January 21, 2008

Guest Post: Teaching Lies Jeopardizes America's Future

This is an invited guest post by Billy (A Liberal Disabled Vet), a regular commenter on Atheist Revolution. I continue to appreciate his many thought-provoking comments and am happy that he agreed to write another guest post.

A few months ago, vjack was kind enough to ask me to write a guest post. I wrote a piece which vjack named "Fear of an Idea" (I think I am pretty good at writing, but coming up with titles has always been tough for me) which generated some interesting comments. Vjack said I could write more, and so I planned. I planned to write about hypocrisy, both on the personal and institutional level. And writer’s block hit hard. That being said, I decided to write about something completely different.

My son is about to enter college. He is studying history and secondary education with an eye toward becoming a high school teacher. I have begun paying a little more attention to the subject of education and have become more than a little bit concerned. My concern is more about "Christian" education (home, parochial or ‘bible’ schools) and the possible damage this education (or lack thereof) may be doing to the future of America. This potential damage comes on more than one level: social, economic, and political.

Two stories from my past help illustrate my misgivings (and yes, you may have read these stories before from posts at various blogs, but trust me, I am going somewhere with this (have faith?)):

In high school freshman biology, I was paired up with a young lady whose father was a preacher at a local church. It was a very conservative church. So conservative, in fact, that he dropped his church out of the Southern Baptist Coalition because they were too "liberal." She needled me constantly about my church (Unitarian) and my beliefs (at that time the best way to describe where I was on the road to atheism was universal deist (though I had no clue what that meant at the time). On day, I decided to turn the tables on her. I asked, "What bible does your church use?"

She answered, "The bible."

"Yeah, but which translation?"

"We use The Bible!" I could hear the capitalization.

Really? I had no idea you could read Hebrew, Latin, and Koine Greek."

She freaked out and began screaming, "You are going to burn in hell forever you Satan-worshipping non-believer how dare you persecute Christians you will burn in hell . . ." for about five minutes (for a good idea of how this sounded, listen to Arlo Guthrie’s "Alice’s Restaurant," especially when the sergeant is explaining to the ‘group "w" bench’ how to fill out the questionnaire regarding his arrest) and just would not shut up. My poor teacher (he was in his last year of teaching) tried in vain to stop her. Eventually, he escorted her out of the room and to the principal’s office.

She was suspended for a week. Had a baby nine months later. Eventually (by my junior (her senior) year) she became a rather nice person. Never "left the fold," but developed a fondness for theological discussions. She became much less judgmental and more accepting of differences.

Last September, I was sent to Idaho to provide support for the Elk Complex (a 150,000 acre forest fire north and east of McCall) as a Security Specialist Level 2 (SEC2). As a level 2, I don’t carry a sidearm, so I don’t do road patrols. I do, however, spend a lot of time at roadblocks. Twelve to 14 hours per day sitting by the side of a road in a National Forest, relaxing, reading, smoking cigars, and dealing with anywhere from one to one hundred non-fire cars per day, making sure the fire vehicles are headed to the right place, and trying to tell people that the hot springs is closed.

One fine morning (90 degrees, no humidity and a wind which could make jerky in five minutes) a Cadillac pulled up. Inside was a man, a woman, and in back a little girl. He asks, "Can I drive through to Riggins?"

I answered, "No sir. The road up to and past the hot springs is closed. You’ll have to take the long route west out of McCall."

He developed a surly expression. "Why?"

I explained about the 150,000 acre forest fire (which became 200,000 before I left), the danger due to helicopter and air tanker activity, fire engines and other fire equipment, and the fire itself.

He waited until it was obvious that I was not going to run out of reasons and interrupted me. "Are you Saved?"

I ignored him. I figure I’m on the federal clock and I work for all Americans, believers or not. Off duty, I would be happy to discuss why I’m an agnostic (I was, back then). I paused, and then started to explain that if I let him through, and something happened to his vehicle, his insurance company would tell him to pound sand if he was on a closed road.

The little girl in the back seat pipes up and says, "He’s going to Hell, isn’t he, Daddy?" I looked back at her. She was holding a book which had the standard Aryan Jesus on it and across the top it read "Second Grade Reader" (or equivalent). My mind immediately dropped her into a mental pigeon hole marked "Christianist home school."

I paused for a moment, then began telling dad how to get around the fire. From the back seat I hear, "Daddy, we can drive through 'cause Jesus will protect us, right?"

Eventually he turned around and drove back to McCall.

These two stories show (to me at least) what has changed in America over the last 25 or so years. The girl I knew in Maryland had been indoctrinated from birth to see no problem in damning anyone who thought differently (heretics) to hell. She was so convinced of her righteousness that she could not conceive of another point of view. Through contact with the real world, though, she eventually became more accepting of reality. The little girl from Idaho, though, (and I am assuming that she was home schooled in a Christianist and/or fundamentalist and/or Dominionist milieu) will most likely never be exposed to competing world views. The narrow glimpse she gets at church and at home and on play dates with approved friends will never allow her to mesh with the rest of the world. (I am not completely down on home schooling. If it is done well, children can excel academically. My wife and I home schooled our kids for a year during a time when my son was having severe developmental difficulties (a mild form of autism). It didn’t work for us, but for some it can.

Over at Tales of an Ordinary Girl, ordinary girl has done a couple of excellent posts regarding Christianist curriculum wherein all subjects are taught in such manner as to be fully in line with both scripture and a Dominionist view towards American history.

This trend, which seems to be accelerating, is creating two Americas. On the one hand we have the 'reality-based community' (which does include many theists) which views the world in a naturalistic, evidence based manner and views American history in a manner based on actual documents and writings of our founding fathers. On the other hand, we have the Christian Dominionist and fundamentalist faction which views the world in a god-centered creationist manner, taking the bible literally (which bible? and what about the places the bible contradicts itself?) and views American history in a god-centered manner, taking out of context bits and pieces of the documents and writings of our founding fathers to support a Christianist theocracy.

A few of these children will wake up, smell the coffee, learn to question, and become a part of the reality based community. Most will not. Most will educate their children with the same natural and historic fairy tales and continue to widen the split with factual reality. If these children existed in a vacuum, I could blow it off as just another form of child abuse. But they (the children and the adults they become) do not exist in a vacuum.

These are the same people who are trying to push the teaching of natural selection (evolution) out of the Florida schools. These are the same people who want Texas to accept a master’s degree in secondary science education from a creationist (Intelligent Design) college. These are the same people who cost the Dover school district thousands of dollars trying to defend creationism in the courtroom. These are the same people who have made Mike Huckabee a frontrunner for the Republican nomination.

In short, the teaching of out-and-out lies to children has an effect on the ability of this country to govern itself and to keep pace technically and scientifically with the world. At the risk of pissing you off, vjack, do we really want America’s standing in the world (in terms of education) to be analogous to Mississippi’s standing in America?

(BTW, I ran this through spell check and it suggested ‘Chickadee’ as a possible replacement for Huckabee.)

I know it’s a long post, but with due respect, it’s an occupational hazard for me.

Billy (A Liberal Disabled Vet)