16 June 2009

Why the Evolution Battle Matters

Let's be honest. There is only one context in which the back-and-forth debate over evolution is even relevant, and that is the classroom. The moment a person leaves a school building, the issue becomes entirely unimportant. Walk into a church, and you expect everyone there to share a comparable, anti-Darwinian sentiment, but otherwise most people tend to be indifferent about the subject. So why keep it going?

Simply put, the American attention span only permits so many topics at a time. And, because we're reductionists, we only like to canonize so many controversies at a time, too. So long as everyone's attention is focused on the science classroom, no one is paying any attention to what's going on in the history classroom. And this, brothers and sisters, is where our attention should be.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a history major and so I naturally bring a certain bias to this subject. That said, I believe you will find my reasoning quite sound and impervious to any inevitable ad hominem attacks.

When President Reagan took office, he put forth a directive to the department of education to put a positive spin on all things American. For the Gipper, pro-American optimism went beyond a campaign slogan; it was tantamount to a religion. To be fair, the president sincerely believed in the good of our people and our ideals--and he should have. I believe we all want to feel that sense of pride in our nation. Where Mr. Reagan and I diverge on the subject is the extent to which our public educators have taken their instruction of history.

All too often, as I took notes and followed classroom discussion while earning my bachelor of arts degree, I heard from one classmate after another that they were being exposed to darker, less pleasant parts of our past for the first time. "Why weren't we told about this in high school?" they implored. If the truth does indeed set us free, then sadly many of us exit our mandatory public education enslaved to ignorance.

For instance, why do we continue to exalt Thomas Edison as a brilliant innovator while simultaneously shielding from our youth the scores of African-Americans whose ideas were outright stolen and passed off as someone else's? If we are serious about providing our minority youths with a positive image of their race--and, hence, themselves--then why do we not acknowledge these creative, pioneering men and women and right the historical wrong that has been committed thus far by slighting them? How can we ever expect our youth to understand why so many across the globe resent us to the point of committing acts of violence against us, when we omit, or whitewash, our track record of intervention in Latin America and east Asia?

Of course, the moment anyone brings up these and related questions, they are instantly branded a member of the "blame America first" crowd. I disagree with that assessment entirely. Owning up to the truth does not mean being anti-American. Remember truth, justice and the American way? How has it been that we have abdicated our obligation to them? They fear that discussing such things will fragment our society; they resent "hyphenated-Americans" and deny the patriotism of such citizens.

If our great nation is great, then it is so because it is the melting pot of humanity. We should be a microcosm for our entire planet, and instead what has happened in my generation? Those who embrace their own heritage have been told they are not true Americans. And as this litmus test for embracing the untruth has been enforced on our own people, the rest of the world has grown to resent us. This is not because those across the world care that our youth are not told the truth about our past, but because our youth are growing up without developing the humility and cultural sensitivity that come from a proper instruction in history.

Until and unless we, as a society, recognize and commit to revising this injustice of academia, so we shall continue to not only commit our society to arrogance and ignorance, but also to an escalation of both.

11 comments:

  1. Well put. I remember learning about the American labor camps for the Japanese after I got out of college and was irate about why no one bothered to fill me in on this. I'm tired of many Americans pointing the finger at other nationalities and putting ourselves on a pedistal like we're God's gift to the planet.

    ReplyDelete
  2. But how does humility and sensitivity help us force everyone else to suck our dicks?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sorry for the long post, but the devil's in the details ...

    So I'm starting this article expecting a case regarding evolution (one way or the other) and yet it seems to step sideways into a discussion of the injustice of historical misattributions by way of nationalist arrogance (which the US by no means has any sort of monopoly on)?

    Anywho, so why keep it, the evo debate, going? Simple, one aspect of all religions is an element of tribalism to define who is "in" the tribe and who is not. This is very important as, conservatives in particular but all social beings to some degree, have innate allegiance to their in-group authority. And those in the positions of authority must necessarily define an opponent or frame a crisis in order to retain their position or to exert more influence. That last point is simple organizational behavior and has been stated far more pithily than I can by numerous historical figures throughout history. (Rahm Emmanuel, Hermann Goering, William Randolph Hearst, etc.)

    I fully agree that the subject of history is woefully overlooked in the required educational system, but, historically speaking, it always has been. The modern public educational system was founded in order to assure a certain minimum level of useful, trainable citizenry, not to create a society that was familiar with Aristotle, Solzhenitsyn and Paine.

