Tag Archives: creationism

Vouchers and Education

While the constitutional challenge to Indiana’s much-hyped voucher program is pending in our Supreme Court, it might be instructive to look to Louisiana, where Bobby Jindal’s equally-hyped version has just been declared unconstitutional. The legal issues are very different–both challenges were based upon state constitutional provisions, and Indiana’s constitution doesn’t contain the provision that was fatal to the Louisiana program. So there’s no legal equivalence.

Instead, what we can learn from Louisiana falls under the old adage that “there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip.”

Even the most well-meaning privatization efforts tend to founder on the shoals of accountability. When the effort involves education, those problems multiply. Despite lots of rhetoric, most academic studies of school voucher programs find that the only area of improvement is in parent satisfaction. Even in well-run programs, student performance remains where one would expect based upon a variety of sociological factors. Reports about rising test scores tend, upon further inquiry, to be based on the ability of private schools to eject students who aren’t making the grade.

Those results come from well-run programs. Louisiana is a poster child for the programs where ideology trumps accountability and basic common sense.

A report from Louisiana Progress, a good-government business group, is instructive. The group petitioned the Board of Education to set at least minimal standards for schools receiving vouchers–evidence that the schools have adequate physical facilities, that they not dramatically increase either tuition or enrollment in order to benefit financially from the program, etc. Calling the program “poorly thought out and poorly implemented,” the report noted that schools selected to participate were not chosen on the basis of educational quality. Most were religious, and many of those quite fundamentalist: the New Living Word School had been approved to increase its enrollment from 122 to 315 students, despite lacking physical facilities for that number; increased its tuition from 200/month to 8500/year, and has a basketball team but no library. Students “spend most of the day watching TV. ..Each lesson consists of an instructional DVD that intersperses bible verses with subjects like chemistry or composition.”

Another voucher school, the Upperroom Bible Church Academy, operates in “a bunker-like building with no windows or playground.”

There are 120 private schools authorized to receive vouchers in Louisiana. A significant percentage are “Bible-based” institutions with what have been characterized as “extreme anti-science and anti-history curriculums” that champion creationism. (One is run by a former state legislator who refers to himself as a “prophet or apostle.” Wouldn’t that encourage you to enroll your child??) A number use textbooks produced by Bob Jones University.

Mother Jones has a list of 14 favorite lessons being taught by Louisiana’s voucher schools. Among them: dinosaurs and people hung out together; gays have no more claims to ‘special rights’ than child molesters and rapists.

Your tax dollars at work.

Louisiana Progress pointed out–reasonably–that since the reason for the voucher program was that Louisiana’s public schools were not meeting educational accountability standards, it makes no sense to spend tax dollars on private/parochial schools that aren’t even being asked to meet those same standards.

We Americans have a love affair with easy answers. We also tend to believe that–whatever the task–private enterprises will outperform governmental ones. And we have a well-documented belief that change equals improvement. Unfortunately, solving real-world problems requires analysis. Sometimes, there is an easy answer; sometimes, a private entity is better suited to solve a certain problem. Sometimes, change is warranted–and positive.

Sometimes, not so much.

If we want to improve education, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. We might start with: what is the content of a good education? How can we determine whether schools are providing that content? What can we do to improve the prospects that children who enter our schools without the necessary background and tools will actually learn?

Louisiana and many other states–including our own–don’t want to grapple with those questions. They want an easy way out.

Even Adam’s pet dinosaur knew better.

Incomprehensible

The United States is rooted in the Enlightenment–an era that gave us empiricism and the scientific method. Our approach to government was forged by philosophers who extolled reason and evidence. We have always looked up to scientists, and scientists–who are best able to pursue their ideas in an open culture–have historically flocked to our shores.

“Yankee ingenuity” produced a constant flow of important inventions. Fulton gave us the steamboat; Samuel Morse the telegraph, Eli Whitney the cotton gin. Thomas Edison was credited with more than 1000 inventions. The Wright brothers gave us the airplane. The list goes on and on.

