Monday, May 09, 2005

Be My Daddy, Uncle Sam

When Thomas Frank wrote his latest book, his subject was the 2004 elections rather than the debate over "intelligent design," but his question still applies: What's the matter with Kansas?

Back in 1999, Kansas' school board, stacked with religious conservatives, voted to downplay the teaching of evolution in schools. Realizing their mistake, Kansans voted these fanatics out at the next opportunity. Now Kansas is embroiled in a debate over whether to teach "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution in state schools.

This theory holds that the universe is too complex to have arisen out of chance and therefore must be the work of an intelligent designer. The people trying to push this theory on Kansas school children are unusually tight-lipped about just who this "designer" might be, but I'll give you three guesses. Here's a hint: in testimony on Friday, William S. Harris, co-founder of the Intelligent Design Network, implied that current Kansas school standards embrace "atheism and naturalism."

But intelligent design is not creationism. It couldn't be, since "design" and "create" are clearly two different words, right? Look at the IDN website. It doesn't say "creationism" in big block letters, and there's a picture of a double helix on the homepage, so this must be solid, disinterested science. In actuality, the IDers merely seize upon the fact that evolution is not perfectly understood by scientists and attempt to replace it with a theory that is unverifiable and thus irrefutable.

But what about the children and their fragile minds? How can religious parents teach good Judeo-Christian values to their kids if they don't learn them in public school? If only there was some sort of school run by the church that parents could send their kids to, maybe on the weekend—a "Sunday school" of sorts.

There is a deep irony in the attempt to excise evolution from the science curriculum, just as there is in the move to allow prayer in schools or to have the Ten Commandments posted in classrooms. The very groups that advocate so-called "proper" parenting seem to want to cede parental responsibility to the state, turning Uncle Sam into a surrogate father. All these groups with wholesome names—groups like Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the Culture and Family Institute—are actively involved in the effort to make the government take the place of the family in matters of morality and values.

There's nothing wrong with teaching your kids whatever you want at home; that's as it should be. Parents have always augmented or even refuted the lessons kids learn at school with their own teaching. People who have a major problem with what kids learn in the state-run schools have options: private school or home schooling. And if they can't afford that, then they're going to have to take responsibility for teaching their kids what they think they're missing out on at public school.

I can't help but think that those who don't want their kids exposed to secular ideas are afraid that they cannot defend their own faith to their children. Be that as it may, it's not the state's responsibility to shelter kids from ideas that may contradict their parents' religious ideology.

In fact, the effort to force kids to live in a bubble of ignorance actually does them a great disservice. When they grow up, they will be exposed to all kinds of secular ideas and scientific challenges to their beliefs. Do these parents really want them to be unprepared for that reality?

The religious right in this country is in full frontal assault against the innate responsibility that parents have for their own children. The aforementioned groups, along with media nags like the PTC and the Kids First Coalition, want to create a nanny state where no offensive or irreligious idea will ever pollute their children's minds. In doing so they will ultimately strip these kids of the ability to think for themselves. Unfortunately, I think that's the point.
(bc)
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