    There are far too many variables to ascribe any one or two to why so many of these individuals discover the darker, less pleasant aspects of history. Locally, school boards tend to avoid controversy while collegiate professors don't get published for saying, "Yup, I agree with those guys". Add to this the legal and political foibles of public education and how can anyone not be aghast at the current state?

    We continue to exalt the Wizard of Menlo Park because he was an extremely well-placed citizen with a remarkable capacity for PR and a penchant for legal trickery. Whether legitimately the owner or not, he's the man who was able to deliver on those inventions. Greatest inventor in the world status is kind of pointless if it never leaves the shed... (I threw up in my mouth a little while writing this as I absolutely despise Edison as a person; I'm a staunch supporter of Tesla and occasionally wonder what may have happened should he have received his due in his lifetime.)

    As far as minority education goes, I think we should first look at the public schools that were once bastions of extremely fine education for the minority community such as Frederick Douglas in Baltimore, MD. This school produced Thurgood Marshall yet now barely graduates just over half of its students? We need to look at what has gone wrong there and why. Personally, I think it's the culture of victimhood perpetuated by the likes of Jackson and Sharpton (oh, I long for the days of men like MLK Jr...) and "ignorance as 'keeping it real'" that Chris Rock has pointed out and I've seen personally having lived in a southeast DC suburb for several years.

    ReplyDelete
  4. But, to return to history, you make a strong point, and one which I agree with; however, I'm forced to ask: who's history? I'm sure you well know more than the average bear, history is not simple dry facts that stand alone in time, there are relationships and chains of effect. Let's assume the Historian's Fallacy as moot for this discussion, how are we to navigate the relatively simple matter of what should be included and what not, let alone how it is presented and what is to be interpreted?

    Case in point, I recall the Diary of Anne Frank as a compelling part of my education on WWII, although I've yet to meet someone educated outside of the US who has even heard of her (this includes multiple trips abroad and fairly extensive contact stateside with foreign nationals from numerous countries). Which forces me to wonder: what exactly did I gain from reading about her? I certainly learned the Nazi's were bad. I mean really, really bad. Oh, and that you used to have to flip beds in order to to hide lingering body heat in the days before AC, but beyond that, I'm not sure I learned much of factual value. From one perspective, I'd have to say it was excellent as a propaganda tool. Not saying it is, but if I wanted one, I doubt I could do much better. Again, it's not that I necessarily disagree, it's that I think it's a thornier problem than you imply.

    Anyway, thanks for the excellent column, it's been quite a while since I read something that moved me enough to write a response so I think you for your effort.

    ReplyDelete
  5. You mention global resentment/hatred toward the US, yet you give no explanation for it while using the understanding of it as some sort of goal? Not sure what you're getting at ... My only real comment on this is that the US is, for better or worse, the king of the mountain globally. No other nation singularly or even with a few allies can stand up to the US alone. This and this alone, creates resentment. (There are certain cultures where the "wars" are fought by hosting the other side to increasingly lavish banquets, even to the point of starving their own people. The point is even charity can be an insult.) There is no other cause needed. Amplify it with poverty and poor education and extremist religion and it takes no action on the part of the US to end up in the situation we're in. Let alone those actions that other countries do have a legitimate beef with the US about.

    You bring up the "blame America first" argument, this goes right back to my point about needing to shape a villain, that's simple politics. And while you obviously have an understanding of logical fallacies, the truth is they work in the political arena and we have a fine, fine history of that in this country as do all countries that have been around more than 10 minutes.

    My only problem with hyphenated Americans is the implicit dual allegiance. You are welcome to celebrate your ethnicity however you so choose, but as a citizen, you are an American or not. In my opinion, dual-citizenship should be limited to minors, and even then, only until the age of majority. Don't mistake this as suggesting expulsion of foreign nationals. I'm perfectly fine with FNs even living here permanently, just with their having full access and rights and privileges of full citizens. In any case, ask my nationality and I say American; however, ask me my ethnicity and I say Scottish (rather proudly, in fact). I think this is a rather pedantic issue actually, confused by lack of mutual agreement on what the terms being used are. But again, so many lemmings fixate on the villain their particular authority figure points out ...

    Ah, I see, your global resentment reference explained. Sorry, the resentment around the world has absolutely nothing to do with what we teach our young. The overwhelming majority of the most violent have absolutely no idea what we teach our young. Hell, even ranking members of the KGB and/or GRU were amazed at the simple abundance and variety of foods in a common grocery store. Sure, their leaders may point to popular culture and decry the immorality or to political maneuverings reported in the press as imperialism, but the true source of anger is really not much more than a case of the haves vs the have-nots. The rank and file of those angered overseas is not that we are arrogant, it's that we are even in a position to be arrogant.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Well, after having read of all of your blog entry, and then reading through Scott's replies, I'm not sure if I can even remember most of what was said. But this did pique my interest, for the simple fact that I have (for some time now) been harboring a growing resentment for the stupidity and ignorance of people in our great US of A (to include, but not limited to, myself), as well as the seeming effort to shroud our nation's history in veils of innocence and purity, when in fact it was anything but.

