Towards A Good Samaritan World

Thursday, November 11, 2004


Nato, responding to my last post, compares the exclusion of religion from the schools to the non-mention of minority scientific opinions:

One can argue about the concept of education being funded by income taxes instead of user fees, but complaining that the curriculum contradicts one's beliefs is not in any way unique to religious questions. In science where the best-supported theories are usually in at least a little controversy, the practice of giving the majority opinion of scientists is merely a best guess method of choosing what to teach.

I mean, I had to sit through classes in my public high school in which it was taught that fiscal policy is an effective way of regulating the economy despite that I thought that only monetary policy had a non-illusory affect*. Does it follow that monetarists who also have to pay for those classes are being oppressed by Keynsians? Or anyone?

I agree that school curricula can contradict people's beliefs in all sorts of ways, not just in religion, and that's why I favor a market solution, such as vouchers; school curricula will be determined by market competition, and will reflect some mix of what pupils, parents and teachers want, rather than being dictated by an elite. (I trust the people's common sense much more than anything the elite has to offer.)

But I do think "religious questions" are "unique" here. First, because they matter to people more. If my son is taught Keynesian economics at school when I prefer Milton Friedman, that's a marginal matter; but if the schools turn my son into an atheist by conveying a vague sense that the whole world can be explained without reference to God, that matters far more. Second, because which scientific theories are best supported is a matter we are willing to leave to the specialists, but not so the existence of God, or the authority of the Bible.

But more seriously, God is excluded from public education in a much more rigorous way than minority scientific views are. For example, consider these two cases:

(1) A student raises his hand in economics class and argues that only monetary, not fiscal policy, has a non-illusory effect.

(2) A student raises his hand in history class and argues that white settlement in North America benefitted for the Indians (i.e. Native Americans), because not only did their living standards (ultimately) rise, many of them also converted to the true, Christian faith.

In the first case, a smart teacher would welcome the comment, and describe how some economists came down on both sides of the issue. In the second case, the student's remark would be greeted by embarassed silence. The teacher would listen nervously, make no comment, and move on. If a teacher expressed in class the view in (1), that would be fine. If he expressed the view in (2), he might well get fired.

My views on "Why Religious Neutrality in Education Requires Vouchers" here.


  • [ramble]
    Well, it's true that a teacher would have to treat the topic gently, but for two reasons. One, it has to do with the very touchy subject of the crushing of Native American culture by European immigrants* and two, it asks for the evaluation of the worth of a religious creed. The first is a result of overdone identity politics and is certainly unfortunate. The second is rightly outside the scope of a history class. Would the teacher be fired? Perhaps, but certainly not assuredly. One of the science teachers at my high school was asked to teach biology when Mr Reed (a devout Christian who nonetheless believed in evolution without reservation) left. The new science teacher had no trouble telling students he didn't believe in evolution and thought it was all hogwash but he was required to teach it, which he did. He didn't get fired.

    You say "...if the schools turn my son into an atheist by conveying a vague sense that the whole world can be explained without reference to God, that matters..." I wonder how fragile Christian faith is that it can be shattered so easily. I mean, it's not like your son is at boarding school and only gets to call home once a fortnight. No where does the school say "everything can be explained without reference to God." If it simply fails to explain anything it describes in terms of God, then perhaps that's just another healthy test of faith, of which life is full. I'm sure that the germ theory of disease is a challenge to the faith of a Christian Scientist, but I nevertheless insist on thinking the state has an interest in making sure its future citizens are educated about it.

    And that's the problem I have with the children-as-parental-chattel meme that seems to abound in Libertarian circles. Simply put, many parents do not have their children's best interests at heart, and I do not think we can abandon them.

    On the other hand, I suppose there's ways of balancing the government's interest in the education of those who cannot fend for themselves with the freedom to choose one's own religion... most easily handled by variations on Sunday school. Right now a lot of religious schools have a seperate class that can be attended during the regular class day which provides religious instruction, and this seems to work well. I'd be happy if in a single-payer open market system the government vouched for all religion-neutral content and parents or scholarships supplied the extra cash for the religious component.

    Perhaps we as a people could even vote to take biology out of the mandated curriculum. Hopefully not, but who knows? Or maybe we could have the various states decide, and perhaps history will get voted out in North Dakota by Native Americans offended by the idea that their ancestors migrated to the Americas millennia ago. Of course, if you got enough people together, you could just amend the Constitution altogether.

    But most likely, we'll have to continue to deal with government-funded curriculums mostly bracketing religious positions, because anything else is either unworkable or establishing.

    *Of course, expecting an early-industrial age culture to *not* crush a mid-to-late neolithic culture is whistling in the wind.

    By Blogger Nato, at 10:35 PM  

  • An article from AP about the consequences of the evolution education dispute in Georgia. Unfair, perhaps, but worth consideration.

    By Blogger Nato, at 6:22 AM  

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