Corrosion in the classroom

Posted: Sep 18, 2003 12:00 AM

Three items of education news this month may seem to have nothing to do with each other, but let’s connect the dots.

The first was a conservative-leaning critique that even liberals like former President Clinton and the president of the National Education Association endorsed. "Education for Democracy," a statement published by the Albert Shanker Institute, complained that too many classroom lessons and textbooks about American history emphasize America's failings.

Report proponent Larry Diamond of the conservative Hoover Institution listed what kids learn about: "Vietnam, Watergate, impeachment hearings, the rottenness of campaign finance, rising cynicism … " Sandra Feldman of the liberal American Federation of Teachers added, "People have been so anxious to be self-critical … but we feel that’s just gone too far over in that direction. … Children need to understand and value what has been built here."

"Education for Democracy" also critiqued the lack of awareness evident in a survey of children touring Washington: They knew of Memorial Day only as "the day the pools open." The report stated that education cannot be separated from moral instruction: "The basic ideas of liberty, equality, and justice, of civil, political and economic rights and obligations, are all assertions of right and wrong, of moral values."

A second piece of education news was a September 10 Texas Board of Education public hearing in Austin. The subject: biology textbooks that don’t tell the whole story but merely propagandize for Darwinism by including fraudulent drawings (Ernst Haeckel’s embryos) and false "proofs" of evolution (peppered moths, finch beaks, and all that jazz).

The little-known back story about evolution is that the theory arose in the 19th century out of an emphasis on the world’s failings. As Cornelius Hunter points out in "Darwin’s God" (Brazos Press, 2001), some early evolutionists saw much carnage and waste in the natural world and could not believe that a good Creator would have established something so awful. Their solution: eliminate creation.

The September 10 hearing exposed one problem with Darwinian theory: It’s full of holes. Baylor Professor William Dembski testified that he "and many other mathematically trained scientists regard claims for the creative power of natural selection as implausible in the extreme." John West of the Discovery Institute pointed out specific textbook errors and asked, "Is it really too much to ask that textbooks cover evolution fully and accurately? I hope not."

But a second problem with one-sided biology textbooks is parallel to the problem with one-sided American history textbooks: They don’t help students to understand and value life on Earth. If American history in schools becomes a diatribe about the rich and powerful running over the poor, and if history-of-the-universe teaching in biology classes is a similar tale about survival of the fittest and the eradication of all others, then we are educating students not in democracy but in a kill-or-be-killed philosophy.

As Texas textbooks go, so go the nation’s because publishers unwilling to lose a big market dance to the Texas Board of Education’s tune. Publishers have until early October to propose changes in their textbooks, and the board will vote in November on which textbooks to approve. It’s great that Bill Clinton and Co. see the dangers of corrosive history textbooks. It’s ironic that most liberals are adamant about defending corrosive Darwinism, even though its lack of scientific standing becomes clearer each year.

And here’s the third piece of education news: While the battle for some educational diversity went on in Austin, 100 miles up the road in Waco, the Baylor University faculty senate voted 26-6 that Baylor President Robert Sloan should be fired, and the regents voted 31-4 that Sloan should stay on. The split developed for many reasons, but foremost among them is Sloan’s plan to strengthen Baylor’s Christian mission, from which the university has strayed considerably in recent decades. 

The split sentiment is not surprising given that professors everywhere tend to slide toward secular liberalism—that’s how careers flourish. But education for democracy and truth cannot be built on corrosive principles.