    Having said that, that's probably about as far as you and I might agree upon, Travis. And that's pretty much where everything Scott said aligns with how I view this matter.

    We in America have a completely distorted view of the world, and they of us. We peer across the oceans through the lens of the media, because for most of us that is all we have. Yet the media is business like any other, and they play to the tune of what will sell. Many things that we here about taking place in other nations may give way to outrage due to violence and/or human rights violations (and rightly so in many cases) however often it is not explained in detail what triggered such events, or what triggered those events, or the ones behind those events.

    A lack of understanding and what seems to me to be an unwillingness to patiently accept or at least tolerate that which is different from what we perceive to be "normal" is what gives rise to the hatred between nations, and as Scott pointed out, we hold no share of a monopoly on that. We are simply the biggest target, and an easy target for sure with the way that we throw our weight around, as well as our arrogance. I don't consider it self-hating to point out our nation's flaws though, but it won't really do any good on a global scale until other countries are willing to do the same.

    As Scott pointed out, I too have no (nor have I ever had) feelings of resentment towards "hyphenated-Americans" for wanting to celebrate their culture and heritage. If you're from Africa and you move to America, you're still an African until you get your Citizenship status, at which point you become an American (that's what citizenship is pretty much all about). You can then say proudly that you are African-American if you feel the need to do so, but in reality, you are an American who is originally from Africa. I've strangely never heard the term "African-French", or "African-English/British", or "Hispanic-German", or "Russian-Italian for that matter.

    Let's not get so lost in our recognizance of our own flaws that we completely overlook the fact that we are leaps and bounds less racist or segregated in our nation today than in most other nations around the world. I can't tell you how blindly racist my Koreans friends were, not to mention some "Arab-Israelis" that I know personally. So alongside our chiding ourselves to become more tolerant and accepting, let's give ourselves a little pat on the back for how far we've come. Yes, there are still many misguided individuals out there, but lets simply put one foot in front of the other, constantly remembering where we come from, not covering up our tracks when we stepped in the mud, and ever trying to walk in the path of humanity at it's best.

    And if Nikolai Tesla had gotten "his due" we might be living "The Jetson's" right now instead of simply remembering that it was a favorite childhood fantasy. I worshipped Edison as a child, I despise him now. Thanks bunches educational system!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Well, after having read of all of your blog entry, and then reading through Scott's replies, I'm not sure if I can even remember most of what was said. But this did pique my interest, for the simple fact that I have (for some time now) been harboring a growing resentment for the stupidity and ignorance of people in our great US of A (to include, but not limited to, myself), as well as the seeming effort to shroud our nation's history in veils of innocence and purity, when in fact it was anything but.

    Having said that, that's probably about as far as you and I might agree upon, Travis. And that's pretty much where everything Scott said aligns with how I view this matter.

    We in America have a completely distorted view of the world, and they of us. We peer across the oceans through the lens of the media, because for most of us that is all we have. Yet the media is business like any other, and they play to the tune of what will sell. Many things that we here about taking place in other nations may give way to outrage due to violence and/or human rights violations (and rightly so in many cases) however often it is not explained in detail what triggered such events, or what triggered those events, or the ones behind those events.

    A lack of understanding and what seems to me to be an unwillingness to patiently accept or at least tolerate that which is different from what we perceive to be "normal" is what gives rise to the hatred between nations, and as Scott pointed out, we hold no share of a monopoly on that. We are simply the biggest target, and an easy target for sure with the way that we throw our weight around, as well as our arrogance. I don't consider it self-hating to point out our nation's flaws though, but it won't really do any good on a global scale until other countries are willing to do the same.

    As Scott pointed out, I too have no (nor have I ever had) feelings of resentment towards "hyphenated-Americans" for wanting to celebrate their culture and heritage. If you're from Africa and you move to America, you're still an African until you get your Citizenship status, at which point you become an American (that's what citizenship is pretty much all about). You can then say proudly that you are African-American if you feel the need to do so, but in reality, you are an American who is originally from Africa. I've strangely never heard the term "African-French", or "African-English/British", or "Hispanic-German", or "Russian-Italian for that matter.

