Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Some Perspective on the School Vouchers Controversy

David Harsanyi, at the Federalist, has an article on the controversy involving school vouchers being used to teach creationism and suggests that it is a mountain  where a molehill actually exists.  He further suggests that this is being used by the organized establishment to attack school choice.  He writes:
Yes,14 states spend “nearly $1 billion” of taxpayer tuition on “hundreds of religious schools” that teach kids the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. This would be more troubling if we didn’t spend hundreds of billions every year not teaching millions of kids how to read. Voucher programs offer a wide variety of choices for parents, unlike the closed, failing districts schools that so many kids are trapped in. As of now, public schools spend around $638 billion on around 55 million students but only 250,000 students – almost all of them poor — are free to use vouchers and tax-credit scholarships. Of those kids, the vast majority do not attend schools with curriculums that feature intelligent design. Yet, judging from all the “special investigations” of creationism in schools, you might be under the impression it was the most pressing problem faced by educators. I suspect that untold numbers of parents would sacrifice their children to the Gods of Creationism if [it] meant they could attend safe and high-achieving schools. A lot of these schools score well. But that’s not the choice, either.
It is absolutely no secret that the vast majority of these schools are better than their public school counterparts and, yes, these parents are very grateful for the opportunity to put their kids in schools that are safe and good.  I support school vouchers, generally, but I see a philosophical problem here.  In the process of supporting the notion of school choice for parents, what is being lost is what is being taught.  We run the risk of becoming so enamored of our ability to pick and choose where we want our kids to go to school that we forget that there are quite a few schools out there that do teach young earth creationism.

Young Earth Creationism is bad science

It puts our kids at a disadvantage by setting them back in all areas of science and fills their heads with wrong-headed ideas. As a scientist, I have a moral obligation not just to teach my kids good science, but to advocate the teaching of it in the schools. Having the ability to put your kids in the school of your choice is of no value if the science they are being taught is wrong.

As a family, we are insulated from this directly but are part of a similar tug-of-war.  Because I want my kids to have a better education, we have them enrolled in a home school curriculum.  For the most part, it is exceptional, with plenty of challenges and intellectual rigor.  But, while the science curriculum is at peace with old earth creationism, it leans toward intelligent design as a world-view.  I have already corrected some of the wrong notions that my kids have come home with and my oldest daughter, who is leaning heavily toward botany or biology, and I have had candid conversations about evolution.  The teachers at the school (the ones that teach science, anyway) are familiar with my views on evolution and don't push my kids in class to reject them.  By the same token, I don't have my kids questioning their teachers or the view points of other kids in the class.  That is not their place.  So far, we have managed a Mexican Stand-off.  Soon, however, my daughter will outgrow the current curriculum and begin to discover why, as Theodosius Dobzhansky stated: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”1 I will be ready for that time.

1Dobzhansky, T (1973) Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. American Biology Teacher, v. 35: 125-129


  1. I completely agree that it is a moral duty to teach evolution as factual science, because it has been proven as such. To say anything otherwise is dishonest. Religious institutions are trying to hold on to outdated fables about how the universe began, while they fail to embrace the scientific realities about the cosmos. It is sad that society is still at this point where federal funding is teaching nonsense such as creationism, but hopefully blogs such as these ans my own will help rectify this problem.

  2. //Having the ability to put your kids in the school of your choice is of no value if the science they are being taught is wrong.//

    I completely agree that evolution is correct and the only way to approach biology that gives it any coherent structure. So a school that teaches ID or YEC will obviously, I agree, be parasitic on real science (and, further, will offer a faith-undermining danger to its pupils, since the science they deny will become more obviously true to at least some of its students).

    However, don't you think you're taking it a little far there? NO value?

    Furthermore, the problem originates not from federal funding being permitted for creationism; it originates from the widespread horrid approach post-second-great-awakening attitude American Christians have toward the life of the mind. The people are driving this problem, not federal permissiveness; if it were merely a problem of permissiveness, you'd be able to find schools using their freedom for good instead of ignorance.

    1. You are correct. I should have focused that comment more carefully. What I should have written was that, as far as the natural sciences goes, it provides no value. Dobzhansky was right. You get to a point where it starts to make no sense without an evolutionary framework. The curriculum that we have our kids go through is fantastic in many other ways. You are correct that the people are driving this, and it is these same people that are elected to the statehouse. They come out of bad science backgrounds and they don't understand how it works, so they perpetuate the bad ideas. Mark Noll was smack on the money. His books is one that every Christian ought to have to read, right after they read The Meaning of Creation by Conrad Hyers.

    2. Thank you for the book mention... I'll look that up. (I see that it's not available in ebook.) I assume the other one you're recommending is Noll's "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind". That's good, all right.

      I also highly recommend Walton's "The Lost World of Genesis 1".

      It's going to be REALLY hard to teach my kids science -- my ex-wife abandoned the faith for witchcraft, although she's still a vague old-earth anti-evolution creationist; my parents are HARD young-earthers.

    3. Here is a link to a very boiled down version of Hyers' argument: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1332

    4. BTW, I missed this when it happened but in May of last year, Dr. Hyers passed away at the age of 80.

    5. Thank you... Although I didn't get much from the article, it encouraged me to broaden my reading. I just got "Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation" for my Kindle, and I'm being very pleasantly challenged and educated.

      (The article simply doesn't provide enough information to justify its polemics. A hyperliteralist won't be convinced he's ignoring the numerology and patterns by an article that shows no awareness of the text. Of course, I don't blame the article for that; it's not made for the purposes I want.)

  3. Anonymous3:59 PM

    I must disagree with both of you on the subject of teaching our children about creationism in any way effects their ability to learn science, since creationism is not a science it is a religion. I would also say that teaching our children about evolution puts our kids at a disadvantage by setting them back in all areas of science and fills their heads with lies. I am a chemist by degree and have studied and applied the laws of science and after researching the theory of evolution, discovered it does not take into account any laws of science or nature. There are no facts to support evolution and I challenge both of you to look into what is being misrepresented as facts. For example, what scientific fact supports the evidence that the world is older than about 7,000 years? None. What scientific fact supports that we are any relation to the chimpanzee? None. What scientific fact supports animal mutations from one species to another? None. These are the factors that support the evolution hypothesis which have not nor could be proved. Similar to the lack of proof for creationism. That is why neither should be taught in a science class since both are faith based not science based. As to doing what is morally right by our kids….I recommend teaching creationism. At least it is morally based where evolution does not include morality, purpose of being or any witness testimonies.