Saturday, November 12, 2005

When Government "Teaches"

Tibor R. Machan

At a recent seminar I was discussing whether liberty needs to be curtailed when disaster strikes and several of the participants were beginning to respond quite favorably to my own answer that, no, it does not. Of course, during a disaster often all hell breaks loose, whatever is the right thing to do. But there is no reason to think that institutions that secure our liberty need to be specially reoriented to circumstances involving any kind of natural disaster. As that wise old cliché has it, “Hard cases make bad law.”

Why, nonetheless, is it now nearly commonplace, albeit futile, to look to government during disasters? Simple, actually: because so many people look to government in any case, never mind disasters. When the sheriff becomes the barber, bar tender, dentist, dance instructor, teacher, and architect, all at once, none of these profession will long escape severe malpractice but all will seek the sheriff’s help for any purpose whatever. Seeking government aid will be the frustrating norm.

A startling piece of evidence showing the truth of this comes to us from Topeka, Kansas, where on November 8th the Board of Education for Kansas “approved new public-school science standards ... that cast doubt on the theory of evolution.” That schools that teach biology should not substitute a doctrine based on religious faith for a highly productive theory—nay, fact—that life emerged in the world over billions of years involving natural selection is right but not the issue here. (Intelligent Design, which is what the Kansas School Board considers a bona fide competitor, is not science since it assumes something that is impossible: that there is intelligence prior to a brain, with this pre-existing intelligence that also created the brain. That just cannot be, by any stretch of our biological evidence. Brains are an absolute prerequisite for intelligence, so they could not have been created by brainless intelligence.)

But never mind that—the issue is interesting and can be debated in the proper forums for such debates. What is really scary is that a political body is responsible for setting “science standards.” That’s not something politics may be involved in, never.

Imagine if politics set the standards for any, including religious, truth? Most people would clearly grasp that that is out of the question and the first amendment to the bill of rights partly recognizes this in mandating the separation of church and state. Why? Because religious truths, as any other purported or proposed truths, need the atmosphere of complete freedom of inquiry. Governments may guard that freedom but never demolish it with their inept political boards.

Sadly, however, in the eagerness to have children educated, Americans over the last two centuries haven’t recognized this elementary fact and allowed politicians to manage their children’s education. Not all of them, granted, but most. And this is completely out of line with the principles of a free society, even if some champions of such a society made the unpardonable mistake to cave in on the point. That is no different from governments elsewhere around the globe and throughout history having become promoters of religion, the arts, sciences, athletics and so forth, mainly because of the eagerness of many leaders to make sure that people are involved in all of this. All such objectives may be proper ones for some though not others, but they aren’t for politicians to pursue. Nor is education.

As the Declaration of Independence put it in its nifty, unambiguous phrasing, it is “to secure [our] rights” that “governments are instituted among [us].” That’s what cops are supposed to do, keep the peace, not become...well, please just look at the second paragraph above and you will get the point clear as a bell. Maybe it is time to reread that wonderful, earthshaking document and start taking it really seriously at last.

Please don’t get me wrong. As someone with a 40+ year career in education, I am fully supportive of schooling the young, not only because this gives me a fantastic job but because the young, including my own three children, require a solid education. But a solid education does not come from government and its school administrators. It comes from a free education system, free not of reality—which means costs, controversies and confusions, among other things—but free of government. Those experts, haven’t you heard, are supposedly to be good at using guns against criminals and foreign aggressors and thus must not be allowed near anything else lest they start invoking their deadly tools where they do not belong.

The Kansas School Board has shown us what happens when they do—imposing a one-size-fits-all theological-biological doctrine on all pupils. That’s what is wrong with what they did, never mind Intelligent Design, Darwin or whatever the exact content of what they impose.

But since they and every other government school board have been doing such imposing for decades on end, this new imposition should not be any great surprise. Still, it is wrong.

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