Why fight it? Let’s embrace textbooks Loch, stock and barrel

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This may or may not be the Loch Ness Monster, which may or may not exist. But please consult your local science textbook for further information. Image by Mr Moss via Flickr.

This may or may not be the Loch Ness Monster, which may or may not exist. But please consult your local science textbook for further information. Image by Mr Moss via Flickr.

Say you’re an executive for a growing company that intends to relocate to the Southeast. One morning, while perusing your robust web news round-up, you click on a Business Insider article. It’s labeled “Hot,” because it’s being so widely viewed and shared. The first sentence begins:

Thousands of children in Louisiana are being taught that the Loch Ness monster – part of the famous Scottish legend – is a real, living dinosaur to debunk evolution…

Now, do you feel more or less inclined to relocate to Louisiana? Reading through the story, you learn that Bible-influenced textbooks used in some Louisiana private schools make numerous other false claims, such as:

  • In 1977, a Japanese whaling vessel hooked a dinosaur carcass.
  • Evolution and Solar Fusion are myths.
  • Homosexuality is a learned behavior.

Here’s the kicker: the article says Louisiana parochial schools teaching this codswallop will soon receive tax dollars to expand instruction of this bogus curriculum.

The textbooks are currently used in private Christian schools such as the Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, Louisiana.

Perhaps most shocking, in the upcoming school year Louisiana residents will be able to attend Eternity Christian Academy and other Christian private schools using state sponsored school vouchers.

Surely, you’d think, Bobby Jindal – Louisiana’s ballyhooed “whiz kid” governor and potential vice presidential candidate – must be embarrassed by this story on schooling in his state. After all, educational initiatives were the centerpiece of his 2012 legislative agenda.

Actually, not so much! Jindal, an Ivy League biology major, is totally on board with oxymoronic “creationist science.” He thinks local schools should be empowered to “teach the controversy” surrounding evolution – the foundational theory of all life sciences – even though no scientific controversy about evolution exists! And that’s just for starters. Other “controversies” may include the age of the earth (which geologists use to find the oil that powers the state economy) and global warming (which raises the sea level and threatens life-as-we-know-it in the southern third of the state).

Jindal’s a big cheerleader for the voucher program, which lets students transfer from failing public schools to private institutions that accept vouchers, such as Eternity Christian Academy. In fact, Eternity Christian’s enrollment will skyrocket next year due to the voucher program, as Walter Pierce explained earlier this month in The Independent Weekly:

[Eternity Christian Academy] has been approved to accept 135 new students. That’s a considerable uptick in enrollment, which at the end of this school year stood at 38 – a more than 300 percent increase. Talk about buttressing the budget; $1 million in tax dollars will be diverted from the public school system to Eternity Christian, a school that, according to its mission statement, offers “a quality faith-based curriculum that is soley [sic] based on principles from the Bible …”

The Accelerated Christian Education program used at Eternity Christian reportedly  “originated in Texas in the 1970s.” Part of the curriculum claims that those with liberal beliefs are basically stupid and unholy. “Men on the left cannot walk in wisdom,” the text intones. Other materials from the program include “cartoon strips used for the teaching of ‘Godly character’… [which]  depict students attending racially segregated schools.” Similar fundamentalist schoolbooks  claim that the Ku Klux Klan was a reform organization, and that “God used the ‘Trail of Tears’ to bring many Indians to Christ.”

So, the Loch Ness Monster claim isn’t an isolated blunder.

In order to assuage fundagelical parents, our tax dollars are funding false instruction about a sea monster (that somehow lives in a heavily visited tourist attraction and is never reliably glimpsed or photographed). Worse yet, in addition to being scientifically fraudulent, some of this “biblical” instruction appears to be reactionary and racist, as well.

Previously I’ve ranted about creationists who used philosophical skepticism to raise doubts about evolution theory. They couch them in disingenuous questions, like “How does something as complex as an eye evolve?” (Gov. Jindal used that one, on occasion.) But perhaps I’ve neglected to make another point that’s dear to me, having attended parochial as well as public schools.

I respect faith. But I greatly respect faith that includes a little or (a lot of) doubt. For example, Mother Teresa had doubts about God’s presence in her whole life, because she’d never heard from Him. I even like religious studies – preferably some instruction that includes non-Christian faiths. Zoroastrianism, for example.

But scientific education is another matter. There’s an established method that makes use of evidence, logic, transparency, peer review. It has served us well. But some believers sense a threat from modern science. (Darwin’s time-tested and unrivalled theory of natural selection comes immediately to mind.) To avoid cognitive conflict, and a crisis of faith that Mother Teresa admirably endured, they’d prefer to mangle science education to soothe their adamantine religious beliefs. Their children won’t come home from school with uncomfortable questions.

So I want to ask: whoever said faith was supposed to be easy?

There is no Loch Ness monster. It’s a myth. If you choose to believe, against all the available evidence, that one miraculously exists, be my guest. Heck, I might even admire your faith in “Nessie.” But don’t teach your unfounded beliefs under the rubric of science. And if you do, don’t ask me to pay for it.

It’s fraudulent to falsify science and history in order to avoid religious discomfort. Without the friction of doubt, there’s only thoughtless belief. And inculcating such beliefs isn’t educating. It’s brain washing.

For me, the issue goes beyond the fact that Louisiana tax dollars will be used to fund a voucher program that allows such miseducation. As a churchgoer and the grandson of a pastor, I’m outraged that ANY parochial school teaches this bunk. Such “instruction” may be legal, but it’s false, it’s an embarrassment, and it poorly serves the young minds inhabiting those classrooms. Further, the bad international publicity surrounding parochial schools like Eternity Christian tarnishes the perception of student achievement throughout Louisiana. It’s an insult to all the hard-working teachers, in public and private schools alike, who do their best to educate their students.

It’s like a self-inflicted “brain drain” without the travel expense.

Ultimately, embarrassments like Eternity Christian risk short-circuiting Jindal’s reform idea of offering (some) students a viable private alternative to failing public schools. If the nation is too busy laughing at Louisiana’s taxpayer-funded “Loch Ness” education in Westlake, it will undercut the perception of the entire voucher program, whether or not it succeeds at other schools.

There may be a silver lining to this unholy mess. The Business Insider article concludes:

Many people are outraged that an education system based on the bible is being funded by the state government.

The Herald, however, found a bright side as “the Scottish tourist industry might well reap a dividend from the craziness of the American education system.”

I think there may be a corollary upside for Louisiana’s tourism business. Let’s just go with it!

Embrace our backwardsness. Tell the fundagelicals “you win,” and turn the state into one big, living museum of the 19th century. We could reinvent our tourist economy and invite fascinated tourists to come and ask the locals to opine about their intense suspicion of non-Christians and other minorities, and offer their thoughts about liberals and those who “choose” non-straight “lifestyles.” I suppose New Orleans would remain the Sodom, and the rest of the state would be God’s country. Perhaps a virtuous circle would develop where modernists would leave while the region’s fundagelicals would influx the state.

Colonial Williamsburg, eat your heart out: You have to hire actors; we can just act normal!

Meanwhile, our schools would offer top-shelf biblical science courses on sea monsters, and the very best history lectures on the benefits of apartheid. And why not also an economic course extolling the Market Forces of the Gilded Age, for good measure?

Who needs those business executives from other states, with their fancy ideas about a well-educated workforce, anyway?

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