    Let's not get so lost in our recognizance of our own flaws that we completely overlook the fact that we are leaps and bounds less racist or segregated in our nation today than in most other nations around the world. I can't tell you how blindly racist my Koreans friends were, not to mention some "Arab-Israelis" that I know personally. So alongside our chiding ourselves to become more tolerant and accepting, let's give ourselves a little pat on the back for how far we've come. Yes, there are still many misguided individuals out there, but lets simply put one foot in front of the other, constantly remembering where we come from, not covering up our tracks when we stepped in the mud, and ever trying to walk in the path of humanity at it's best.

    And if Nikolai Tesla had gotten "his due" we might be living "The Jetson's" right now instead of simply remembering that it was a favorite childhood fantasy. I worshipped Edison as a child, I despise him now. Thanks bunches educational system!

    ReplyDelete
  8. But, to return to history, you make a strong point, and one which I agree with; however, I'm forced to ask: who's history? I'm sure you well know more than the average bear, history is not simple dry facts that stand alone in time, there are relationships and chains of effect. Let's assume the Historian's Fallacy as moot for this discussion, how are we to navigate the relatively simple matter of what should be included and what not, let alone how it is presented and what is to be interpreted?

    Case in point, I recall the Diary of Anne Frank as a compelling part of my education on WWII, although I've yet to meet someone educated outside of the US who has even heard of her (this includes multiple trips abroad and fairly extensive contact stateside with foreign nationals from numerous countries). Which forces me to wonder: what exactly did I gain from reading about her? I certainly learned the Nazi's were bad. I mean really, really bad. Oh, and that you used to have to flip beds in order to to hide lingering body heat in the days before AC, but beyond that, I'm not sure I learned much of factual value. From one perspective, I'd have to say it was excellent as a propaganda tool. Not saying it is, but if I wanted one, I doubt I could do much better. Again, it's not that I necessarily disagree, it's that I think it's a thornier problem than you imply.

    Anyway, thanks for the excellent column, it's been quite a while since I read something that moved me enough to write a response so I think you for your effort.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Well put. I remember learning about the American labor camps for the Japanese after I got out of college and was irate about why no one bothered to fill me in on this. I'm tired of many Americans pointing the finger at other nationalities and putting ourselves on a pedistal like we're God's gift to the planet.

    ReplyDelete
  10. But how does humility and sensitivity help us force everyone else to suck our dicks?

    ReplyDelete
  11. You mention global resentment/hatred toward the US, yet you give no explanation for it while using the understanding of it as some sort of goal? Not sure what you're getting at ... My only real comment on this is that the US is, for better or worse, the king of the mountain globally. No other nation singularly or even with a few allies can stand up to the US alone. This and this alone, creates resentment. (There are certain cultures where the "wars" are fought by hosting the other side to increasingly lavish banquets, even to the point of starving their own people. The point is even charity can be an insult.) There is no other cause needed. Amplify it with poverty and poor education and extremist religion and it takes no action on the part of the US to end up in the situation we're in. Let alone those actions that other countries do have a legitimate beef with the US about.

    You bring up the "blame America first" argument, this goes right back to my point about needing to shape a villain, that's simple politics. And while you obviously have an understanding of logical fallacies, the truth is they work in the political arena and we have a fine, fine history of that in this country as do all countries that have been around more than 10 minutes.

    My only problem with hyphenated Americans is the implicit dual allegiance. You are welcome to celebrate your ethnicity however you so choose, but as a citizen, you are an American or not. In my opinion, dual-citizenship should be limited to minors, and even then, only until the age of majority. Don't mistake this as suggesting expulsion of foreign nationals. I'm perfectly fine with FNs even living here permanently, just with their having full access and rights and privileges of full citizens. In any case, ask my nationality and I say American; however, ask me my ethnicity and I say Scottish (rather proudly, in fact). I think this is a rather pedantic issue actually, confused by lack of mutual agreement on what the terms being used are. But again, so many lemmings fixate on the villain their particular authority figure points out ...

    Ah, I see, your global resentment reference explained. Sorry, the resentment around the world has absolutely nothing to do with what we teach our young. The overwhelming majority of the most violent have absolutely no idea what we teach our young. Hell, even ranking members of the KGB and/or GRU were amazed at the simple abundance and variety of foods in a common grocery store. Sure, their leaders may point to popular culture and decry the immorality or to political maneuverings reported in the press as imperialism, but the true source of anger is really not much more than a case of the haves vs the have-nots. The rank and file of those angered overseas is not that we are arrogant, it's that we are even in a position to be arrogant.

    ReplyDelete