Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Theory That Dares Not Speak Its Name
You already know about "the n-word," a word so terrible we can't permit ourselves to speak it or even to write it. Last December, we learned that certain federal air safety personnel refer to "the b-word". Down in Arkansas, there's another word so awful and terrible that it's referred to by letter only.

The Arkansas Times published an article this week about the struggles of the state's science teachers to meet a state standard requiring them to teach that the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old. The challenge is to do it without offending the state's fundamentalist parents, many of whom believe the earth is approximately 6,000 years old. The article features a geologist who teaches as part of a science program used by several schools. He was disciplined recently by his employers for telling his elementary students a certain group of rocks was 300 million years old. Not that the program's administrators wanted to restrict him in that way, necessarily, but they had to--to stay in business, and to teach the good science they are capable of teaching in other areas, they have to avoid discussions of "deep time" and what they and other Arkansas teachers refer to as "the e-word"--evolution.

If it seems absurd that teachers might not even want to speak the word "evolution" aloud, consider the experience of another teacher working for a private science-education company:
Her story was that in preparation for teaching the students from that district, she had asked some of the teachers how they approached the state benchmarks for those items dealing with evolution. She said, “Oh, I later got in trouble for even asking,” but went on to describe their answers. Most teachers said that they did not know enough about evolution to teach it themselves, but one of them, after looking around to make sure they were safely out of anyone’s earshot, explained that the teachers are told by school administrators that it would be “good for their careers” not to mention such topics in their classes.
Or, to put it another way: You get in about as much trouble mentioning evolution in Arkansas as you would if you called one of your students a nigger.

Blue-state Yankees are always amazed at the pervasiveness of religion in the South, but it's time we quit being surprised. In lots of places, a de facto theocracy already exists, and if it's not as thoroughly implemented as some people would like it to be, perhaps it's only a matter of time. Whether the theocrats will achieve every one of their wet dreams remains to be seen. But they're victorious in one way already: Right now, on this morning, kids in Arkansas and other states, both Southern and not, are sitting down in science classes that will make them more ignorant, not less so.

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