Creationism, education, and the state

All right, here’s a rant for you.

There’s a news story circulating about the well-known fact that homeschooling texts are ignoring or even (the audacity!) criticizing mainstream science in favor of creationism. The usual suspects have emerged to show their disgust of the benighted institution of homeschooling. There’s a poll up at MSNBC asking the question, “Is it OK for home-school textbooks to dismiss the theory of evolution?” Wait, what does “OK” mean here? Are they asking, “Do you think it’s good that home-school textbooks do this?” or “Is it healthy for society that they do this?” The ambiguity in the question itself implies that what they really want to know is, “Should the authorities allow parents to teach their kids this stuff?” The mantra among most secularists that I’ve heard on this issue is that homeschooling should be, preferably, illegal or, at very least, strictly regulated for content by the state. Thus, the following rant.

You’ll not find a stauncher advocate of teaching mainstream science in homeschool curricula than me, nor anyone who is more disturbed that homeschooling is usually used as a shelter from science education. But parents indubitably have more of a right to teach their children creationism than the state has to teach its belief systems. And don’t try to tell me that public education is not teaching belief systems: no one has the absolute truth, so whether it’s parent-approved, community-approved, or state-approved, there are beliefs and value judgments about what the truth is, some of them surely quite accurate, that are being taught. Claiming a monopoly on truth enforceable against other people’s children is nothing short of intellectual fascism, the rule of the thought police instituted by those who think better than the ignorant masses. But until the state assumes the role of deciding whether or not people can produce their own offspring and raise them from birth and as long as no ideologies are being taught that directly advocate violence or other tangible abuse, education must also be left in the hands of the parents. At least homeschoolers aren’t using taxpayer dollars to teach their agendas.

Homeschool critics often compare teaching creationism to teaching 2+2=5; I happen to think they’re not so far off. But this doesn’t mean the state has a right to stick its Cyrano de Bergerac into things. Most of the homeschooled, like me, will eventually learn better (and more’s the pity for them if their faith is tied to creationism), but even if they don’t, life will somehow go on. It really will.

Maybe one day everyone will accept mainstream science and reject creationism. No doubt by that time some subgroup or other will reject some other commonly accepted truth for some reason; it’s only human to do so (so evolution tells us). But I refuse to accept that our ruling intelligentsia should manage society like some intellectual Gestapo by the bully force of the government. Maybe we should just do our best for those over whom we have influence. Maybe we should trust that the truly better ideas will win the day. And maybe, in the meantime, we should learn to exercise a little patience with those who don’t understand as much as we think we do now.

Nah…that sounds a little too Christian.

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