Creationism’s stench still lingers in American education


CreationismCreationism (and it’s dressed-up-in-drag younger brother, “intelligent” design) is the black mold of education. It’s an insidious infection of the mind, an intellectual parasite. And like real-life black mold, it creates a toxic environment – for learning and critical thinking.

This week, creationism again came up in American school board discussions. According to the HuffPost, the American Taliban* – the Tea Party – is behind the debate at a Springboro, Ohio, school board, to add the pseudoscience of creationist claptrap to the curriculum. The school board president, Kelly Kohls, is also head of the local Tea Party.

Hardly any surprises there.

It’s a sad, creepy tale. Creationism just won’t get cured. At least not by having such myopic fundamentalists in positions of authority. How do people with closed minds get on school boards in the first place?

Last summer, HuffPost reported that Louisiana would be using public tax dollars to fund private schools to teach this claptrap:

Public dollars in Louisiana’s landmark new voucher program will go toward sending children to schools that teach creationism and reject evolution, the Associated Press reports.

Under the new initiative, the most sweeping voucher program in the country, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars will be shifted from public schools to pay private schools, private businesses and private tutors to educate students across Louisiana.

The program is the cornerstone of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s bold effort to reform public education in the state. Critics are concerned about funding and fairness — vouchers would cover the full cost of tuition at more than 120 private schools, including small, Bible-based church schools. Jindal says the program will spur school competition and expand parental choice.

Several of those religious schools that will be receiving public funds to take in new students from public schools also teach curricula that question the age of the universe, defying scientific evidence and theory and promote religious doctrine that “challenges the lessons central to public school science classrooms,” according to the AP.

Of course the only private schools to get this funding will be Christian. The intolerant Louisiana legislators voted not to fund a private Islamic school under this new funding program, according to the HuffPost. Some of the tax dollars went to fund The New Living Word School, which “has no library, and students reportedly spend most of their day watching Biblically-themed DVDs.”

Can you hear Winston Smith’s voice in this story? Or am I thinking of The Matrix?

Louisiana, as the Richard Dawkins site noted this month, already allows creationism to be snuck into the classroom in public schools, and legislators vehemently oppose any changes to bring their laws least into the 20th century, if not the 21st:

Last month, for the third year in a row, Louisiana’s Senate Education Committee killed a bill to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act. LSEA is stealth legislation that creates a loophole for creationism to be snuck into public school science classes. LSEA allows classroom use of supplemental creationist materials that “critique” evolution.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is an avowed defender of creationism, as he made known in an interview on NBC:

“I’ve got no problem if a school board, a local school board, says we want to teach our kids about creationism, that some people have these beliefs as well. Let’s teach them about intelligent design. I think teach them the best science.”

The fundamental flaw here is that “intelligent” design isn’t science, let alone the best science. It’s a 4,000-plus-year-old myth tarted up to look modern to the gullible or those handicapped by a clearly deteriorating education system** mismanaged by fundamentalists. Lipstick on a pig doesn’t disguise the porcine reality.

Other schools outside Louisiana use public tax dollars to teach creationist codswallop. Zack Kopplin documents schools in many states, including Indiana, Florida and Georgia that teach such nonsense:

So far, I have documented 310 schools, in nine states and the District of Columbia that are teaching creationism, and receiving tens of millions of dollars in public money through school voucher programs.

There is no doubt that there are hundreds more creationist voucher schools that have yet to be identified. The more than 300 schools I have already found are those that have publicly stated on their websites that they teach creationism or use creationist curricula.

There are hundreds more voucher schools, across the country, that are self-identified Christian academies, that appear very similar in philosophy to the ones I’ve identified in my research as teaching creationism. These schools may not blatantly advertise that they teach creationism on their websites, or often don’t even have a website, but there is a good chance that hundreds more voucher schools are also teaching our children creationism. Some states, Arizona and Mississippi, haven’t even released lists of schools participating in their voucher programs for the public to audit.

It’s a sickness in the education and legislative systems that public money can be used to teach creationism.

Why are the Republicans so set against education and science and so much in favour of fundamentalist religion, superstition and mythology? How can a nation infested by this atavistic ideology continue to lead the world in such areas as space exploration, computer science and medicine? It can’t.

In Texas last year, the GOP published a paper on education that promoted corporal punishment, abstinence-only sex education and opposed teaching children to use critical thinking. Page 13 of their screed included this:

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.

This in a state that has the lowest high-school graduation rate in the entire nation. Maybe the GOP is the reason. The party is clearly afraid that educated children who aren’t beaten into submission, while taught to use reason, will not vote Republican. They’re probably right.

Theoretical physicist Dr. Lawrence Krauss has equated teaching children creationism with child abuse:

Krauss also mentions the Taliban, whose ideology and unbending fundamentalism is remarkably similar to the Tea Party’s own beliefs. But so is their belief in armed insurrection and assassination (basically murdering everyone who disagrees with them, or has a different skin colour).*

But I digress. The issue is creationism in the classroom, not the dangerous idiocy of the Tea Party.

There is no real difference between teaching creationism or “intelligent” design instead of science and teaching astrology instead of astronomy, phrenology instead of psychology and water divining instead of engineering. Well, just the difference that fundamentalist faith – and its Tea Party supporters – determine.

Creationism doesn’t deserve a home anywhere – not in the classroom, not even in churches. It’s not faith or religion: it’s misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

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* Many political pundits south of the border have commented on the similarities. One blogger even posted a tongue-in-cheek suggestion to write a musical starring Taliban and Tea Party actors. Back in mid-2011, before the US election, one observer wrote on Politico.com

We now have a group of U.S. politicians seeking political purity, who seem to have much in common with the Taliban. They are tea party members; and because of blind adherence to smaller government, they seem intent on risking destroying what American political leaders have constructed in more than two centuries of hard, often painful work. Like the Taliban, they see compromise as an unacceptable alternative.

More recently, Julian Bond, chair of the NAACP, likened the Tea Party to the Taliban, creating a firestorm of angry, threatening and racist comment from Tea Party supporters. It sent their political supporters into a tizzy of rage about his “anti-conservative attacks.” Funny that they didn’t react as nastily when white folks said the same thing…

** In 2011-12, the US States of Indiana and Hawaii, and Pitt County Schools in North Carolina all dropped cursive writing from its mandatory school curriculum. In other words, children will not be taught how to write. Even in Shakespeare’s day, kids learned to write. According to the Windsor Star, that may be a trend in Canadian education, too. The head shakes with the stupidity of it all.