Religion and the Dumbing of America

July 20, 2017 | Author: Sherwin Steffin | Category: Creationism, Intelligent Design, Evolution, Science, Religion And Belief
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A discussion of the impact of religion and the conservative orientation in the development of the intellectually incompe...


There is almost universal agreement that the institution of Public Education has been an abject failure in preparing its students to assume the role of critical, mature thinkers as they enter the adult world. The cause(s) for this failure are advanced by as many as those who have chosen to comment upon them. This article suggests one element that has seldom been reflected in the professional literature – the pervasive endorsement by governmental leaders, of religious faith as an explanation for natural phenomena. While at a formal level, we are protected from the intrusion of religion into lives of students, at the cultural, personal level, students are surrounded by a single message repeated in many ways. That message is that the teachings of religion are ultimately to be regarded as having greater accuracy and authority, than those of science. Granted that the First Amendment to the Constitution provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Yet, the phrase, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” are the enabling words which give free reign to those seeking not only to proselytize, but to impose their beliefs upon the Impressionable. From an article about the impact of religion on presidential candidacies we read that, “Not only is it true that all 43 American presidents – even those who doubted religion – associated themselves with the Christian faith, it is still far easier for a politician from a fringe religious sect, such as Mormonism, to be a serious national candidate than it would be for an atheist or an agnostic.” The pervasiveness of governmental and cultural endorsement of religion goes far beyond the acknowledgement of religious affiliation by political candidates. It extends to almost every facet of government and educational communications with their “customers.” •

The Swearing In ceremony for all government officials invariably includes the use of a Bible.

All U.S. currency and coinage carries the label, “In God We Trust.”

The pledge to the flag contains the words, “Under God.”

Each session of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate is led in prayer by a member of the clergy,

Although eventually struck down by the Supreme Court, a number of public schools have attempted to substitute or complement their teaching regarding evolution with the concepts of Intelligent Design.

The interjection of religion introduced by candidates of both parties in their primary campaign efforts.

Two psychologists recently wrote an article, titled, Why Do Some People Resist Science? In it, they say: “….if the existence of supernatural entities like gods, karma, and ancestor spirits is never questioned by adults in the community, the existence of such entities will be unquestioningly accepted by children. “Other information, however, is explicitly asserted. Such information is associated with certain sources. A child might note that science teachers make surprising claims about the origin of human beings, for instance, while their parents do not. Furthermore, the tentative status of this information is sometimes explicitly marked; people will assert that they "believe in evolution." “When faced with this kind of asserted information, one can occasionally evaluate its truth directly. But in some domains, including much of science, direct evaluation is difficult or impossible. Few of us are qualified to assess claims about the merits of string theory, the role in mercury in the etiology of autism, or the existence of repressed memories. So rather than evaluating the asserted claim itself, we instead evaluate the claim's source. If the source is deemed trustworthy, people will believe the claim, often without really understanding it.” Just what is it that students having completed their education, are lacking? Here are some specific skills, and a look at what this deficit translates to in everyday governmental and personal applications: •

The ability to infer from known factual data, a likely conclusion or outcome: FACT- A hurricane will be arriving in a few days. THEREFORE, use available public transportation to evacuate areas of potential flooding.

The ability to critically evaluate complex data to select an explanation best fitting the observations: EXAMPLE: Global Warming is occurring, will cause great harm, caused by humans, can be fixed vs. NOT occurring, NOT causing great damage, NOT caused by people, NOT fixable.

The ability to evaluate complex explanations to select most probable: EXAMPLE Man developed as a result of biological, evolutionary processes; man developed at the hands of an “Intelligent Designer.”

The ability to develop “Decision Tables,” or contingency planning, to allow for unexpected consequences: EXAMPLE: Planning for Iraq war projects military will be welcomed as liberators; no “Plan B” is ever developed to deal with an insurgency, or civil war.

