Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Education vs Indoctrination

As the controversy in Dover, Pa, the first place in the nation to mandate the teaching of the non-scientific yet religous fundamentalist friendly intelligent design "theory" in high school biology curriculum, continues, the threat to scientific education across the nation increases as other states face similar battles.

In the news piece linked above, one of the town's pastors is quoted as saying, "If we continue to indoctrinate our young people with non-religious principles, we're headed for an internal destruction of this society."

Teaching evolution is no more indoctrination than teaching children the multiplication tables, because, unlike religious beliefs, the foundation of science education is in teaching why something is true and how we know it to be true; it is teaching the critical thinking skills that allow a person to formulate accurate beliefs about the world around them. This is not indoctrination or religious persecution, as fundamentalists claim, it is simply that in the marketplace of ideas and evidence their beliefs can not compete. Indeed, it is for this very reason that religious indoctrination is so vital for the transmission of said beliefs to the next generation - a child educated in critical thought simply will not be able to believe that the earth is 6,000 years old.

With this in mind I begin to wonder to what extent are we obligated to prevent children from being indoctrinated. I think of the madrasahs in Pakistan where children are trained to believe that free thought is a crime and any chance of them growing into adults who can think for themselves is drastically reduced as entire passages of the Koran are burned into their mind by being made to memorize and repeat them over and over again. I think of Nicholas Humphrey's powerful essay "What Shall We Tell the Children" and worry that our desire for tolerance might push us too far in the direction of relativism, and that our children will suffer for it.


Scott said...

Well said.

As a culture, we don't question our existentialism, so it's difficult to think as you suggest.

Teaching "critical thought" would involve questioning the heterodoxy which envelops our media and academic culture.

Hume's Ghost said...

This is true - all beliefs should be subject to critical scrutiny.

When we examine the world objectively the results we find may not agree with our preconceived beliefs, but a man who is interested in knowing the truth rather than believing he is right will "follow the argument where ever it leads."