Tuesday, March 16, 2010


The New Testament tells us that the wages of sin are death. What are the wages of ignorance? National decline, perhaps?

Consider this: Last month, the South Dakota House of Representatives passed a resolution declaring that astrology is a factor in global warming. Not only that, but the South Dakota solons also ruled that thermology is also a contributor to climate change. Not familiar with thermology? It is the analysis of detailed infrared images of the human body. Who knew? Apparently, only South Dakota's political elite.

(In fairness, the South Dakota Senate later passed a measure--but only by a razor-thin majority--to delete references to astrology and thermology. But the rest of the measure questioning global warming remained intact.)

This story would be merely an amusing instance of Churchill being right, if it were not one more example of the march of militant ignorance upon our society. Down in Texas this week, a bunch of right-wing zealots proud of their anti-intellectualism ordered the state to adopt a social studies curriculum that enshrines their simplistically-Christian, politically "conservative" view of the world; that decision will control the state's study of history and civics for a decade (likely long after the people of the Lone Star State have come to their senses and thrown these yahoos out of office) and, because Texas buys more textbooks than just about anyone, will spill over to the studies of millions of students in other states, many of which are markedly less hostile to actual knowledge.

As Prof. Steven Salzberg of the University of Maryland whose blog post discusses the South Dakota inanity in detail, points out, the tactic of the anti-intellectuals is familiar by now: challenge scientific knowledge with religion or, lacking support in someone's version of the Bible, the views of some minority of scientists (who have probably been bought off by industries with an interest in obscuring the truth), then demand that schools teach the controversy.

Americans like to think of themselves as fair-minded, so the idea of giving all sides equal time has strong appeal. Who could object? But what if one side is clearly right (the world is round) and the other is clearly wrong (the world is flat)? Then we are wasting time and energy by presenting both sides.

Oh, and those who argue for teaching the controversy don't really mean it. They want to teach both sides where they have the weak side of the argument. Evolution is the most common example these days. (When I was growing up, we thought the Scopes Monkey Trial had consigned literal belief in the Bible's creation story to the far, far boondocks. Apparently, ignorance is like kudzu.) But the proponents of giving both sides equal weight falter when that would mean giving equal time to those whose ideas they reject. Thus, the board that controls teaching in Texas rejected a book by a well known young-adult author, because (ignorance strikes again) they confused him with an author of Marxist bent. You won't find equal time for socialist ideas in the Texas social studies curriculum.

Meanwhile, the United States faces challenges from nations that take education seriously and use it to make themselves stronger in the challenge for world markets.

The NEA, I think it was, put out a bumper sticker a few years ago, that read, "IF YOU THINK EDUCATION IS EXPENSIVE, TRY IGNORANCE."

Ignorance is no bargain at any price.
attributing global warming, in part, to "astrological dynamics." That's astrology to you and me. Yep. Not only that, the legislators declared that there are also thermological constituents to climate change. Not familiar with thermology, like the members of the South Dakota House (well, a majority of them; let's not tar the rest by association)? It's the study of

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Although I am not a Christian all I have heard about Christ and his life lead me to believe that were he alive today he certainly would not be a Conservative.