One of the best measurements we have of the strength of American’s belief in evolution vs. creationism comes from repeated studies by repeated studies from the Pew Research Institute. “A narrow majority of the public (54% in a recent Pew poll) believes that scientists are generally in agreement about evolution. But fewer believe there is strong scientific evidence in support of evolution. A December 2004 Newsweek survey found just 45% saying evolution was both widely accepted in the scientific community and well supported by evidence, and the same number in a 2005 Harris Interactive survey agreed that "Darwin's theory of evolution is proven by fossil discoveries" (48% disagree). A 2004 Gallup poll registered even fewer (35%) saying Darwin's theory of evolution has been "well-supported by evidence." This question also offered respondents the choice of saying they don't know enough about the issue, an option that 30% selected. These same polls reveal sufficient doubt in evolution that a majority of American adults feel that creationism/Intelligent Design should accompany the teaching of evolution as a possible alternative explanation for man’s origin. Poll questions have typically asked if creationism should be taught along with evolution, and majorities ranging from 57% to 68% say that it should. Questions have been asked about removing evolution from the curriculum, but only a minority of the public favors this step. And questions that ask if creationism should be taught instead of evolution have found only 33%-40% in favor. All of us ultimately grow up with a world view. By the time we reach adulthood we all have perspectives on such things as political affiliation, sexual orientation, and among other things, the nature of what is knowable and what can never be. For some, there are questions which are not answerable by man; for others, the use of the methods of science, reason, and logic can ultimately solve all problems. A tragic illustration of this dichotomy of views, is the yet to be solved mystery of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). While medical research has produced gradually declining rates, a definitive solution awaits continuing effort. When asked to explain the cause of this infant killer, from the devout, one can expect, “It’s God’s will.” Others, holding a scientific view of the world, will, if having specific knowledge, discuss the found causes, and if not, refer the questioner to appropriate sources for information.

Commitment to religious faith, and conservatism have much in common. A rich study of political conservatives reveals: Historically, conservatism [and religious faith have] an ideological belief system [which embodies] many things, including the desire for order and stability, preference for gradual rather than revolutionary change (if any), adherence to preexisting social norms, idealization of authority figures, punishment of deviants, and endorsement of social and economic inequality Interestingly, much of Public Education holds exactly these same values. A paper by John Taylor Gotto articulates his view that Public Education has far less to do with providing students with critical thinking skills and much more to do with fostering passive acceptance of societally defined adult behavior. “H. L. Mencken, who wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. . . . Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim.. . is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States . . . and that is its aim everywhere else.” He continues, taking the view that another outcome of education is the extension of childhood in the service of advanced and enhanced consumerism: Maturity has by now been banished from nearly every aspect of our lives. Easy divorce laws have removed the need to work at relationships; easy credit has removed the need for fiscal self-control; easy entertainment has removed the need to learn to entertain oneself; easy answers have removed the need to ask questions. We have become a nation of children, happy to surrender our judgments and our wills to political exhortations and commercial blandishments that would insult actual adults. We buy televisions, and then we buy the things we see on the television. We buy computers, and then we buy the things we see on the computer. We buy $150 sneakers whether we need them or not, and when they fall apart too soon we buy another pair. We drive SUVs and believe the lie that they constitute a kind of life insurance, even when we're upside-down in them. And, worst of all, we don't bat an eye when Ari Fleischer tells us to "be careful what you say," even if we remember having been told somewhere back in school that America is the land of the free. We simply buy that one too. Our schooling, as intended, has seen to it.

It is, after all, more difficult to be an adult than a child; it is far more difficult to be a critical thinker than an empty bowl into which unrelated facts are stored. In the end, we have become a nation of children in adult bodies, putty in the hands of those who hold the keys to manipulation of emotions and ideas. For several years we have been hearing of the difficulties in finding U.S. scientists, engineers, and technologists. Employers find it increasingly necessary to recruit for these positions from foreign countries. Even more than this necessity of seeking foreign private sector employee brain power, is the total and complete incompetence demonstrated by all areas of government. We have increasingly seen the results of this incompetence. That 9/11 could not be prevented, that we are in a war from which no one can offer a plan to extricate ourselves, that hundreds of thousands of citizens are still unable to return to their homes in New Orleans, are but three of the most evident demonstrations of this incompetence. While we, as a nation are well aware of the depth of the problems we face, worse yet is the lack of leaders who we can confidently expect to reverse these trends. If this assessment is accurate, does it imply that we as a nation are doomed? Solutions will be difficult, at best. But, they can be achieved. In considering an approach to the dumbing of America, the following elements seem appropriate to consider. •

Change must come from outside the existing educational infrastructure.

The guiding principals for implementing change originate from the disciplines of cognitive and neuroscience.

Central themes which must be rewarded are that “Curiosity is good,” and “All knowledge is dynamic, changing, and never ‘settled.’”

Students must be publicly, tangibly rewarded for demonstration of intellectual achievement to the same degree as are those who demonstrate athletic achievement. Such rewards must become institutionalized through the existing educational infrastructure.

The technologies of the Internet, Distance Learning, and the knowledge discipline of Instructional Design, will constitute the delivery system.

The theory, and delivery technologies are all available today. The most demanding challenge will come in securing governmental and public commitment to change. Currently, we see far more voter concern directed at immediate, or potentially short-term problems; the war, health care, poverty, immigration, global warming. The question is whether this issue can be moved forward on the list of public priorities.

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