The battle over evolution is illustrative. The debate over the teaching human origins kicked off at least as far back as the famous Scopes “Monkey” trial of 1925, and it still tears communities apart today.
And what’s kept what peace we have? Avoiding the topic, as a recent survey of high school biology teachers found. Roughly 60 percent of teachers reported that they gloss over or skip evolution – even if state standards require it – because of the conflict they fear would result.
But what if one view could be imposed on all kids, without rancor or watering down?
That’s even more troubling. The main purpose of science is to tackle matters we do not fully understand. To teach that there is only one right view on such matters, then, is inimical to this purpose. It is also extremely dangerous, taking everyone down darkened paths, eliminating alternate routes, and leaving no options for escape if what’s “right” turns out to be wrong.
Finally, we see in these scandals that scientists will sometimes stoop to trickery and bullying rather than rely on the power of their evidence. It’s because they are human. If you invest huge amounts of your time and reputation into an idea you will fight to defend it, both because you think you are right, and for your advancement.
What is the best defense against basic, human self-interest? Not handing anyone all the levers of power.
In the case of education, that means moving away from a system of schooling controlled by government, and towards parental choice and educator freedom. It means enabling all to access a curriculum that’s coherent because it’s not a compromise. It means making ideas compete, and giving no one special access to children’s minds.
People on all sides of the global-warming debate will take issue with this, insisting that it would be wrong not to make all children learn their, often biased, “truth.” But climate change isn’t scientifically settled, and even if it were, most public schools still wouldn’t touch it. Only school choice overcomes these myriad, treacherous problems.
Neal McCluskey is associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom and author of the book Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education.