Americans were first to set foot on the moon.

Technology–from the telegraph to the IPhone, from the automobile to your television set– builds upon basic scientific principles. The  inventions and advances we take for granted would not have been possible had the country remained rooted in the superstition that characterized pre-Enlightenment Europe.  Just as the early colonists rejected the proposition that monarchs were divinely ordained, they were open to the example of men like Benjamin Franklin who engaged in empirical experimentation and scientific investigation.

Okay, I hear you saying. Well and good. What has prompted this particular rant?

I just read a recent survey of the American attitudes and beliefs.  It found that 39% of us believe in evolution.

At a time when we are spending billions of dollars on medical and biological research–all of which is based upon evolution–only 39% of Americans accept a settled scientific theory. Indeed, if political rhetoric is any indication, very few Americans even understand the difference between scientific theory–an explanatory framework constructed after painstaking empirical testing–and a wild-ass guess, which is the conversational use of the term.

Thirty-nine percent of Americans are scientifically literate–or at least scientifically literate enough to understand and accept the operation and importance of evolution.

There are many indicators of a nation in decline. The Creation Museum–where Adam and Eve saddle up their dinosaurs to romp through  a world created in its current form less than 10,000 years ago–may be the most significant such indicator.

And the most tragic.

Speaking of “Agendas”

A friend sent me a copy of this year’s American Family Action Pac political questionnaire. Rather than characterize it, I decided to let it speak for itself. (The odd numbering and format are original.)

Indiana Family Action PAC  2012 Questionnaire for State Candidates

Please circle the response that most accurately reflects your position on the following issues.

 

(SF=Strongly Favor; F-Favor; U=Undecided; O=Oppose; SO=Strongly Oppose; Y=Yes; N=No)

  1. 1.   Education – Protect and expand parental choice options provided in current law to allow all parents

the opportunity to receive a voucher to send their children to any public, private, religious or home

school of their choice.                                                                                                                  SF     F     U     O     SO

  1.  Education – Allow parents dedicated to their children’s education to home-school their children

without imposing additional state regulations, other than that which is already required in state law.   SF     F     U     O     SO

3. Education – Redefine “bullying” so that students who express opposition to the public promotion of

homosexuality in public schools will be guilty of “bullying” if they offend students who have taken

 on a homosexual identity.                                                                                                                     SF     F     U     O     SO

4.Academic Liberty – The teaching of evolution is currently an educational requirement for teachers in

Indiana public schools.  Protect Indiana teachers within state law so that they can also discuss the

problems and weaknesses of evolutionary theory.                                                                                   SF     F     U     O     SO

5.Business – Some Indiana cities have increased regulations on businesses by adding “sexual orientation” and

“gender identity” to the list of protected classes that get special rights. State law does not require businesses

to treat these groups as protected classes.  Require all levels of government to recognize the list

 of specially protected classes within state law in order to give businesses uniform regulations. SF     F     U     O     SO

6. Faith – Jesus Christ is my personal Lord and Savior.  I believe the God of the Bible is sovereign

over all of life, including public policy, and I will use biblical principles to guide how I vote.                       Y              N         

7. Homosexual agenda – Change state discrimination law to protect an employee’s sexual

    preferences in the same way that race, religion, age, gender and ancestry are protected.                  SF     F     U     O     SO

8. Marriage – Increase the time a married couple with minor children must wait for a divorce

(current law is 60 days) in order to give them a longer opportunity to work toward reconciliation.          SF     F     U     O     SO

9. Marriage – Amend the Indiana Constitution as follows:   “Only a marriage between one (1) man

and one (1) woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana. A legal status identical or

substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”     SF     F     U     O     SO

10. Abortion – Prohibit abortion by law except when the life of the mother is in danger.                         SF     F     U     O     SO

