argument that is not founded on shameless lying.  Your imaginary god explains nothing, your cult just makes up stupid shit because they’re too lazy to actually learn anything. 

      • Rex

        Very convincing argument.

        • http://twitter.com/KevinSagui Kevin Sagui

          Hard to make a convincing argument when all you do is hold your hands over your ears screaming “I can’t hear you!”

          Basically, when we don’t know how something works, we don’t put any credence into complicated guesses that have no basis in the available evidence.

          • Black33ford

            Yet that’s exactly what you’ve done. Btw my hands aren’t over my ears. Are yours?

            • http://twitter.com/KevinSagui Kevin Sagui

              So not only are you playing god of the gaps, you’re either completely unaware of that logical fallacy even in the face of it being pointed out to your or are duplicitous enough to pretend that *we’re* the ones unwilling to listen to reasoned arguments.  When we don’t know how something works, we admit as much.  When your side sees something that can’t be fully explained, they insist that it must be because of god.

              • rex

                We both hold to beliefs that we have no physical proof for, or that lend themselves to inspection through the scientific method.  In the absence of proof, we go to logic and reason.  When I look at nature, I see order.  Even though we observe evolutionary processes, these processes are orderly.  In addressing any other topic, we would not accept the minuscule probabilities required to neglect the notion of a driving force either for the arrival of the first cell or for the progression of nature we see in science.
                A critical thinker will look at the data first and then draw a (perhaps tentative) conclusion.  The other option is to put your metaphysical stake in the ground and then try to make the data fit your pre-suppositions.
                I can vouch for the fact that many believers have taken the former route.

      • Rex

        Very convincing argument.

    • http://tch3.com C High
    • Stanley Dorst

       “Setting evolution aside, how do you explain the first living cell?”

      This is a classic “God of the gaps” approach. So long as there is something that science hasn’t explained, there is still room for God. Of course, the number of things that science hasn’t been able to explain continues to get smaller and smaller. As science explains more and more, there is less and less room for God. The gaps keep getting smaller — which seems like it should tell you something.

      • Rex

        Calling out “God of the Gaps” is also a classic approach intended to be the umbrella comment meaning that everything we don’t know today will be eventually be explained scientifically.  I have no doubt that many if not most of the gaps will be filled through scientific research.  Induction tells us that they will all be filled if future results follow past ones.  Problem is, inductive reasoning is only reliable in mathematics and related abstractions, not with real things.
        The difficult ‘gaps’ are both cosmological and biological.  Cosmologically, we know that nothing comes from nothing.  Biologically, we know that life only comes from life.  Most gaps as they are filled will have logical scientific explanations at least on the surface.  (However even there, observance of the gaps being filled in the fossil record still leaves the question of the orderly progression along the branches of the tree.)  Others require suspension of logic and rational thinking about probabilities.

        • http://www.facebook.com/keithacollyer Keith Collyer

          At the risk of feeding the troll… No, that is not what god of the Gaps does, it simply points out that it is a common argument to say “Science cannot explain this, therefore god”, which doesn’t say anything at all. And we are far from “knowing” that nothing comes from nothing and life only comes from life. For the former, we simply do not know where the universe came from (and it is reductio ad absurdum to claim a prime mover). For the latter argument, every single cell of your body was once non-life, so your very existence disproves your argument.

          • Rex

            To claim that something can come from nothing is a theory to be sure. But how likely is that compared to a prime mover? My point is this… Why eliminate the possibility of a prime mover? The ‘God of the Gaps’ defense is nothing more than an impenetrable wall that isolates you from one of the possible solutions. True, believers have inserted God into many areas that have later been explained scientifically, but that fact in itself doesn’t rule out the possibility of a prime mover, does it? Why is it so important to eliminate a prime mover from the list of possibilities.

          • Rex

            Every cell in my body is a result of some kind of cell division; a life giving life process.

    • http://twitter.com/DarynGuarino Daryn Guarino

      Your lack of a science education notwithstanding, we don’t have all the answers, but we can only work with information that we can actually observe.  MAGIC will never be the answer to our questions, ever.  And, yes, I can absolutely guarantee it.

  • cipher

    Later in the piece, he accuses “liberals” (by which I presume he means
    “most people who aren’t wingnuts”) for reacting with “ideological
    fervor” and refusing to “deal with the realities of life on the ground.”

    Here’s a way for Deher, a successful writer, to deal with “life on the ground” – get the hell out of Louisiana.

    I’m quite certain there are places to which he could move in which he’d find decent (well, what passes for decent in America) schools without having to expose his kids to “the wrong sort” – you know, Liberals and atheists.

  • cipher

    That’s my comment above. I read the article and found out Deher doesn’t live in LA. I tried to delete it.

    Disqus sucks.

  • ben_b

    Has anyone considered that this problem might  be inherent to public education? Perhaps the best way around this is to move to a private system of education where competing ideas can fight for ground in a free market?  Why force everyone into shit schools when only the people that want a crappy education have to get one and the rest of us can send our kids to schools that actually want to teach them real things.


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