Saturday, March 07, 2020

Small: “Settled” science often becomes propaganda


“Settled” science often becomes propaganda
By Jonathan Small

In the famed 1925 Scopes “monkey” trial in Tennessee, defense attorney Clarence Darrow told the court it was witnessing “as brazen and as bold an attempt to destroy learning as was ever made in the Middle Ages, and the only difference is we have not provided that they shall be burned at the stake.”

What learning was Darrow defending? Access to a textbook that taught children that Darwinian evolution proved there are “five races or varieties of man” and the “highest race type of all” is “the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.” No surprise, the textbook author relegated blacks to the bottom tier.

As a black man with four daughters, this example shows why I am so skeptical when political activists claim “settled science” justifies their viewpoints, and why I am among those concerned by the State Board of Education’s approval of new science standards that explicitly reference evolution and climate change. The new standards could produce less valid instruction than classroom indoctrination.

Darwinian evolution remains controversial today not because people are “anti-science,” but because the theory has been used to justify institutional racism, government-mandated eugenics, and other forms of state-sanctioned prejudice. When people insist man descended from monkeys, they’re often quick to say certain people are more closely related to monkeys than others, as the Scopes trial illustrated.

Granted, state education officials downplayed Darwinian evolution even as they stressed explicit references to evolution. Essentially, they suggested schools will teach genetics and species modification. But those topics are already covered in Oklahoma schools, so why stress the word “evolution” in standards?

Today, racist attacks rely less on Darwinian theory, but one doesn’t have to search long to find examples of the theory being used to bash Christians or other people of faith in the classroom.

The thin line between science and political propaganda is also obvious with inclusion of “climate change” in academic standards. While associated lessons may focus on carbon dioxide emissions and estimated impact on climate, they too often devolve into unhinged attacks on farming and oilfield jobs—in other words, most of Oklahoma’s economy. If you doubt it, note the rhetoric of Swedish teenager and climate-change activist Greta Thunberg.

Even worse, climate-change activism literally endangers lives.  Calvin Beisner, founder of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, recently told an Oklahoma audience that raising people out of grinding poverty in third-world countries requires “access to abundant, affordable, reliant energy.” But global-warming advocates often argue for elimination of affordable fossil fuels that can free millions from disease and death.

Political extremism doesn’t belong in public schools, but Oklahoma’s new science standards may creak open that door, which is why parents should be given greater school choice than a building assigned based on geography, not quality. Those who insist extremism can’t enter the classroom are ignoring an important aspect of education: the lessons of history.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

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