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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What Can We Do?

Biker Bob’s blog article last month titled “The Future” was well written, and some of the comments that it engendered were insightful. I hope you don’t mind if I pick up on that theme from a slightly different, expanded angle and in a different context.

I just finished reading a science fiction novel (Book IV of Voyagers: The Return by Ben Bova) set far into the future. It depicts earth suffering from disastrous greenhouse flooding. Almost all countries have been taken over by ultraconservative religion-based governments such as the novel’s New Morality in the United States. Population is ballooning throughout the globe, and resources are running out. In addition, the planet is heading for nuclear war with nations refusing to dismantle whatever stockpile of warheads they have.

In the novel, the memoirs of a very old retired schoolteacher are shown in about three places. She says that it took her a long time to understand what was happening in the schools. The kids didn’t read T.S. Eliot or Shakespeare anymore because they were too difficult. They didn’t even read Dr. Seuss. And forget Hemingway because he used foul language and openly depicted sex. The New Morality took smiling advantage of what was going on and used it for their own purposes.

The retired teacher says there was a slow, patient, inevitable dumbing down of the schools including the students, teachers, and the administrators. And she admits that “we let them make things easier.” She describes the process:

"The overarching goal of education was to achieve equality…[A brilliant child] is no better than the intellectually challenged [child]. [We can’’t hurt the feelings of children who are autistic, have attention deficit disorder or were born with Down’s syndrome]…by putting them in separate facilities with specialists to look after them. [It was decided that they deserved] to be mainstreamed and attend school with everybody else….

"Equality of outcome…was our aim. Everyone was to be treated equally; every student would finish school the equal to every other student. And what was the easiest way to achieve equality? Teach to the lowest common denominator. Make certain that every student got exactly what every other student received. No fast lane for the so-called bright ones. That wouldn't be equal….

"Self-esteem. We tried to teach the kids to have pride in themselves. It took me years to figure out that for a youngster to have pride in herself she had to be able to accomplish things, achieve something to be proud of. But somehow we left that part out of the curricula….

"So we taught less and less of the things that made the kids feel unhappy with themselves and spent more and more classroom time on teaching them self-esteem…Arithmetic made them feel bad, so we eased off on the math. And the spelling. And the reading assignments. And homework….

"…Parents didn’t want their kids exposed to political beliefs that went against their own politics. So we stopped teaching civics. When an activist group decided that the Declaration of Independence was a subversive document…we stopped teaching about the American Revolution altogether….

"Darwin. When I first started teaching we were forbidden by the state legislature to use the word 'evolution' in class. Then we stopped teaching biology altogether. And physics. And chemistry. Instead we taught general science, including 'alternative' concepts such as intelligent design and astrology. It was a lot easier on the children, and we teachers didn’t have to defend ourselves against righteous parents who got blue in the face over 'godless secularist ideas.'

"We went along with it. The kids were happier; the pressure groups were happier. A few die-hard scientists and university academics warned that we were turning out a generation of ignoramuses, but they were happy ignoramuses and we could keep our jobs and avoid all the painful conflicts."

The retired teacher goes on to say that in spite of all this, there were a precious few kids who managed to get ahead anyway. A handful of schools managed to cater to those budding geniuses thirsting for real knowledge, but they were always distrusted and carefully watched. Their work was closely controlled by the government and the New Morality.

To me, much of this sounds like our present, dangerous, unstable world. These are alarming times.

I agree with Biker Bob that we need to get involved in helping all people--believers and nonbelievers--to help “minimize whatever societal problems we can.” How can we do this? Is cooperation between individuals and nations even possible?