Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Real Lesson of the Florida and Louisiana "Academic Freedom" Bills

The underlying serious problem at the root of our education system is the common notion that educating is something that only takes intelligence, or worse yet, good intentions, to do as well as a professional. No one would think they could do the job of a lawyer, or an engineer, or even a plumber, merely from being smart, or from good intentions and concerns about the outcome. Yet educators do not get that sort of respect, despite similar if not superior demands in education and skill set. Educating is something anyone, even children can do, or so it is assumed. The academic freedom bills in Florida and Louisiana are the inevitable result of this mindset.

Who of sound mind would suggest that the way to fix a plumbing leak is to give several options to a group of children and have them make up their own minds about the optimal solution? Who would suggest that we should try all plumbing techniques, even those specifically repudiated by plumbing organizations? No one. We know children know little about plumbing, either academically, or in practical experience. We also know plumbers know a great deal about plumbing, and their judgment is going to be a lot better than ours as to what is and is not effective. Yet these academic freedom bills suggest that we act in such a manner with even more difficult subjects like biology. With all due respect to plumbers the world over, biology makes considerably more demands on both student and teacher. And yet here we are supposed to make an exception to the plumber rule and allow/demand children sift through all the possible alternatives themselves and make their own choice. We are supposed to allow teachers to present biological theories that have been rejected by biologists the world over with the same enthusiasm that they teach the consensus view. It is madness, and its root is in this attitude of pedagogical egalitarianism America is stricken with.

And what is the root of this attitude? Religion of course. There, alone among epistemologies, are people encouraged to derive opinions, not from controlled scientific study, or even practical experience, but from personal reflection. Seek, and ye shall find. All is possible with the Lord. One who is taught from an early age that knowing and loving the gods is the highest form of knowledge, has no need for these scientists and their pathetic level of detail. Suffer the children unto me, for they have their own wisdom.

This is the heart of it. Educators don’t know any more than parents or children. Without that absurd assumption, these bills could not pass. So to fight these bills effectively, we have to attack the core assumption. No, you do NOT know more about how to educate your child than the professionals do. And no, we are not going to let your child decide what is and is not true. That's what he is in school to learn, and from trained professionals. Academia is not like a free market, because students do not have the understanding of the issues like customers do. They don't know what they need, and neither, apparently, do most of their parents.

One of the main purposes of having a public school system was to keep children's education from being limited by their parents. Passing these "academic freedom" bills runs completely in the wrong direction, and needs to be resisted.


Luke H. said...

There seem to be plenty of folks around here who don't recognize that someone who studies in a particular field and receives specialized training really is a better authority in that field than a layman. They use the term "expert" in a pejorative way, as if becoming one made a person less qualified. Teachers get the brunt of it, but we had a councilman who thought anyone with a backhoe could put in a water line, and that he knew how to build a highway because he helped put down some asphalt back in the 60s.

By the way, that sort of thinking extends to religious authority too. It is beyond their comprehension that someone who has spent decades studying ancient writings in their original languages and context actually knows something more about them than some fool TV preacher.

If teachers were treated as the honorable professionals they are, we could attract and retain better teachers for the same or less money. They would also be more effective. Disrespect for teachers starts at home and in the state legislatures.

ScienceAvenger said...

Exactly. We desperately need a culture shift away from the current anti-intellectualism. We need a culture where starting a speech with "I'm no expert, but..." is met with derision, not anticipation.