11. Abortion – As the medical abortion field explodes (abortion pills like RU486), make Indiana law apply

the same standards for dispensing abortion pills as it does for surgical abortions (i.e., define it in the law,

require licensing and regulatory standards, require key health and safety standards, and require

informed consent/patient information standards).                                                                 .                    SF     F     U     O     SO

12. Taxes – Increase state taxes in order to provide more services.                                              SF     F     U     O     SO

13. Taxes – Discontinue all direct and indirect state support of the Kinsey Institute

 (controversial “sex research” organization in Bloomington, IN)                                                    SF     F     U     O     SO

14. Gambling – Prohibit Casinos in Indiana.                                                                               SF     F     U     O     SO

15. Sex industry – Require strip clubs to close at midnight and make them ineligible for

Liquor licenses.  Require dancers to remain at least 6 feet away from customers at all times.             SF     F     U     O     S

 

Anyone who “favors”  numbers 5, 7 and 12  will clearly be opposed; the language of the others–especially #6–is simply jaw-dropping. These folks are the ones with an “agenda”– and it is anti-science, anti-gay, anti-sex and deeply, profoundly un-American.

When the American Family folks endorse someone, remember that these are the positions that candidate has promised to support.

As another friend put it–so many Christians, so few lions….

 

 


Legislative Whack-A-Mole

As I noted in yesterday’s post, our intrepid legislators are hard at work making fools of themselves on the taxpayers’ dime. There’s the effort to ban the non-existent use of Sharia law by the state’s judiciary, a bill prescribing how school children must sing the Star Spangled Banner (no, I am not making that up–and I’m not going to say anything more about it, either–too depressing), and the effort that will not die no matter how many courts rule it unconstitutional: a bill to allow the teaching of creationism in public school science classes.

What’s wrong with this effort by Senator Kruse (he of the “no Sharia” bill)? Ah, let me count the ways.

First of all, the Supreme Court has ruled that injecting “creation science” (as the bill calls it) into public school science classrooms, is unconstitutional. The reason? “Creation science” is not science. It is religion. In fact, the courts will allow creationism to be taught in classes on comparative religion.

Proponents of teaching this religious dogma in science class consistently betray an utter lack of understanding of what science is. First of all, they use the term “theory” to suggest that evolution is “just a theory.” What they clearly do not understand is that in science, the term “theory” has a specific meaning–and that meaning is very different from the way you and I use the term in casual conversation. The common use means “guess” or “speculation.” In science, a theory is constructed to explain the relationship of carefully documented empirical observations.

There is one common thread to the two meanings, however, and it is what sets science apart from religion or ideology: both our casual “theories” and scientific theories are falsifiable. That means they must be changed if new evidence emerges that warrants such change. The scientific method is built on this concept of falsification–scientists constantly challenge and test what they think they know, and modify their understandings accordingly. That is how science advances.

If a belief is rigid, if it is held despite facts that challenge all or part of it, it is by definition not science. (If Senator Kruse will explain how God can be dragged into a high school lab and tested, he might have–excuse the expression–a prayer.) Creationism is a matter of faith, and faith–again, by definition–is not science.

It probably goes without saying that in a state pursuing economic development through a variety of bio-science initiatives, passage of Kruse’s bill would send a very embarrassing message. Evolution, after all, is the necessary basis of biology. But what is most depressing about this exercise is its predictable futility. During the past decade or so, creation “science” has been authorized in Kansas and Pennsylvania and–predictably–struck down by the courts. (In Kansas, voters also went to the polls in droves to defeat the Kansas Board of Education members who’d made the state a national laughingstock). It’s like the game of “whack a mole”–you whap it here and it pops up there.

Meanwhile, the state’s real problems languish and the legislature’s real business is neglected.

I guess there’s a lesson here: don’t be some fancy-pants elitist who actually understands biology. And for goodness sake, watch how you sing the Star Spangled Banner…..